Monday, February 23, 2009

A tale of two ghetos

A visit last week to Nairobi's South lands Kijiji over the weekend was very good. It was a stark reminder of Nyalenda in one way but in another way, it was a strong indicator yet that the slum situation in Nairobi may have no comparison in Kenya. The Kisumu area is much better. It reminds me of the first time I visited mukuru. I told myself that nyalenda should never ever be referred to as slum unless we get another definition for mukuru. be that as it may, the basic issues are pretty much the same. issues of lack of water, no toilets, drainage or even roads. In case you have an emergency situation, the ambulance would have no place to pass. The other commonality with Nyalenda is the lack of privacy. normally the 'walls' of the houses are so thin, you can hear the neighbors turning in bed. It is always worse when the turnings are man-made!

But yet one more thing that makes all slums equal is the micro-one-day economy. In nyalenda those days, you could survive on 10 bob each day. and your budget would be very simple:

Kimbo ya kukatwa (the paper wraped Kimbo was
cut into several pieces) 2/=
Unga ya kupima 2 /=
mafuta ya taa (also for cooking) 3 /=
omena bluband ndogo (measured in a used bb tin 2 /=
maji kibuyu moja 1 /=

The 10/= budget was important since you did not need to keep any leftovers as the following day you would be at work (mjengo mostly) during lunch and by evening it would have been spoilt.

In southland's, most house rents are between 1200 and 2500 for the ones with electricity (of course illegal connections) What is very different is that some people living here actually drive and in the evening they park quite good cars in the nearby school or shoping centre. They also take their children to very good schools outside the slum. The slum therefore is only for cheap accommodation.

Another reminder and commonality for all shanties is the presence of hope and despair living side by side like siemese twins. you see the hope in the eager faces of young chilren playing without any inhibition or monitoring. if you buy OMO's marketing rider then only kids in the slum truly learn. on the other side, you see the disillusioned faces of young adults resigning to fate and hopelessness including those already in the tight grip of changaa and other cheap drugs

Monday, February 16, 2009

Of Human Rights and Home Truths

In the '90s when there was great civil conscience, debate and activity , my good friend Kodhek kept on reminding me that injustice anywhere was a great threat to justice everywhere. Because of that, that he kept on saying that it was the responsibility of the whole world to make sure that the inhuman treatments, rights abuses and life threatening corruption happening in Kenya were dealt with and eliminated. That was well and true. But what if those injustices were happening in those places too? Kodhek held that those other places were too developed and civilized to allow such things to happen. Well that was true until we saw shocking pictures from one notorious camp called gitmo. suddenly the saviors became the tormentors just like the civil rights crusaders of Moi years became the dictators of Narc error. My eyes were rudely opened wide. I did not have time or opportunity to make Kodhek eat his words and indeed I never even had the energy nor the interest. I was learning rather fast.

Indeed they say that there is a thin line between good and evil and that the greatest of solutions are always also the greatest sources of problems. just like capitalism was the greatest and most successful formula to end feudalism and perpetual damnation to poverty and hopelessness, it became the greatest challenge to the world and is singly responsible for all current evils including exam leakages, teenage pregnancies, moral decay, global warming, corruption and even the increase of human rights violation all over the world. I hope Mr. Obama will not go the route of Kibaki. and that he will respect the world enough to deliver on the promises he so eloquently made. I know its a tough call but then again no one said it was going to be easy.

And this day, I remember in a special way, my former MP for Kisumu one Robert Ouko, a brilliant foreign affairs minister whose body was found burnt in Got Alila near Koru. I remember him because in 1988, when I was a pupil in Shauri Moyo primary school in Kisumu, my friend and I recited a poem to entertain him during a councilor's home coming party in our school. The poem was in praise of President Moi. In those days all entertainment pieces were in praise of president Moi whether he was present or not. Hon Ouko really liked our poem. He looked rather a small man compared to my dad who was a giant of a man but he left quite an impression on me.

His death was condemned far and wide but today, I wonder if it was any different from the senseless deaths of the many civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Cashing in

It was during one of my many one-on-one sessions with my boss that we talked about the concept of cashing in. According to him, career development like investing should be run like a marathon. You can choose to cash in while at the head of the pack but the question is would you be happy in the long run. If you bolted like Bolt after the sound of the gun, would the likes of Wanjiru and Paul Target look at you worried? Maybe not. Sometimes its good to cool it off and wait for your wine to mature before serving.

But I have in mind many people who could have cashed in pretty early. For one even though he won, Obama in my secret subdued view could have jumped the gun. In fact i still have a feeling that winning is one thing but not the only thing. Its just like the examples my Boss was giving me of people who climb the corporate ladder pretty fast, then notice the glass ceiling and then opt out and go to climb in another place. In the long run they may not be happy. Get the job they would but perform or survive?

The other person I think is cashing in too early is one Eric Omondi. A very comical and likeable character in the Churchil Live show every Thursday. The media house has given him his own show, actually a rather prime time slot on saturday. My wonder is will he be able to hold us the way Churchil holds us glued to the screens? Will he make us want to go back and watch. Will people pack the carnivore for him the way they do for churchil live? Would it have been more prudent to stay on with Churchil just a little longer to get his endearment to the people.

Yet another guy in fact whome I pitty so much now is one Ababu Namwamba. In one short year, the young man has gone full circle of a Kenyan politician. from a nobody, to a bootlicker (for Raila) to a hero, to a heckler , villain and back to a nobody. At least after the shameful admision that he had lied to the republic about mama Lucy. By the way his allegations may hold some water and he could have been forced to 'apologise', but the fact that he did not have balls to stand by them and humbly ate his words is very telling indeed. You wonder who will take him seriously now. In fact rumours have started flying that he was part of the maize cartel!

But I pitty him becuase someone could actually be using him. One clever politician could have identified his raw youthful ambition and decided to use, abuse and dump him. Just like one Danston Mungatana. What happened to him by the way? He was the star of the nineth parliament having made a name for himself as the one who could insult Raila anywhere and anytime. Now there is no need to insult Raila and no one needs the poor little fellow anymore.

Even companies sometimes cash in too soon. And that was probably one of Uchumis greatest undoing. Even GTV. Deciding to sprint even before learning how to crawl was a dumb idea to say the least

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Superlative Service

Have you ever gone to buy a service and felt that you were underpaying for it or that there was a catch someone up the chain? Well I did when I went to see a doctor at the AAR clinic in Sarit centre. the ambiance was strangely different. After registering at the reception, I looked around for a suitable old, torn magazine that would help me pass time as I waited my turn with the doctor. Instead, I got an AAR newsletter which was also very recent. But before I could get to page two of the newsletter, I heard my name being called. wow that was fast. I went in to see a very friendly doctor who made me open up rather easily as he was very comfortable with me and did not contradict anything I told him even engaging me on a chit-chat on things completely unrelated to medicine or being sick. He seemed like he had known me for very long which actually prompted me to ask if he had ever worked in Kisumu where I lived most of my early life. From the doctor all the way to the lab and the pharmacy every one was rather welcoming and friendly and at each point I kept on asking myself whether I would be charged extra for the 'special service'. No they did not in any case the consultation was cheaper than the place I visit most of the times.

That kind of treatment is hard to come by in these parts of the world apart from at Standard Chartered West lands Branch where everyone normally seems to know me and what I would be looking for. Whats more, their seats for waiting are very comfy and they have newspapers for the day everyday. I have been with them for long and I know they are not charging me anything extra for their superlative service. Oh and another place I get that kind of treatment is carnivore. But then carnivore seems to have created their own customer service style and its expected theat they would treat you that well. I wonder where they get the energy to sing so enthusiastically for every patron celebrating a birthday, anniversary or first visit to Kenya. Only that they need to learn a new song to add onto the 'jambo bwana' gig.

By the way, they are about to export their model to Egypt. In fact, I met the guys who are going to be the manager and chief chef. They were in the country to learn the job first hand. Some Carnivore waiters will also be taken to Egypt briefly. This I guess would be the second export after the one in South Africa.

Monday, February 02, 2009

'I Take Responsibility'

Those 3 magic words are what I would like to hear more from my countrymen and women. Its time to take responsibility over our actions and basically give those guys we call leaders a small break. The fire was tragic but death could have been avoided. Our people need to know that their life is their responsibility period. I actually got angry that even after so many people had died before in similar conditions, more had to perish out of sheer acts of irresponsibility and after the fire Many people went on a blaming spree saying the govt should do A or B. what about the citizens!

Even after that tragedy, when driving around town, people kept on jumping in front of the car and running across the road. They basically were leaving their lives in my hands or let me say in my breaks and my feat. They trusted that my breaks would not fail, that I would have seen them on time, that my personal reflexes were good etc

After the Nakumatt fire, the ministers and the city council treated us to an exchange of blame about who did not do his job. Even the COO of Nakumatt came out and put blame on someone else. I expected him at least to say the fire was my fault or it accidentally started but it was in my business premises and I take responsibility that we locked the only door when fire started, that we do not have smoke or fire detectors, that we did not have emergency exits. That I did not train my people on emergency management etc.

Two years ago, I talked to people against pyramid schemes until my mouth went dry . They couldn't listen instead they kept on asking me which ones were most lucrative. when they lost their money they looked for someone to blame and the government came in handy. Some even vowed to sue the government. Please just take responsibility for your actions.

Even the food crisis calls for some responsibility. Drought visits Kenya every 5 or so years. Every citizen should take it upon himself or herself to ensure their families food security. It does not have to be left to those people called leaders all the time. take charge of your life it is your responsibility.

On another note, I wonder why Kenyans have this obsession to reap where they did not sow and rejoice at their neighbors misfortune. That a tanker rolled with so many litres of fuel was already tragedy to the poor businessman who was transporting it. Why do people look at that as manna from heaven. It is the same mentality that makes people rob accident victims or even people who have passed out in crowded places. I suppose its the same mentality which creates those mega scandals once they reach a national scale.

By the way how come we are still transporting fuel on the road while we already have Kenya Pipeline from Mombasa to Kisumu and even Eldoret?