SOCIETY TALK

Kenya’s innovation is wonder of the world

Even amid all our troubles, we are more advanced than most African nations

In Summary

• Seeing Kenya from a foreign perspective makes you appreciate the country more

An employee assists a customer to set-up M-Pesa money transfer service on his handset inside a mobile phone care centre in Nairobi
An employee assists a customer to set-up M-Pesa money transfer service on his handset inside a mobile phone care centre in Nairobi
Image: REUTERS

As a common mwananchi, I am not above playing the serekali saidia card that we Kenyans often love to do. If we are being honest with ourselves, we Kenyans love to complain and do nothing about it. Potholes on the road? Complain. Inflation? Start a hashtag trend Twitter. Poor governance? Yell at the 9 o’clock news.

However, we hardly ever acknowledge the good. We are so used to the norm that we do not understand that our normal is a marvel in another country. I remember watching Richard Quest’s CNN documentary on the advancement of mobile money in Kenya with confusion. “It’s just M-Pesa, and it’s not a big deal,” I thought. As a Kenyan who has witnessed the growth of M-Pesa since its inception, I failed to see grasp the foreigner’s reaction to such a simple technology that redefined our entire way of life.

This is why we Kenyans fail to see how we are leading in development, infrastructure and technology compared to most countries in Africa and other parts of the world. As the elections draw near and our politicians fill the news with their telenovela-worthy drama, we cannot help but see the fault with our country.

Fortunately, I was recently able to actually see how well off we are as Kenyans from a rare third perspective. My husband arrived in Kenya a few weeks ago, and while he has visited the country more than three times, this time, he is here to stay for longer. He is already familiar with M-Pesa and the likes, but he just did not understand the superiority of its functionality in our daily lives.

For reference, my husband grew up and lived in three different African countries before fully migrating to the Schengen region. He is also well travelled and an enthusiastic tech guy, but the kind of technology we have in Kenya seems to awe him. In the last couple of weeks, he has watched me transfer money from the bank to M-Pesa to a third party without moving from the couch. He has had to accept grocery and deliveries of all kinds at the door without seeing me leave the house or make any sort of physical payments.

Lastly, last Sunday morning, he listened keenly as I called up Safaricom to talk to customer care, who apologised profusely for the inconvenience caused. Not only was he stymied at the polite and courteous service, he was shocked that any service person would be available on a Sunday morning! Most European countries do not operate on Sundays. I have once had to go an entire weekend without salt because I forgot to buy it on Saturday and there were no stores open on Sunday.

Seeing our Kenyan lifestyle play out in his eyes has refreshed my perspective of our simple yet extraordinary lives. We have incorporated so many facets of technology in our society that it may as well appear natural to us, but to a foreigner, the simple ways in which we interact daily are nothing short of awe-inspiring. We are so indoctrinated by the things we consider the norm that we fail to see its ingenuity.

A simple matter as going to a hospital and having the cashier retrieve all your history from their records by just using a mobile number is something I have never experienced in any other country. Most countries require you to fill out a stack of forms before finally seeing a doctor. The simplicity of liaising with a boda guy to run errands for you is a unique and elegant experience only we Kenyans can claim.

Just like any other country, Kenya has its good as well as its flaws. However, we are the sort of people who always expect more and better; that is perhaps why we are more disposed to see the flaws than the good. Occasionally it is nice to remind ourselves that even in the midst of all our troubles, we are a more advanced country than most of our African counterparts and that our innovative Kenyan lifestyle is one of a kind.