Posts Tagged ‘Nairobi’


January 21, 2008

I find it hard to write these days. The story I write on a Monday can be completely different by Tuesday. The picture I paint of the area around my office and home is nothing like the experience of Kenyans in Nairobi’s slums, just minutes away. And short-term peace and calm don’t capture the long-term reconstruction that lies ahead for Kenya.

Today, Monday, Nairobi feels more “normal” than it has in weeks: the streets are congested, shops are busy, and people are going about their usual business. But it is hard to know how long that will last; the opposition just called for more protests, and more violence broke out in the slums and Kisumu and Eldoret yesterday. And I’m reminded by Joseph Karoki’s photo blog: “As people try to get back to ‘normal’ life around the country, it is important to remember that there is no normal for a lot of people in Kenya.”

Karoki is one of many who have reacted in the blogosphere, where some of the most interesting dialogue and protest unfold. One particularly interesting website Ushaidi allows people to report on violence around the country. Ushaidi is the Kiswahili word for witness. And so I keep writing, to be another witness, even when I don’t really know what to say.

<p style=”text-align:justifyUshaidi

Courage and Commitment

January 15, 2008

The last time I saw Dorah, at her Senye clinic in Kibera, we discussed the challenges of providing health care in an urban slum. She shared with me her commitment to the community. Today, as we talk about her personal safety and the security of her shop, her commitment speaks for itself.

Kibera has been one of the hardest hit areas in the post-election violence in Kenya. In the last two weeks, Dorah has faced a raid on her clinic by looters, fears for her own safety, and concerns about how to re-stock her supplies until vehicles can reach her. Yet she continues to operate with little disruption.

“We never know what will happen, day to day,” Dorah describes. “But I’ll be here as long as I can be.”

I am struck by two things as I listen to Dorah: 1) She is a remarkably strong, courageous and committed woman, and a reason for hope in the midst of all of this uncertainty. I wonder if I would continue my work, if I were in Dorah’s shoes? 2) There is something to the fact that Dorah is personally invested in Kibera. She doesn’t just work there; she owns a business there. She has something at stake, and she will fight for it. More on this soon.

Parliament is meeting today in Nairobi, and ODM has called for three days of protests, beginning tomorrow. With that comes great uncertainty for all of us in Nairobi, but especially for Dorah and residents of Kibera. “There is a lot of tension here today, we really don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Dorah says softly. But as images from Parliament appear angry and heated, Dorah, Millicent and other franchisees continue to work with courage and commitment.Dorah in her Senye Clinic

Kumbaya… and tear gas?

January 10, 2008

A group of women marched past our apartment this morning, singing “Kumbaya, My Lord,” and the Kenyan National anthem. I can’t imagine a more peaceful or positive message.

A few minutes later a call from Jon, just down the road: the police are throwing tear gas at the ‘protesters’.

A setback

January 8, 2008


For the first time all day I am focused enough to make some progress on my work, when my colleague Chris rushes into my office: “Kalonzo was just declared VP. You should get home quickly, ODM might react.” After several days of peace, another setback.

I get home without any trouble; the only thing out of the ordinary on my commute is the local police station, where soldiers pile into a truck with face masks and guns. They are likely headed to Kibera, where more violence has broken out again as people react to the news.

Friends & I head to Tamasha (our neighborhood bar) to talk, as reports trickle in of more violence in Kisumu, Kibera and Mathare. A friend in Kisumu – where things had finally settled – describes people back on the streets, burning roadblocks and chanting about attacking Kikuyu homes. It is still unclear how this will affect the uneasy peace of the last few days; depends largely on how Raila reacts and the on the effectiveness of AU President John Kuofor’s mediation.

I struggle to wrap my head around all of the complexities of the past few days — the fact that most Kenyans want peace, but parts of the country are still up in flames — that things are business-as-usual in most of Nairobi, while people are still hungry in Kibera and Mathare.

Each day is a mix ups and downs, good news & bad. On the one hand we confirmed that all of SHF’s nurses are okay. Remarkable considering how many operate in Kibera and Kisumu, the hardest hit areas of Kenya. And even more remarkable: all of them are still operating, some without interruption. Conversations with Millicent and our other franchisees are a reminder of their strength and the importance of their work, especially in times like this.

But everyone is eager for some real signs of progress from the top; news that will build trust and hope, rather than set off already frustrated people. People are tired. They never expected this in their country, their Kenya.

I found a chilling video from my first days in Kibera, where Millicent’s nurse aide talks about the challenges of operating their Kibera clinic: 1) Many patients cannot afford to pay, 2) The insecurity of the campaign period, after which “I think things will be okay.”

More News from Nairobi

January 6, 2008

It has been a strange few days for me. I was in India for a wedding during the Kenyan election and the days following. And while my friends’ beautiful wedding ceremony unfolded, I watched and listened as things went wrong in Kenya. I was torn between relief for my own safety, concern for my friends and colleagues there, and regret and guilt for not being with them.

It is hard to believe that my post from Jomo Kenyatta Aiport, with all of its excitement and hope for the election, was written only two weeks ago. I vividly remember the drive down airport road on Dec. 23 – Kibaki’s red & blue and Odinga’s orange advertisements of the changes they would bring to the country, the enthusiastic conversation with my taxi driver/friend Evans, and the energy that had gripped me from my first sleepy morning in Nairobi in November.

I arrived back to a much different Kenya this morning — Kibaki posters shredded on one stretch of road, roadblocks and soldiers protecting the park areas (where protests have been held), and a drive from the airport in half the time it takes in regular traffic. My taxi driver said, “It is terrible – everyone has been touched in some way and we are filled with sadness.”

At the moment, daily life in Nairobi is starting to get back to normal. I am drinking a cup of tea and looking out at a peaceful Argwings Khodek Road. Most of the city is calm and quiet, as it has been for the last 3 days. Violence in Nairobi was/is contained to slum areas, and the rest of the city is relatively peaceful. In our neighborhood, the most noticeable thing is how quiet things are.

Much of the damage has already been done. The poor have been the hardest hit – Jamii Bora (where fellow Jon is working), a microfinance organization, estimates that 50% of its members have been impacted, many losing their homes and businesses. But even in Kibera (where I met Dorah just a few weeks ago), which was devastated by riots and violence, things are starting to return to normal – a friend just returned from a visit and said that shops have started reopening and people are trying to return to their daily lives. Let’s hope this peace and calm holds.

Kenyans are putting pressure on the government for peace and a quick resolution. People are tired of the violence. On Thursday, all of the Kenyan newspapers ran the headline “Save Our Beloved Country.” A group of “rioters” passed in front of our apartment the other day. Jon described: “They came down Argwings Kodhek yesterday. Half of them came in cars. They chanted about peace. Stopped, heard they couldn’t go any further and then headed back home!”

I read several different blogs in Nairobi regularly; Thinker’s Room captured one perspective on what happened and what has been lost in Kenya: “Kenyans were told that they had the power to shape their destiny and choose their leadership. And so they turned out in colossal numbers and they voted. They were told that they had a voice and that it would be listened to. And when it came down to it their voice, the ballot was ignored. And so they had only one voice left — protest.”

The work and lives of my friends here have been affected in a number of ways. Edwin Machine’s plans to move to Kisumu have been delayed yet again – this time indefinitely. Kisumu, where I was meant to be living and working next week, has been most impacted. Edwin writes: “It is a no-gone zone for a long time, unless something really dramatic happens in the coming few weeks. Shops are heavily looted, there is heavy police presence and rioting persists.” Edwin’s work on launching Baylor’s Pediatric Aids Initiative will be set back weeks or possibly months.

And there is a general feeling of sadness in the air. After only 6 weeks in Kenya I feel a deep sense of loss; I will never be able to fully understand how Kenyans are feeling.

There is an opportunity for Kibaki and Odinga to talk before Tuesday, when the next protest is planned. Please keep Kenya in your thoughts in the days ahead, and hope for leadership to move past this tragedy in the short and long-term. The speed at which the two parties can come together will affect a lot of things. Most importantly, an end to the violence… but also tourism, investment, and the stability of the entire region.

Election excitement

December 23, 2007

Nairobi traffic is always bad; the difference at the moment are the matatus and buses decorated to campaign for Presidential candidates. The race continues to be close between current President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity, and his main opponent Raila Odinga of Orange Democratic Movement. The campaign is colorful – with the PNU’s red & blue and “Kazi Iendelee” (“keep working together”) competing with ODM’s bright orange hues for space on billboards, hats, scarves, and matatus.

Kibaki has the benefit of the backing of his Kikuyu tribe (the largest in Kenya) and 6% economic growth under his leadership last year, but he is criticized for his failure to address corruption and tribalism during his first term. And at age 76, he has a hard time keeping up with Odinga’s charisma and energy in the campaign. Odinga’s billboards picture him holding up a small baby to the clouds and read “Giving hope to the next generation” and “The People’s President.” Odinga is well-liked by young voters – it is common to see crowds of young men running around with oranges and chanting his name – but he seems to unsettle many (he is accused of involvement in a planned 1982 coup to topple President Moi, and of having ‘authoritarian tendencies.’)

14 million voters are registered for the December 27 election – so keep your eyes on the news from Kenya. This would be the first time in history that a President has been voted out of office.

Show me the goat

December 18, 2007

Here are some things that make my blood boil. (1) Genocide. (2) Corruption. (3) People who say ‘bartering’ when they mean ‘haggling’. Seriously how hard is it? Just follow this simple test: Ask yourself, “Have I brought a live goat with me?” Not so much? Then you’re probably not bartering!!

While we’re on haggling though, I have a question:

In Nairobi I haggle for food. All food. Religiously. “10 pence for a mango. How about 3 for 20?” [Obviously I need neither the extra mangoes, nor the 10 pence saving!]

Back in the UK, I buy fair trade food. “Guaranteeing the grower a fair price”

Am I being massively inconsistent?

From City to Country and Back

November 23, 2007

Nairobi TrafficMud

As we head north out of Nairobi on Thika Road, shopping malls and rush hour traffic gradually fade into small kiosks and open countryside. It is pouring rain as we arrive in Makuyu Province and when we turn off the main road, Charles (SHF’s driver) turns to me and says: “Are you ready? It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” Charles has become a hero of mine in my short time here – for his ability to navigate Nairobi traffic and now endless puddles, as well as his warmth and welcoming. In between getting stuck in ditches, he points out fields of pineapples, hippos peering out of the water, and monkeys on the side of the road.

I’ve been accompanying Charles on his regular delivery of drugs and hygiene products to SHF outlets, and taking advantage to see operations firsthand and learn from the franchisees. Today I meet Ann, Miriam, Philomena, and Veronica. I sit with them as they count up the items that we deliver, and listen to their successes and challenges as small business owners and health care providers. I am struck by the differences from Dorah and Millicent’s shops in Kibera. Here the challenge is to get enough people in the door, in rural settings with government/missionary clinics providing free services nearby. Each of the franchisees we meet today sees only about 15 patients a day, compared with Dorah’s 65. At the same time, a greater percentage of their patients are paying clients.

I find myself coming up with more questions than answers after these first few visits: Can franchises operate in the same way in these very different settings? How can we improve marketing/outreach efforts to bring more people in the door in rural areas? And what is the ideal design of a payment system for patients who cannot afford treatment/drugs? I also reflect on a conversation the fellows had in New York: Is everyone an entrepreneur? Some of the franchisees are as entrepreneurial as anyone I’ve ever met, others are not at all… but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I am interested to learn what John is finding at Scojo with Vision Entrepreneurs, Jon at Jamii Bora, and Wangari at Kashf.

Traffic back into the city was a nightmare, as always, but I made it back for a late Thanksgiving dinner. No turkey for me this year, but Edwin made ugali & greens and Lisa a sweet potato pie. Lots to say “asante” for.

Housing a Fellow

November 19, 2007

So with the investor gathering behind us I find myself in Nairobi where we need to find a place to live! Thanks to the immense generosity of a friend of Catherine’s (a fellow fellow), Lisa (my wife) and I are all staying for the first two weeks in an apartment near the centre of Nairobi. But come December we need to find a place of our own.

Catherine, Lisa and I went house-hunting today. It’s proving surprisingly complex. We’re trying to find a place which is safe, with internet access, within our relatively limited budget and with reasonable public transport links to the places we work. The most complex bit however seems to be working out how comfortable is ‘too comfortable’. We don’t want to be in a place that feels too grandiose – some of the early apartments we were shown felt a bit like four-bed mansions! At the same time, there is clearly something a bit rediculous about these consideration. There is a slight danger of us becoming like ‘Gap’ year students who take delight in living in the most-run-down place we can find so that we can say that we ‘lived with the poor’. It is also clearly rediculous for us to pretend that by living in a two-bedroom flat in a walled compound rather a four-bedroom one we are just like the people we are here to serve.

On another note, I have noticed again (sorry Lisa) how clumsy my wife is. The score for today: one bashed head and three minor trips. She swears that she wasn’t like this until she met me! Having almost wet myself last week watching Catherine bend down to pick up a piece of paper and almost knocking herself unconscious on the table she was sitting at, I feel a competition between the two of them may be in order.