Since the disastrous ‘Amazing Grace’ film premier we went to last year, the recent blockbusters and award winners; ‘The Constant Gardener’, ‘Blood Diamond’ and ‘The Last King of Scotland’ have really blown audiences away with wild Technicolor tales about Africa, based on true stories. All excellent entertainment, edge of your seat plot lines, brilliantly portrayed.
There is so much ‘Africa’ atmosphere to soak up; red earth, humidity, banana plants, wide brown rivers, cows in the road, overcrowding, buses and noise. The films start out by seducing you with beautiful Africa, filled with friendly and simply heroic people but then you get pulled into a darker, tragic side of life and wind up leaving the cinema in a state of stunned shock. Are we really living here?
The question is, how best to depict the reality of living here?
First it’s important to dispel a little of the preconceived ‘mystique’. The press are in love with concepts of ‘White Mischief’ and ‘Happy Valley’ but they are 90 years too late. Ok, some people have affairs, do drugs and even get involved in crimes, but aren’t these themes universal and not particular to expats in Kenya?! Kuki Gallman’s ‘I dreamed of Africa’ (or, ‘I Dreamed up Africa’ as it is locally known) is a pure indulgence, as is Francesca Marciano’s ‘Rules of the Wild’. Aidan Hartley’s ‘Zanzibar Chest’ is a hugely educational read and gritty in it’s realism but the bulk of the book is set in newsworthy war zones, conflicts and famines where he worked as a journalist. Karen Blixen’s ‘Out of Africa’ and Elspeth Huxley’s ‘Flame Trees of Thika’ are beautiful books, but were written a very long time ago.
The day to day reality of living here for most expats is to find yourself working in a burgeoning Kenyan economy, with a university educated Kenyan middle class growing exponentially. Heads of banks and insurance companies are often the sons of high rolling Kenyan politicians and civil servants who have benefited from an excellent education and are doing their jobs effectively, in spite of problems with corruption in government etc. The number of white Kenyans is small enough to be almost insignificant in business and competition for jobs is tough out there. The number of people sent out here by foreign companies is decreasing and they are viewed more as temporary consultants. We are fiercely proud of our six year old’s (albeit privileged) school, whose policy of one third Asian, one third Kenyan one third white pupils per year group is strictly adhered to.
What the Kenyan Government collects in tax revenue is sufficient to run the country without any foreign aid, and the 2007 budget has been balanced without factoring any money from the donor community – the government simply lacks the political will to address the major problems here.
Yes there is devastating poverty and are huge social problems to address, but there is also some hope that the country will help itself, without being given the opportunity to skim money off charity donations and pledges of aid money.