01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Eternal Optimist in Kenya 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Eternal Optimist in Kenya

Dodging stray bullets notwithstanding, from my point of view, we are going through a pretty positive time in Kenya and there's loads to be excited about.   A few years ago I said that living in Kenya today had a lot of similarities to what it might have been like to live in 1950s Britain.  Not any more.

While Europe fights its way through a gigantic economic crisis - The States, Germany, UK, Greece etc. are all looking at their shoes, realising that their countries have overspent horribly and now must pay the price -  Kenya, however, is forging ahead, stronger than ever.  It has now officially regained the development momentum that it so tragically lost after the Dec 2007 election.  Comparatively speaking, it's not a bad place to live right now. 

The voting in of a new constitution has been huge step.  As I understand it, it will take some time to implement the reforms but at the root, a new constitution means a giant shake-up of the old political order, the judicial system, local administrations (provinces changing to counties), city councils, the police.  All a step forward in the fight against corruption.  And very encouraging news for private/foreign investors. 

A lot of the old faces in politics and the judiciary will necessarily go once reform are implemented.  Add to this the fact that Ocampo will arrest a couple of politicians/powerful businessmen accused of masterminding post election violence, hauling them off to The Hague by the end of the year - and things are definitely looking up for the next election in 2012!  Don't panic Mr Mannering!

In spite of the bad roads, lack of water during dry spells etc - there are also huge leaps forward in terms of development.

You would not believe the building boom that has been going on in Nairobi for a good few years now.  Good quality, well built new office buildings, shopping centres, new houses are popping up every where you look. 

Though we like to moan about areas getting built up, more congested - it is a definite sign that development is moving in the right direction.  More houses, more shops, more cars; in many ways means that more people are prospering and moving up the ladder.  In fact, house and land prices have gone through the roof.  We thought it would top out ages ago but it's still going!

Our house, once located in a very quiet/dark road, is now almost entirely surrounded by town house complexes.  When I see a couple of hundred people early in the morning, all on the road waiting to enter a construction site, I can't help feeling slightly pleased that all of them are in gainful employment and not on the streets.  Plus, more houses means that our area is now better lit, better guarded, safer.

There is a Nairobi bypass planned.  When it's finally done - the traffic situation just has to get better...

The fibre optic cable has improved communications already, but work still continues on this which will benefit everyone.  I think they've laid 3 cables now.

Mobile phones are affordable for all and thanks to a recent price war, the cost of calls and sms messaging has gone down drastically.

I am constantly amazed by systems like M-pesa and Zap.  At a very low transaction rate, you can use these to transfer money, pay bills etc. improving efficiency and access to finance.  Thanks to micro finance initiatives, it's also no longer the case that bank accounts are only for the rich.

There's always loads going on; concerts, sports, funky bars popping up, cinemas, affordable restaurants.  Check out Kenya Buzz or Access Kenya websites for events info.  Nairobi certainly is increasingly sophisticated, cosmopolitan, fun.

Thanks, in a great part, to Kenyan environmentalists like Wangari Maathai, awareness of environmental issues has been raised amongst the public and in government.  Since election in 2008, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has worked hard to plant trees, reinstate the Mau forest and evict illegal settlers.  The private sector have got involved too.  See the KMA 'Greenline' tree planting campaign earlier this year.  The Rhino Ark Trust, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service have now fenced the Aberdare forest, a huge water catchment area that services Nairobi and beyond. 

Old Colonial life
It's no longer the case that the expat and old school still have no idea what their kitchens look like and leave everything up to multitudes of house staff.   Though, please note, culturally, employing house staff is very much part of life in Kenya (particularly for Kenyans I hasten to add!).  Basic salaries have gone up.  Staff members, in the main, prefer to live outside the compound with their families and not live in. Standards have improved.  New houses and apartments are being designed and built to fit in with ideas on modern living.

The weather's great.  Landscape, stunning.  People, amazingly friendly and nice.

All in all, the news is good.

When I went to England in the summer, on the first day back, the news headlines told the story of a man who had evidently lost his mind and shot his wife and two children dead.  The next day there was a four year old boy who died having got trapped in a tumble drier. 

Is your cup half full or half empty?  You may hear horror stories from Kenya - but you can find those wherever you live - depends where you look.  All in all, we're pretty lucky to be in Kenya.  Secret's out!  It's not a bad place.  Not bad at all.

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