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February 20, 2019

Employment generation from an unexpected corner

T here are two things that I enjoy quite a bit: slagging off self-appointed (Western) saviour types and yoga. Dogs and cake and shoes, too, of course. For the purposes of this column, however, let’s stick to the first two. An esteemed member of the Focus Group (aka Facebook friends) had recently alerted me of a fund-raising campaign by an American lady who sought money to travel to Kenya and “help native Kenyans create business through the practice of yoga” with the Africa Yoga Project. Everyone was already busy giving her extensive side eyes for her ‘White Saviour’ mission.

And yet I found it a bit difficult to join in wholeheartedly. The tone of her fund-raiser was obviously quite awful – what with the ‘natives’ and all that. But I couldn’t quite dial into the outrage over the yoga bit. When Africa Yoga Project started, I said many, many snarky things about them, poo-poo-ing the ‘saving poor Africans’ thing. And then I realised that AYP churned out a bunch of yoga teachers who would come home and teach people for not much money. This put a halt to my snarking quite instantly because what’s not to like about affordable private classes? I realised they had given qualifications and an income to quite a few people. Now yoga is probably not a market as big as, say, the market for plumbers or electricians – I suspect. But still, with Kenya’s high rates of unemployment and underemployment, you can’t knock this. I have since given up on private classes because a flat monthly rate at Acacia Studios down the road worked out cheaper, but over the past few years, I have practised with a number of fantastic and lovely teachers who came from AYP and who have helped me along enormously in my practice. Now I don’t think that any of the guys I practise with ‘have never gone to school’, as claimed by ‘White Saviour’ lady (they all seem quite literate on Facebook and WhatsApp, at least). I am also not sure she would be the best resource person for how to run anything as a business in Kenya since she clearly has very little grasp of what Kenya’s general environment looks like, and even less of the business environment. The latter would be fairly important to understand if you want to advise anyone on running a business here. So there’s that. But I had to acknowledge that, unexpectedly, this tree-huggy organisation had actually generated a good bit of youth employment and will, therefore, have to be excluded from my book of outrageously daft do-gooder projects.

The writer is a country risk analyst


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