3 months in Kenya!

6 months after returning from Kisii, Kenya…

I’m finally taking the time to research and write for the blog I’ve been so desperate to create for so long. So this article is a thank you letter of sorts to the experience as a whole but also a footnote for this blog.

So what was it all about? Well I spent 3 months out in Kenya on the International Citizens Service (ICS) entrepreneur programme. The team I volunteered with was made up of 8 UK volunteers and 9 Kenyan volunteers. We were divided into working groups of 2 or 3, and got to work with local business owners. If you would like to find out more about what the programme actually involves or are interested in signing up then please follow the link …. http://www.balloonics.org/ .

The whole experience was definitely rewarding and I would whole heartedly recommend to anyone to partake in the programme or do something similar. It’s difficult to sum it up in a nut shell and I think that’s mainly because the programme was designed that way. I didn’t just go somewhere for a week. I lived with a family, and worked and bonded with people, a whole culture and a way of life.

Let me put it this way. I’m 24. I’ve studied Chemical Engineering. I’m now looking to start or rather progress my career. Like many people my age or slightly older in similar situations moving abroad is a possibility. Canada, The US, Europe, Dubai, Japan. Some of the serious contenders for most people considering migration. For myself it would be, In order; Qatar, Canada, Germany. That was until I sat down to write about my experience in Kenya. Before you go getting ideas – I’m not saying I want to move to Kenya. Could I though? Or Sudan (where my parents are originally from)? Nigeria? Maybe even India?

I am making a point here. Recently a friend of mine – 1st generation brit like me, parents originally from Somalia, told me she was moving back to Somalia to live and work there. I say “back” because she had already spent a year living out there, working with an NGO. I guess life out there agreed with her. My question is, how many of the people migrating around the world every year (According to the United Nations Popuation fund – “In 2015, 244 million people/3.3% of the world’s population, lived outside their country of origin”) consider a move like this? We all know the benefits of moving to one of the locations listed in the big contender list. So what would the benefits of moving to Kenya be?

Well based on my experience I can tell you, if you’ve ever dreamt of having your own business then this is a great place to do it. Plenty of opportunities and an economy on the rise are plenty of reason to consider doing so. And if like me, you dream of one day having a big family, this is also a great place to do it. With spacious lands and a more relaxed pace of life, achieving a more balanced work-life ratio seems achievable. Wildlife and beautiful scenes, and a country committed to conservation and sustaining their environment – All great reasons!

Of course like anywhere in the world there are bound to be things that you’re not so fond of. For me it was the tribal rivalries (not always obvious to the outsider, but evident), the boda-boda drivers, and ugali with not enough stew. I could go in depths about these things, and maybe I will another time. That’s not what I’m writing about though. I’ve just said that for the first time I’ve considered seriously moving somewhere that might challenge me to live a life I never planned or imagined but may well like.

You could think of a move like that similarly to how you might consider taking a job offer at a smaller company over a job offer at a large already established company. You know in the back of your mind there’s more room for growth and you could definitely develop and further your career with the smaller company. Of course you’d have to put in a lot of research beforehand to make sure that the smaller company actually has the long term goals in place for themselves and is capable of achieving them. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s not ideal, but you know you can always apply for another job. Except making a move like this can be ten times more rewarding because it has a bigger impact on the society you live in. According to the UNFPA

“Migration is an important force in development and a high priority issue for both developing and developed countries”.

It goes without saying why migration would be a high priority issue for developed countries. Conservative leaders and Donald Trump champion these reasons as excuses to shut the world out. However what’s there loss is the rest of the worlds’ gain. While they’re busy shutting migrants out, those same migrants are changing our world. And where they do it from, is what matters most. Development in Africa may not be your goal, but what is? And does it matter where you are when you achieve it?

I personally will be giving this matter serious consideration over the year to come, and will keep you updated on my journey. But again thank you to Balloon Ventures ICS for giving me the most eye-opening experience of my life. Also a thank you to Baba & Mama Vera, and their three wonderful children for being an amazing host family. Thank you to my host sister and live-in partner Karen, and thank you to all the amazing friends I made for entering my life.

Finally, If you’ve been kind enough to stick around this long, then I have a question for you. Could you do it?



Welcome to Africa!

This space is as much for encouraging growth and collaboration within and between African countries as it is about educating and empowering all those with a will to learn and a dream for development. There are enough people sharing with the world the tragedies of Africa, but in the age of information, tragedy serves little purpose. We are becoming numb to tragic events not just in Africa but the world over. Now we stand to prosper from the knowledge of others. So I humbly ask if you have any knowledge to share with regards to the development of Africa, come and share, and if you wish to learn, come and learn. And if nothing else then we simply ask for your support. The first post on our site is written by a dear a friend and Ndugu yangu (brother in Kiswahili), I made when I was out in Kenya. 

While I was away, I had the opportunity to discuss many of the topics concerning sub-Saharan Africa and more specifically Kenya and gained great insight, however who better than a resident of the continent to share their own ideas on development. So I asked my friend to write about what he thinks is the biggest setback to development in sub-Saharan Africa  and this is what he had to say:

Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.

How would you develop any country when the dream of the majority of its youth and elite is not entrepreneurship, innovation, education and self-sufficiency, but the dream to have a job with a humanitarian organisation or to get their project financed by some International aid Agency or proxy?

International AID is now doing more harm to Africa than good. It became the main tool used by foreign governments and organisations to corrupt the African elite, and get them to behave so irrationally toward their own populations and the basic interest of their countries.

If Africa needs any aid, the most urgent one is to get rid of the 40 billion corruption industry (called International Aid) that shackles its youth and elite, which maintains the beggar mentality.  I have visited Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. This suburb of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is home to more than one million people, who eke out a living in an area of about one square mile. It is a sea of aluminium and cardboard shacks that forgotten families call home. The idea of a slum conjures up an image of children playing amidst piles of garbage, with no running water and the rank, rife stench of sewage. Kibera does not disappoint.

Aside corruption and the criminality, International Aid is the root of the 5 Stars colonisation disease that cripples the African elite which dislikes the responsibility and the self-sacrifice that comes with being in control of a nation destiny. As far as they enjoyed the status offered by their positions, they never liked the responsibilities demanded by the jobs, therefore they use international aid programs as a substitute to their responsibilities.

-Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya.

What is incredibly disappointing is the fact that just a few yards from Kibera stand the headquarters of the United Nations’ agency for human settlements which, with an annual budget of millions of dollars, is mandated to “promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.” Kibera festers in Kenya, a country that has one of the highest ratios of development workers per capita.

This is also the country wherein 2004, British envoy Sir Edward Clay apologised for underestimating the scale of government corruption and failing to speak out earlier. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes to Africa each year. Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our time, millions march for it, governments are judged by it, celebrities proselytise the need for it

Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It’s increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over 60% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects is a cause for worry).

part-of-kibera-slums-Part of Kibera slums in Nairobi Kenya.

Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves what emergency and charity-based aid can and cannot do. Aid-supported scholarships have certainly helped send African girls to school (never mind that they won’t be able to find a job in their own countries after graduating). Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, such charity-based aid is relatively small beer when compared to the sea of money that floods Africa each year in government-to-government aid or aid from large development institutions such as the World Bank.

A nascent economy needs a transparent and accountable government and an efficient civil service to help meet social needs. Its people need jobs and a belief in their country’s future. A surfeit of aid has been shown to be unable to help achieve these goals.

A constant stream of “free” money is a perfect way to keep an inefficient or simply bad government in power. As aid flows in, there is nothing more for the government to do — it doesn’t need to raise taxes, and as long as it pays the army, it doesn’t have to take account of its disgruntled citizens. No matter that its citizens are disenfranchised (as with no taxation there can be no representation). All the government really needs to do is to court and cater to its foreign donors to stay in power.

The good news is we know what works; what delivers growth and reduces poverty. We know that economies that rely on open-ended commitments of aid almost universally fail, and those that do not depend on aid succeed. The latter is true for economically successful countries such as China and India, and even closer to home, in South Africa and Botswana. Their strategy of development finance emphasises the important role of entrepreneurship and markets over a staid aid system of development that preaches hand-outs.

African countries could start by issuing bonds to raise cash. To be sure, the traditional capital markets of the U.S. and Europe remain challenging. However, African countries could explore opportunities to raise capital in more non-traditional markets such as the Middle East and China (whose foreign exchange reserves are more than $4 trillion). Moreover, the current market malaise provides an opening for African countries to focus on acquiring credit ratings (a prerequisite to accessing the bond markets) and preparing themselves for the time when the capital markets return to some semblance of normalcy.

Governments need to attract more foreign direct investment by creating attractive tax structures and reducing the red tape and complex regulations for businesses. African nations should also focus on increasing trade; China is one promising partner. And Western countries can help by cutting off the cycle of giving something for nothing. It’s time for a change.

Written by Kevin Obute – Kevin.Obute@weebly.com

What are your thoughts?