We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

No, Kenya is not a paradise, but I too would like to go back

Perry has I think given me the urge to buy a ticket and go to Kenya too. (Sadly, I can’t actually manage it right now). I have also been to a fair few of the places mentioned in the article, and I too am getting visions of endless plains, interrupted only be the odd 6km high extinct volcano, and a strong desire to see them again myself.

I visited Kenya in 1993. I spent some time in the countryside in some indeed gorgeous country (some of it in Tanzania rather than Kenya). Having failed to reach the top of Mt Kilimanjaro due to case of altitude sickness (which was made worse by the fact that I was suffering from an as yet undiagnosed case of hepatitis) the friend I was travelling with and I returned to Nairobi for a couple of days before flying to London. Under instructions from the IMF, President Moi had in the previous months semi-floated the currency, and it had lost about half its value against the dollar. The day before I returned from the countryside, President Moi had announced that he was not taking instructions from the IMF any more, and that he would stand up to the “third world exploiters” in the west. Therefore currency trading was suspended until he decided what the exchange rate would be. I had run out of local money, and upon returning to the city I discovered I was not legally permitted to obtain any. I did have enough to buy a local English language (and state controlled) newspaper full of rants about how poor countries like Kenya were deliberately exploited by the west so that the rich people of Europe and America could be rich. (I didn’t realise it, but this was all pretty par for the course in Kenya at that time. Telling the IMF to get stuffed once in a while was just what President Moi did).

Walking down the street, we were accosted by a tout who had previously attempted to find us accommodation, restaurants and all sorts of services, who now assured us he could take us to someone who would change our US$ travellers cheques into local money. He guided us down a few streets, into a shop selling carved wooden model animals, in another door at the back of the shop, up a pair of steps, and into a small office where there was seated a middle aged Indian gentleman. This man was quite happy to provide us with money at the exchange rate that had prevailed the previous day, and our problem was solved. We changed some money, and were able to do such important things as buy dinner. This was my first trip to the third world. It was a real eye-opener concerning poverty, corruption, dictatorship, corrupt African governments using western agencies as scapegoats, economically dominant ethnic minorities, and many other things. There was also a stark lesson between different kinds of government. Although Kenya was clearly staggeringly corrupt, Kenya chose the capitalist dictatorship route. Tanzania chose the socialist dicatatorship route. (The third portion of former British East Africa, Uganda, took a worse route than either, of course). And however corrupt it was, Kenya was far, far better off than Tanzania. Kenya had a middle class who looked to be doing okay. I saw no such thing in Tanzania. (Yes, there is a wealthy Indian class in both countries that essentially runs the economies and which I came into contact with as described above, but these people keep almost entirely out of sight). Mail sent from Kenya reached Australia and England within a week or two. Mail sent from Tanzania took between three and six months, although it did ultimately arrive, which I suppose was something.

The most striking demonstration came at the border between Kenya and Tanzania. On the Kenyan side it was a fairly decent highway: a good sealed road that looked like it had regular maintenance. On the Tanzanian side, the “highway” was little more than a dirt track. In this and many other ways, Tanzania was a vastly poorer country. Kenya is by almost all standards a poor country, but even despite this I have seldom before or since seen as stark a contrast on two sides of a border.

And one other little anecdote. I did not get to Masai Mara, but I did visit another national park closer to Nairobi. I saw a vast number of different animals: zebras, antelopes of many different kinds, ostriches, even a rhinocerous. However, no big cats. No lions, no leopards. Although there were apparently plenty of these animals around, they tended only to come out in the twilight, and they were relatively hard to spot. Our guides were used to western visitors being disappointed at not seeing any lions, and so the tour concluded with a visit to a local zoo, where we could see lions, in cages. Wonderfully, this zoo also contained some animals which are not native to Africa. I was very careful to make sure I got some photos in which the cages and bars were not visible.

As a consequence, it was really quite amusing to show my photos of this African trip to my friends and family. It was really quite remarkable how many of them found nothing untoward about the tiger photos.

But certainly it is a country I would like to see again. And I would also like to get to the top of that damn mountain.

2 comments to No, Kenya is not a paradise, but I too would like to go back