Nimbus Blog, Trips

Nairobi Arrival – African solutions to African problems

I am back in Kenya for a short trip, to speak at the Africa Gathering and to catch up with what is going on at the iHub. Nairobi airport – this is a familiar place to me, and yet each time I come there are changes. I am reminded again of what a strange mixture there is in this country. You can see Western consumer culture jammed against old African culture and all the impacts of extreme poverty in one place.

In the airport I am asked to use brand new fingerprint scanners for passport control, a very high tech solution to capturing data on who is arriving in the country. There is the same old baggage reclaim system, which I am sure is designed to acclimatise passengers to African time. It works with plenty of manual intervention and from the pile of bags in the middle of the floor from previous flights, still has challenges to overcome.

On the road from the airport I experience again the smell and taste of Nairobi, the mixture of car fumes and dust is always a bit of a shock. More new building work is going up along the airport road, as the city continues to expand. Beneath a massive advertising hoarding for 3D TV sets, I see an ordinary Kenyan pulling a hand cart through the dusty roads. It amazes me that anyone wishes to sell such high end products into a country that has so many other needs, more pressing in my view. Only the few rich in this country will be able to afford such luxury. How long will it be before the ordinary Kenyan can afford the latest in electronic devices I wonder? I am sure it will not be in my lifetime, although the ordinary rural Kenyan may have access to mains electricity by then.

This uncomfortable mixture assails me throughout the trip, the imposition of what is commonplace in western countries into the life of Africa. There is so much more distance between the rich and those in extreme poverty, in those countries where they live closest together.

I long to see more African solutions to African problems. In the world of mobile phones, M-Pesa has been an outstanding success with other networks now offering “me-too solutions”. This technology has made a significant difference to the lives of the multitude of ordinary Kenyans. They now have access to a money transfer and banking system without the massive obstacles that the traditional banks had put in the way of the majority. It will be very interesting to watch what starts to emerge from the iHub and other technology centres where Africans are addressing the issues facing the ordinary people of the country.

A personal reflection on Paul’s recent visit to Kenya.

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