Paths in the Data Jungle

Paths in the Data Jungle

A Kenyan Journey

Door to Door with Crooks and Criminals

2022-06-28: Following a report of the daily newspaper Nation our supposedly quiet and peaceful Kileleshwa became home of crooks and criminals over the last ten years. Fraudsters of all sorts, gold and drug smugglers, and money launderers are taking over former posh quarters of Nairobi like Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Westlands and Riverside Drive.

Unfortunately this is not only a problem of deterioration of borroughs but also one of the public services and institutions. According to the same report the Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i told a stunning public that about 40% of holders of elective office are known as ‘wash-wash’ dealers. Which simply means they are crooks. Combined with a rising level of criminality this is a sober outlook on Kenya’s future.

Criminal threats

2022-06-24: One of the biggest problems in Nairobi for Kenyans and foreigners alike is the terrifying level of criminality in the city, proving right her nickname ‘Nairobbery’.

In a special Whatsapp group for security issues in Kilimani, our supposedly quiet borrough, tales of robbery, extortion and abduction are shared that make us feeling deeply threatened. The menace seems so commonplace, that it is difficult to imagine not to fall prey to it at some time.

Therefore we adopted some restrictive security rules here, the most restricting being not to go out after sunset. Which is a pity, of course: (nearly) no nightlife.

Kenyan Economy

2022-06-21: The Kenyan economy has many small enterprises with different organisational forms. Most buses and matatus (small buses) are operated by SACCOs; the acronym stands for ‘savings and credit co-operative’. This form has its origin in establishments for mutual self-help, which is very successful here. They enforce a certain saving discipline and often pay higher interest rates than banks.

But there is also a wealth of private-owned small companies like Love Artisan, from which one of our sofa comes. We couldn’t believe at first that such a beautiful sofa stems from such a small location in a suburb of Nairobi.

A Road for a Legacy

2022-06-13: Outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta seems determined to get a good record in the history books of Kenya. Many infrastructural projects, like the Chinese-built Expressway in Nairobi, are coming to an end. Nearly two months to go to the next elections, even new projects are begun, like the repair of the bad, bumpy road leading to our house. The works seem to be on a good path, although the workers have to smash big stones manually to make them fit.

Madaraka Day

2022-06-01: Again a Kenyan special holiday, one of two remembering Kenyan history. On June 1st, 1963 the Union Jack was lowered and the new Kenyan flag hoistered, marking the begin of self-rule.

President Kenyatta used the opportunity to publicly expose the benefits of his two terms in office. According to a fact-checking NGO, Africa Check, he was right on some aspects, even underestimated some, but also exaggerated others.

It will be interesting to see in a more distant future how his presidency will be remembered. Maybe his legacy will be more honoured with the time, as it could be seen at the funeral of former president Kibaki.

An Imminent Danger

2022-05-29: Violent incidents are unfortunately very common in Kenya and in Nairobi nowadays. While ‘normal’ criminality is on a constant rise, the approaching general elections on August 9th make imminent tensions rise to a level, that makes many experts fear about violent clashes at and after the elections.

Many institutions, state and civil society actors alike, issue messages calling for maintaining peace. So does the NCCK: a religious call for a strongly religious country.

One state-run institution with the task to strengthen the bonds between Kenyans above all ethnic divides is the NCIC, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission. In a recent communication they state that the country’s potential for election-related violence is above 50%. Let’s pray for a peaceful August!

Let’s remake Hitchcock’s Birds

2022-05-22: The birdlife of Nairobi is absolutely fascinating. Had Hitchcock seen it, I’m sure, his “Birds” had been much more frightening even. The birds in the picture are Marabus, a close relative of our storks. They are well accepted by the inhabitants since they eat carrion and keep the streets clean. Therefore they developed a truely sovereign behaviour.

Life of a Cat (as far as we know)

2022-05-10: Lucy the cat finally comes to terms with her new domicile. A bit of new furniture, e.g. a sofa, helps a lot to turn the empty flat into a true home for a cat. You might think she sleeps, but that is only half of the truth, at most.

The Longest Week-end

2022-04-29: A rare constellation of events provides to Kenyans and to us the probably longest week-end in history. The funeral of former president Kibaki on Friday, the additional holiday on Monday, since the first of May falls on a Sunday, and Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan on Tuesday bring about a really long break.

This combination of secular and religious feasts shows well the multitude of Kenyan society and her very diverse influences and heritages.

We use this week-end for a trip to Lake Naivasha, a lovely Rift Valley lake with a conservancy for wildlife. Many animals, zebras, water bucks, antilopes and many birds live here in peace without fences. One highlight is a 27-days old giraffe calf, following his parents with grace and sovereignty already.

Giraffes at home

2022-04-03: Our first encounter with Kenyan wildlife was not so wild, but by a visit in the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi. The mission of this centre is the conservation of African wildlife and the education about.

Therefore we learned a lot about Rothschild and other giraffes and especially about their diet, with practical demonstrations. We never came so close to giraffes before.

A Surprising Design Week

2022-03-27: After moving to our own flat and trying to fill its emptiness with a bed, a mattress and a fridge for the most basic needs, we feel ready to make a trip in Nairobi on Saturday.

Dorothee wants to visit the Nairobi Design Week to look for local stuff like cushions or sofas. Interestingly, the Design Week turns out to be a vibrant sign of life of the Nairobi civil society. Nearly all artisans and enterprises on this exposition have a strong background in civil and human rights.

Dorothee feels reminded to her former NGO, since the Jesuit Refugee Service also takes part here.

Some of the problems the artists and artisans are discussing are the same as in Germany: the difficulty to live from one’s art, necessary skills of self-marketing and finding an own place in the art scene.

The exhibitions and stores show a strong sense for design and beauty, and political relevance, too.

A flat of our own

2022-03-22: After one week in the quiet resort of the sisters we find with the help of a colleague and friend of Dorothee a splendid appartment in the affluent Kileleshwa borrough of Nairobi.

The tall building has 14 stories and our flat is on the 13th. Which gives us an unforgettable view over Nairobi.

Nairobi turns out to be all that what it is commonly ascribed, namely loud, crowdy and full of cars. But it has also many green, silent places and a skyline ressembling to New York.

Sitting on our balcony we can see eagles passing by, even below us. Not to mention the view from the roof top.

I can walk to my workplace, whereas Dorothee’s is an hour’s drive away.

Karibu! – Welcome to Nairobi!

2022-03-16: After a long, pleasant flight from Berlin via Frankfort we arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. My wife Dorothee and I enjoyed the flight, and even Lucy the cat arrives in good condition, albeit not amused.

Her mood does not improve when she learns that she is confined to a single room in the resort of the Sisters of the Holy Family. This is a quiet and green oasis in the noble borrough of Karen (hi, Karen Blixen!), but we don’t want Lucy to go out, since she is not accustomed to that.

What she ignores is that we are set to stay for three years as seconded specialists by Brot für die Welt, a German development agency. Dorothee works with Haart, a NGO working against human trafficking. I help the National Council of Churches of Kenya to become a more data driven organisation.