I have been in Kenya for just over a week and have become acutely aware of the diverse beauty and conflict of this complex country. My perceptions have been formed through conversations with local business people, cab drivers, US Ambassadors, tribal leaders, locals, visitors and media writers. I certainly do not pretend to be an expert, but I have been in Nairobi, the city capital of Kenya and have learned a lot already. I welcome any commentary and insight from anyone reading this.
I have also been reading through the local papers most days to get a pulse on things. Yesterday was Jamhuri, “freedom” day – the Kenya Independence day and lots of “exciting” things happened. Among the articles this morning were bombings by Al Shabaab against Kenya security forces near the Northern border and a story of four people being hacked to death with pangas (machetes) at a political meeting in Migori. It just so happens that I am headed to Migori tonight (5 hour back-country style drive) for a business meeting tomorrow.
I have become aware of a few key things worth noting:
Unemployment: Unemployment in Kenya is somewhere near 45%. So half of the people in this country are not working and in fact barely surviving. As you can imagine, this leads to very desperate measures and to many people who will do anything to survive. People never walk the streets after dark here and for good reason.
Tribes: There are about 44 tribes throughout Kenya. Each has its own culture, language and commitment to supporting that particular tribe. Some tribes get along others don’t. Sometimes a business owner will open or run a business in one area, but not provide work for those tribes who live in that area, but to their own tribe, which may lead to resentment and conflict. That is just one example of how the tribal culture may have an interesting complication on things.
Politics: During the last election in 2008, there was massive violence. The current president pretty much voted himself in and the country rioted, fighting back old-school style with machete hacking everywhere seeking some sort of political justice. This video clip from 2008 will give you an idea of what was happening back then: Kenya – hacked to death in front of film crew.
The country is now gearing up for another election next year in 2012. Ask anyone about their perspective on what’s going to happen and you will be in a heated conversation for a long time. Add on top of that the amount of apparent corruption that is going on with the current political arena. Many people don’t like the politicians because they make all the money and live the high life, while the common people suffer.
War with Somalia – Al Shabaab: Essentially an Islamic group of militants of about 15,000 young Somalians who are attempting to overthrow the Somalia government. So the war is between Kenya and the group trying to overthrow Somalia. Al Shabaab emerged out of Al Quaida from what most people remember in Somalia – the battle of Mogodishu characterized in the popular US movie, Black Hawk Down.
First they were getting their cash from Pirating (Somalian Pirates) and when the kabash was put on that they started kidnapping people, including the kidnapping on the Northern Coast of Mobassa. Well that hurt the tourism as nobody likes being kidnapped and mega warnings against travel in Kenya were issued.
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All this in turn hurts the economy of Kenya. Which makes the economic situation even worse than it already is. So, Kenya then decided to take out Al Shabaab. Thus the war in Somalia.
In return, Al Shabaab doesn’t like that and vows to “take down Nairobi.” So security is at an all time high here in malls and every major public area to avoid some massive attack. And of course, the Al Shabaab is looking for a nice American they can kidnap. And who does the kidnapping? All the young militants, many of who are being recruited in Kenya by Al Shabaab because they have no work and are fed up with the Kenya government. Sweet.
The good news is that it seems as if Kenya is actually making headway. One of the articles had Al Shabaab considering a name change to try and win the support of the Somalian People and the Kenya military is characterizing Al Shabaab as confused and broken. So far only 10 casualities have been reported on the Kenya side and “hundreds” of Baabs have been taken down.
While there are many alarming areas as far as Kenya is concerned I feel excited to be here and in the mix of so much.
That’s all for the moment. I am heading to business meetings in Nairobi! As we say in the climbing community, “It’s kind of like fun, but different.”
PS: In case you don’t remember, I am over here offering training and development programs to businesses in Kenya and will take half the profits and give it toward a local nonprofit to fund education for you girls in central Kenya. This is a CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility program by Grand Dynamics and Corporate Motivation, and our attempts to contribute positive impact in the world.