Am I Bitter About Kenya, Or Am I Just Realistic?
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a Kenyan expatriate who lives in New Zealand and who says he follows news of his beloved home Kenya by reading online newspapers. This gentleman wrote to me to point out what he perceived as ‘bitterness’ towards Kenya in my tone. Incidentally, he also said that ‘many of your articles suggest the "The Star" is facing a serious lack of properly columnists.’ This may be a valid concern, so I have offered to William Pike to ‘step aside’ (and got a bit excited about trying out this peculiarly Kenyan ministerial model of possibly not working and still getting paid), but so far, William hasn’t taken me up on that offer.
The good man stated that ‘many highly respected (and genuine) risk analysts based in London, New York and Tokyo continue to point Africa as the next big thing because they see the emerging flashes of big business opportunities unlike some dubious "independent country risk analysts" who continue to tell us what the world already knows about Africa.’
I’m still mulling over my dubiousness, even though I can’t spend too much time on it since my clients (genuine, I think, and based in locations as London) keep giving me more work. So there’s that. But I do think of the good man quite regularly. For example when I sit in one of the interminable traffic jams – and I’m ever so grateful that I avoided the multiple-hour one earlier this week.
I also think of him when Nairobi Water cuts off the water to our compound for no discernible reason. Also when KPLC switches off the lights again. And oh boy, did they have a good run recently: Remember the night two weekends ago when most of the country was in the dark? If you haven’t searched for #KenyaPowerSongs on Twitter yet, do: It started with ‘Hello darkness, my old friend’ and went to hysterical lengths. We’ve had five powercuts in Westlands last week, and this Tuesday, I gave up counting.
Sitting in the candle-lit dark, I typed like a demon to finish a brief before my laptop battery died around midnight. Does this sound bitter? Possibly. But from what I see from a cursory glance at the Focus Group (aka Facebook friends), bitterness is spreading like a fungus – I’m just the one to bitch about it in a newspaper column. KAM’s Betty Maina asked me if I didn’t have a generator or an inverter. I do, for the office, but not for my house.
And here’s the thing: Yes, Kenya has come a long way. But it’s 2012. And this is Kenya, not the Central African Republic (and I say this with all due respect to CAR – I always wanted to visit). With all this talk of Vision 2030, and becoming a middle-income country, and setting up tech cities, I don’t want to have to go backwards and consider buying another generator.
I don’t want to have the now automatic reaction of fishing for candles, matches, solar lamps as soon when it starts raining, for crying out loud. It’s 2012, and Kenya has plans: Power should be getting better, not worse. And this is not just a question of the amount of energy being generated, but clearly also grid maintenance. I’d really, really like to see an official statement from KPLC explaining what on earth is going on, and how they intend to fix it, and how we can hold them to account. Don’t laugh. And I’m a bit at a loss why the media are not on KPLC’s case, demanding explanations.
I’ve been working on a couple of pieces looking at the implications of Kenya’s oil find, the renewed momentum it will give to regional infrastructure projects, especially LAPSSET, how it will require a regional approach, and what the investment opportunities are (partly work that genuine risk analysis clients, in genuine locations like London, have asked me to do).
These are all large-scale, complex, long-term and potentially incredibly promising ventures. But: it takes management capacity to get them done. And my current view of that management capacity is a little dim if there’s only one power utility, and it can’t keep the capital city lit, and nobody does anything about it, and the energy minister is busy shopping his party to the highest presidential bidder.
I’m a bit exhausted. So exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to laugh at the news of Nairobi City Council’s ISO certification. NCC delivers services, Philipp Kisia was quoted saying. We should have been laughing like hyenas. What are those services? What exactly happened with that Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry? And how come that Kenya’s internet access collectively goes down because someone yet again dredged up a fibre optic cable? Onwards and upwards, Vision 2030!
PS: And yes, I know that my whiny bitter complaints are very, very middle class. As one of my buddies pointed out after spending several hours in the traffic jam earlier this week and then coming home to a dark house, at least we have cars and houses and roofs and are not trying to keep our shack from being washed away with all our possessions and children in the rainy season.