A Kenyan Journey
An Old Vice
2022-02-02: Corruption is a widespread vice all over the world. Watchdog Transparency International just published its annual report over the state of corruption worldwide. Their overall résumé is pretty bleak: More than two-thirds of countries score below 50, while 26 countries have fallen to their lowest scores yet. TI sees corruption as both a key cause and a result of an increasingly insecure and more violent world.
This is also true for East Afica. Kenya for example could improve its corruption index by 2 points to 32, up from 30 in 2021 and well below the global average of 43 (0 meaning ‘highly corrupt’ and 100 ‘very clean’). This puts the country on rank 128 out of 180 countries included.
In the East Africa region it holds a middle place, worse than neighbouring Tanzania and Ethiopia (both 38), but better than Uganda (26) or South Sudan (13).
Speaking with employees of TI Kenya reveals quite a typical pattern of good and bad that can be seen in other fields as well. There are some very engaged institutions fighting corruption like the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission EACC, with which TI Kenya can work closely, but there are also many powerful players hampering the fight against corruption on all levels. The fight seems to be a damn long one.
A Beautiful Dawn
2022-01-31: In the dry season there are wonderful dawns in Nairobi!
Tough Waters Ahead
2022-01-30: One of Dr Ruto’s central promises during his election campaign was to lower the costs of living for all Kenyans in the first 100 days in office. Such promises usually have a short lifespan, but this one is too important to be simply forgotten.
Unfortunately it looks that after 140 days in office of the new government the opposite happened. According to the latest figures published by the KNBS, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, prices for many important basic goods raised by 42% between September 2022 and January 2023.
According to a report in the Nation, the price of a kilo of potatoes rose from ca. 90 KES in September to 97 KES in November. The price for electricity made a jump by over 27% between August and December.
If President Ruto continues to fail on his central election promise, times for the new government could get rough. The pressure on most Kenyans is rising constantly, and their patience could be limited.
A Dangerous Job
2022-01-23: Human rights activists face life-endagering threats and violence all over the world, and Kenya is no exeption here.
Recently, according to a report of the Nation, Mr Kimutai Kirui called for police protection. Mr Kirui did a lot of public action to expose an Eldoret based recruitment agency in connection with World Cup jobs promised to youths, jobs the paying applicants never saw.
Mr Kirui is executive director of the Centre Against Torture in Uasin Gishu, a North Rift county. He now reported to the police that he receives dead threats and faces physical molestation.
The protection of Mr Kirui is yet another litmus test for the government whether or not it is willing to safeguard the Kenyan civil society. The phenomen of ‘shrinking spaces’ for civil society actors is also ubiquitous here in Kenya.
Stray or not stray?
2022-01-14: Since we have no cats actually to look after, the sight of cats on the streets induces a desire to simply take them home, provided we were able to catch them, of course.
But is she really a stray cat? Such a good looking cat certainly has recruited already some personnel to cover her needs. Though, after Christmas there are many cats in the shelter, we’re told. Maybe one or two of them will recruit us?
2022-01-12: Finally the (not so) short rainy season is over, and the summer (called the dry season in Kenya) is here. It feels like holidays, and for most pupils it still is, since the Christmas break is the time of long home stays for them.
What inspires us with happiness is for others a nightmare. The closing of the “rainy” season without rain, for the forth consecutive year, means for many Kenyans, that hunger and death will persist.
A report by the Wildlife Research and Training Institute, based in Naivasha, shows the impact of drought on both wildlife and livestock. In the most affected ecosystems (Amboseli, Tsavo, Laikipia-Samburu) the wildlife losses are endangering all conservation efforts of the past.
Where wildlife suffers, humans suffer too. According to Reliefweb more than 4.2 million people in the arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya are facing high levels of acute food insecurity with about 2.7 million people in the crisis phase and 785,000 people in emergency state (these figures of October are still on the rise).
In Germany you can often hear and read that the climate crisis is not so pressing and no urgent actions are necessary. In Kenya you can experience the true deadly dimension of this crisis.
Happy New Year
2022-12-31 / 2023-01-01: I wish you all a happy New Year! After a difficult 2022 a happier and easier 2023 might follow, bringing as much as possible of what you wish.
2022-12-25: Christmas in Nairobi is a pretty new experience for us. To celebrate it in a tropical environment is somewhat unknown; luckily Dorothee brought with her some unexpected Moravian stars to give a home-bound feeling of the day. To all who celebrate: Have a happy, peaceful Christmas!
An old Legacy
2022-12-22: Do you know what a kaya is? On their way through southern Africa some Bantu people found their way to the beach south of Mombasa. In fact the Mijikenda fled from slave traders into the forests, which originally flourished at the beaches. An inhabitated forest was called a kaya. At the end of the 19th century the last inhabitants left the kaya as a habitation, but they remained sacred places for the spirits of the tribe, consultated till today by the chiefs.
To preserve the kaya the Digo (one of the Mijikenda tribes) decided to make one of it, the Kaya Kinondo, accessible for visitors, except for the sacred area in the middle. Today it forms an UNESCO World heritage site and a successful eco-tourist project providing some money to the members of the community.
If you want to visit this kaya, look for Kaya Kinondo near Ukunda south of Mombasa. More info about it can be found here.
2022-12-21: There are not many buildings left from the Swahili past of Mombasa, unfortunately. One of the most impressive is the oldest mosque in town, Mandhry Mosque, founded in 1570. Its rounded minaret is said to be typical for the Bantu-influenced architecture.
Advent on the Beach
2022-12-18: A day at the sea is for me always a wonder, like here at Pirate Beach near Mombasa. There is a metaphysical feeling of happiness!
To light or not to light
2022-12-13: The electricity net in Nairobi and other parts of the country is sometimes bound to – mostly short – outages. This is not too surprising, given its somewhat improvised nature with surface cables and distributors.
Unfortunately there is a deeper reason for the lack of investments into the electricity net. According to a report in the Nation Kenyans failed to pay Sh27bn for electricity bills in the first half of 2022 alone. This is not only due to the sharp rise of cost of living in the recent months, including electricity costs, but is a decade-old problem for power suppliers.
The new administration seems determined to push county governments and government entities to settle their power bills, since also these institutions do not always pay their bills.
2022-12-12: Yet another public holiday, the second to mark Kenyan independence after Madaraka day on June, 1st. Jamhuri means republic in Kiswahili, and it commemorates two events: the formal independence on Dec. 12th, 1963 and the admittance to the Commonwealth as a republic one year later. Unfortunately the weather in Nairobi is not festive at all, which is a pity for the many activities planned for today.
2022-12-04: From our balcony we can see many birds, among them eagles, storks, crows and swallows. But there are far more species. Today two Northern Black Flycatchers (probably) inspected our balcony and indeed found some apparently interesting food there. Wait and see whether they become regulars here.
2022-11-28: You think you can escape the pre-Christmas stress in Nairobi? Nope, you can’t. Christmas is a really big thing here and everybody seems to hurry to get some presents for the family.
Therefore, all need money, including criminals. Many horrific stories about attacks in Nairobi flood the social media channels, tales of assaults in plain daylight, even on groups.
But not all stories turn out to be true. Sometimes pictures and videos from other countries like South Africa are posted to have taken place in Nairobi, sometimes the reported events are anything but criminal attacks, for example a fundraising event.
Nonetheless the security situation in Nairobi, especially in the CBD, has deteriorated, as it usually does before Christmas. The new city government seems determined to change this, but in a country with a chronically corrupt police force this will prove to be difficult.
In the meantime we observe our security rules, e.g. no strolls outside after sunset, even stricter. As Karl Valentin had it: “After the ‘Silent Days’ things will become quieter again.”
Malkia amekufa (The Queen is dead)
2022-11-20: Lucy the cat decided to enter the next level of life. She was critically ill, so we had to let her go.
This is very hard for us, especially for Dorothee, who had an exceptionally close relationship to her, all the nine years she was with us.
Stay in the glory of the Lord, paka wetu!
New Buses for Nairobi
2022-11-18: The climate crisis is an omnipresent issue here in Kenya. The drought is only the most devastating part of it, the changes of seasons and the rising unpredictability of the weather are also well present in the public opinion.
Part of the problem is the public transport in Nairobi, relying almost exclusively on old buses and small transporters issuing a lot of pollutants. The revival of the small meter-gauge suburban railway network, brought about by the previous administration, was just one step to a better public transport system.
Another step was just kicked-off by the local start-up BasiGo (basi is the Kiswahili word for bus). It announced some days ago to start the production of electric buses in Kenya and to produce 100 of them in 2023, 15 to be delivered already in January next year. Also the charging infrastructure for these buses shall be provided.
100 buses are not too big a number for Nairobi, for sure. But these electric buses could set a way forward into a fossil-free future and show that this is not out of reach for a country like Kenya. I really look forward to use it!
Rain and no Rain
2022-11-16: In Nairobi the second raining season of the year, the “short” raining season, has started with some weeks of delay. The city’s claim to be the “City in the sun” seems now nothing more than a clever marketing invention.
Unfortunately in the parts of Kenya desperately waiting for rain for four years now there is still no or very little rain. According to media reports more than 5 million people actually stand in need for humanitarian assistance, not to mention the many animals, wild and domestic, starving to death. The demands for climate change compensations from the countries of the north become very tanglible here.
Evening at the Lake
2022-11-04: The Lake Victoria (it’s still named like that) is the biggest freshwater lake in Africa. It is world’s second-largest lake by surface, but since it is not very deep (40 m on average), it is in terms of volume only the world’s ninth-largest continental lake.
It is often considered to be the most important source of the river Nile. But more often the true source of the Nile is considered to be one of the tributary rivers of the Kagera River, flowing into the lake and coming from Burundi or Rwanda, this is not finally settled.
If you see it like that, then again the ancient Greek “story-teller” Herodotus was right, claiming that the Nile originates from hills in southern Africa.
In any case the scenery is impressive. Sitting at the lake shore in Dunga Hill Camp in Kisumu and eating some Nyama Choma, an iconic food of Kenya, gives you a feeling of the greatness of Africa.
2022-10-24: Diwali, the Indian fest of lights, is also celebrated here. It is not a national holiday, but an optional one, which employees can pick from a list of optional holidays as a day off.
Also cows are not holy for non-Indian people here in Eastern Africa, but wait, there could be an exception.
For the Maasai their cattle have a status of very high importance, next to holiness. Maasai cows are a frequent sight now also in Nairobi, searching for every piece of green they can find. In the streets they have the right of way, causing even more jams than usual.
A Beautiful Season
2022-10-24: In Europe and other parts of the world you would call it spring, not so in Kenya. People here speak about the long or the short rainy season, the cold or hot season.
What we now have in Nairobi you could call the Jacaranda season. Many of these beautifully blossoming trees can be seen now, and their violet blooms give the city a very special flair. Nairobi, the “City in the Sun”, becomes a city of colours, finally.
A Day for Heroes
2022-10-20: In Kiswahili “mashujaa” means “heroes”, so Mashujaa Day is the day of the heroes, a public holiday remembering in the first place all who fought for Kenya’s independence or positively contributed to the post-independence Kenya.
We use the holiday to attend the NGO International Film Festival in Nairobi. The idea behind this festival is to show short films produced by NGOs for their own purposes and to make them seen by a greater public. The public is not so big indeed – only 4 spectators including us at this venue – but the films from Tanzania, Nigeria and Mexico are brilliant.
“Zafi” by Chloe Coko presents the sad story of two child brides in Nigeria, married to much older men to pay the debts of their fathers. “Champion” by the Tanzanian studio Tai tells about a girl hero in a Massai village (some of the films by Tai can be seen here). “Education for Life and Peace” documents an educational event in Mexico devoted to a holistic approach to economic, social and political issues.
The bare existence of such a festival is yet another sign of life of the Kenyan civil society.
2022-10-18: According to a report by UN Human Settlements Programme up to one billion Africans spend 56 minutes walking or cycling for transport every day (I’m part of that, if it’s not raining).
But there is a backside here: While the continent accounts for just 3 percent of the world’s registered vehicles, it is home to 20 percent of global road traffic deaths. More than 260’000 people were killed on African roads in 2019, 36 percent of these pedestrians.
The security for pedestrians on Nairobi’s roads is not too good: sidewalks are limited to bigger roads, if any, and often illegally used by motorcycles. Some sort of anarchy in the city traffic, apparently due to the election period, seems to prevail still. Hopefully the new county goverment will tackle with it in near future.
And there is also a social dimension in walking, as it is considered to be a form of mobility for poor people. In Kiswahili, if you don’t want to say “nilikuja kwa miguu” (I came by feet) you can say “nilikuja kwa routi eleven”, meaning the same.
On the Bright (Sea-)Side of Life
2022-10-10: After three years I finally see the sea again! Monday is Utamaduni Day, a holiday to celebrate the country’s rich cultural diversity and heritage. We use the long week-end and Dorothee’s birthday on Sunday to go to Mombasa, Kenya’s busy and most important port town at the Indian Ocean.
I cannot describe the joy I feel when sinking into the warm sea. The whole trip is an abundance of light, sun, sea, easy life, and pure happiness. More pictures can be found here.
On the not so Bright Side of Life
2022-10-05: People with disabilities struggle in Kenya, as in other countries, with many prejudices, especially as children. They are often hidden by their parents, can’t go to school or conduct a life as normal as possible. Disabilities are seen as a curse, also for their families.
The NCCK launched a campaign for the rights of these people. One part of it is a sensitization workshop at Getembe Church of God in East Africa in Kisii County, where stakeholders cite discrimination, stigma and gender based violence as some of the cruelties meted against persons with disabilities in the society.
As usual the NCCK tries to organize affected persons to speak for themselves and make them heard. A news coverage of this action can be seen here. You may notice the sign language interpretation, which is quite common in Kenya, not only on television.
A New Hope
2022-09-30: Of course you know Malaria. But do you know Kala-Azar (or Visceral Leishmaniasis)? This is the second deadliest parasitic killer in Africa after Malaria. It is one of the so-called “Neglected Diseases”, for which only a long, costly, and painful treatment is available, although the disease has been well known for a long time.
According to the Ministry of Health in Kenya five million people, mainly children aged five to 15, are at risk of the disease, mostly in nine arid and semi-arid parts of the country, parts also at risk of hunger and poverty.
As a disease mostly affecting poor people there has been nearly no research on it. With one notable execption: The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) recently developed a new treatment with the potential to significantly reduce the risk for a deadly course and which is much easier to administer.
According to a recent DNDI press release a clinical trial initiated in 2017 in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda by the AfriKADIA Consortium with funding from The European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) showed very good results.
This finding is encouraging, but if you compare the time to develop this treatment with the development of COVID-19 vaccines (only marginally shared with so-called developing countries) you see the difference in the target audiences of these diseases.
An Old Story
2022-09-27: According to an article in the Nation Kenyan lawyer Mr Paul Gicheru was found dead at his home in the borough of Karen, the circumstances of his death still being unclear.
The story behind here is that Mr Gicheru faced a charge at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for interference with the ICC process in 2014-2015 against then vice president and actual president Dr William Ruto.
Dr Ruto was accused in the Hague for crimes against humanities for his role in the violent ourbursts after the 2007 elections. The prosecutor backed this charge with many witnesses, who began to withdraw their testimonies or disappeared completely after Mr Gicheru entered the stage.
Mr Gicheru was charged by the ICC, but denied any interference. Surprisingly in 2020 Mr Gicheru chose to face trial in the Hague pleading not guilty.
The pre-trial chamber of the ICC confirmed the case against Mr Gicheru just last week, stating it “is convinced that between April 2013 and January 2014, Mr Gicheru offered various witnesses (millions of shillings) in cash instalments in exchange for withdrawing as Prosecution witnesses in the Ruto and Sang case”, according to the Nation.
President Ruto is adversely mentioned as one of the people in the scheme of things in the court documents, but the court so far does not demand Mr Ruto’s appearance.
Nonetheless this old story could still backfire on the actual president.
A Trappy Climate
2022-09-25: The climate in Nairobi is a bit treacherous: the sun is intense, given Nairobi’s position on the equator, but the air is fresh, given Nairobi’s altitude of 1,800 m. Her name comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nairobi, which translates to “place of cool waters”, but it could have been also “place of cool air”.
So sitting in the sun gives me a good feeling of summer and warmth, but when the sun has gone, I catch a bad cold without even realising at first. Learning here: Always take a jacket with you.
And almost all Kenyans we speak to agree that the climate became unpredictable due to the climate crisis. Previously unknown floods and droughts and shifts in seasons add to the difficulties most Kenyans face actually.
A Call for Action
2022-09-22: Many groups of Kenyan society try to influence the agenda of the new government, even when it is not finally installed yet. So do the religious leaders of the member churches of the NCCK.
In a press statement – you can watch it here – they call for action on four top priorities: lower the cost of living, declare famine and dought a national disaster, address the socio-economic situation of young people, and strengthen state institutions to protect the welfare of Kenyans.
Dealing with these issues may prove to be difficult, to say the least. Hopefully Kenyans will see more than symbolic actions and the usual corruption.
A New Price Tag
2022-09-15: It may seem to be a simple price tag, but it is a very important one. The new government raised the petrol prices by KES 20 and by KES 25 for diesel. Even after this sharp rise prices are still ca. KES 30 below market prices.
The decision was a first compromise, President Ruto originally planned to remove subsidies completely. But the way ahead is like squaring the circle: the new government needs to comply with harsh budget restrictions while delivering on its promise to lower cost of life within the first 100 days. The apparently difficult decision-making process with petrol prices shows that the new government is in trouble already from the start.
It is little comfort to Kenyans that the rest of the world faces the same problems.
An End and a Start
2022-09-12: According to the daily newspaper Nation outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta leaves a two-faced legacy.
On the positive side are more roads built (11,000 km) than by all other administrations before together – including the British – and a much increased access to electricity (from 40% to 71% of the population). Also many other infrastructure projects like ports and the Standard Gauge Railway list here together with the issuance of six million land title deeds.
On the negative stand a much increased public debt, amounting to Sh8.56 trillion or 67% of Kenya’s GDP and many issues and scandals showing that corruption didn’t diminish, to say the least.
The new administration of Dr Ruto faces tough waters ahead in fulfilling its promises: the 100-days-action plan for ‘hustlers’ – a term that means in Kenya small and medium business entrepreneurs – and actions to bring down the cost of living will require much money, and money got rare now.
The subsidy for the petrol price – acutally fixed ca. Sh50 per litre below the market price – is not well received by the International Monetary Fund and will be difficult to maintain in future. But a petrol price of over Sh200 per litre would be a severe shock to hustlers and the whole economy.
If the new administration can’t handle these problems adequately the outlook could be sobre for it. But at least it starts with a public holiday for the inauguration tomorrow.
Light and Blue Silence
2022-09-07: During our visit at Karen Village we encountered a young Kenyan artist, Jimmy Kitheka, in his atelier. His paintings show a very individual look, often playing with light reflections of candles, neon bulbs or other sources of light. Most of them are situated in the dark, with unsharp contours of the objects depicted, giving his pictures a look of strangeness and mystery.
Attending the vernissage of an exhibition of his works at the Alliance Française in Nairobi we meet Jimmy again and share his happiness with this evening. He did some other jobs before starting to paint, but since he does he is quite successful. His works are currently also shown in Venice at an exhibition called ‘African Identities’, so it is a real chance to see his works here.
You can visit the exhibition till September, 30th.
The Final Decision
2022-09-05: The election of a president is over: The Supreme Court confirmed the victory of Dr Ruto and dismissed all petitions against it. The only critical point is a severe malfunction in the governance of the IEBC, the election board of Kenya. Here reform seems inevitable.
It is quite disappointing that Mr Odinga was not able to present more evidence for his case. He had done a better service to the people of Kenya in conceding his defeat, hopefully he does so now. Also the four dissenting commissioners need to be asked whether their move to split the IEBC – called an ‘antic’ by the Court – was really adequate.
All observers agree that the elections were fair and transparent, and the mere possibility of hacking the tallying system – without showing any evidence that it really occured – is simply not enough to compromise the reported results.
A report by KICTANet, a Kenyan think tank for IT issues, makes several proposals for improvement of the systems used. Hopefully the next government adopts them along with a governance reform for the IEBC.
A Fresh Start
2022-09-01: While Kenyans wait for a new president the elected candidates for governors in the counties are sworn in and start their work.
According to an article in the Nation the newly elected governors of the three North Eastern counties Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera announced such a fresh start. Two of them in Wajir and Garissa are not new to their positions, but reclaimed seats they lost in 2017; only the Mandera governor is a really new face.
All three announced quick fixes especially in the ailing health sector, where services are severely hampared by lack of medical supplies.
Hopefully this fresh momentum lasts longer, since the tasks waiting will need an even longer commitment than the five years of a term until the next elections.
Unfortunately, no mention is done in the article of the ongoing drought and hunger crisis affecting the three counties. The Regional Drought Response Plan of the UN World Food Programme lists them among others like Turkana, Marsabit, Isiolo and Samburu as severly hit by food shortages and the loss of livestock. The number of people in need of relief food assistance is estimated to be 3.5 million for Kenya.
The WFP changes its actions in Kenya from direct provision of food to the strengthening of national and local systems. It is of vital importance therefore that the counties are competent partners in this process, providing quick and efficient help.
Living in the Limbo
2022-08-27: While the Supreme Court discusses the presidential election, the elected governors and MPs, national and in the counties, take their offices. Many new faces, among them more women than ever before, shape a new picture of Kenyan politics.
For the contested presidential elections the way forward remains totally unclear. The Supreme Court has three possible choices: reject the elections completely, accept the voting, but not the tallying or confirm the victory of Dr Ruto.
Publicly a rare apathy reigns here over that issue. Together with the much lower voter turnout and the quietness before, during and after the election – even in Dr Ruto’s strongholds the celebrations were short-lived – this life in limbo shows that most Kenyans care more for their own survival than for a president. Mr Odinga had problems mobilising his voters in the first round already, Dr Ruto might join him in a possible repetition or second round. Turned positively: the time of ‘magic’ in politics, claiming to bring about the Promised Land, seems to be over. An able crisis manager seems to be preferable over a miracle doctor.
The Wind of Change
2022-08-23: If you want to see some fresh wind in the political system of Kenya, have a look at human rights activist Mr Okiya Omtatah Okoiti. In the elections Mr Omtatah won the senator seat for Busia county with a big majority, reflecting the respect for Mr Omtatah’s work in the last years.
Not being a professional lawyer he filed some successful pledges in different courts, winning major cases in favour of the public.
According to the daily newspaper Nation, he filed also a petition at the Supreme Court claiming that neither Dr Ruto nor Mr Odinga got 50% + 1 of votes as the constitution requires. He not only found a typo in the officially published results – seemingly to be the first to do so – but also raised some serious questions about the count of voters.
Maybe the case of the four dissenting commissioners of the IEBC is stronger than it looked at first. There could be good reasons to repeat the presidential election.
Key to Success: Mobilisation
2022-08-19: If the victory of Dr Ruto is valid – the Supreme Court to decide – , the key factor for it lies in the far better mobilisation of voters. The voters’ turnout was on average much higher in counties preferring Dr Ruto than in counties with a majority for Mr Odinga.
So it’s not only the political preference of the Mt. Kenya region, as most commen-tators see it. Maybe voters generally saw more future in Dr Ruto than in the hero of the past.
A Stray turns House Cat
2022-08-17: Zuri the (ex-)stray cat accomodates with her new home, even with Lucy the cat. Lucy still has not come to terms with her new companion, but as cats normally do the both share the resources available like rooms, places to sleep and the attention of humans. A fragile peace seems to prevail, hopefully to last.
The Day After
2022-08-16: Kenya has a president-elect, but does it have a new president? Insecurity about the validity of the elections, especially the tallying process persists, after four out of seven commissioners of the IEBC refused to validate the result that was proclaimed. The deeper reason for this remains unclear so far.
The vote is a pity seriously compromising the work of thousands very engaged and trustworthy officers during the election. All commissioners together must find a way to rebuild the confidence in the IEBC and not roll off the whole mess to the Supreme Court. The commission owes the people of Kenya a full elucidation, at least as a last service to its returning officer Mr Daniel Musyoka found dead today, murdered and tortured.
Apart from rare outbursts of frustration in some Raila strongholds all remained calm, but today most businesses remain closed and public transport is mostly out of service.
Compared to prior elections this calmness can be interpreted in different ways: you can read it as a proof of maturity, or of widespread complacency about the whole political system. The latter seems true for many, if not most Kenyans under 35. This puts an additional weight on the shoulders of the incoming administration. It must find ways to steer Kenya through the combined crises ahead, otherwise the apparent peace will break soon.
A Lesson in Patience
2022-08-15: Coming from Europe to Kenya you learn patience in many aspects of your life. We made this experience already with Kenyan bureaucracy and customs. But the nerve-racking wait for presidential results sets a new mark, even by Kenyan standards.
Speaking with Kenyans reveals that there are many new facets in these elections: the public admittance of defeat by many candidates, the transparent way of tallying and the calls for peace and patience by all major players in politics and society results in an emotional, but peaceful intermediate stage in this process. Outlooks are good that peace will prevail also when the result is announced.
2022-08-09: The long awaited day of general elections is finally here. According to most observers the elections went fair and peacefully without the feared outbursts of violence.
The operation for the six elections hold together went smoothly in most parts of the country, with the exception of some quirks with the electronic voters’ register and missing ballot forms.
I serve among many others all over Kenya as an official observer for the NCCK in a polling station in our borough of Kilimani, located in the Kilimani Primary School.
The station is well-equipped with all necessary material, and the whole process is well-organized with colour-coded ballot forms and boxes.
Speaking with the election officers from the IEBC, the organizing body of the elections, reveals, that they are part-time employees of IEBC with a contract for the elections. During the election process they show a high level of engagement and professionalism, also the result of four days of training.
Most striking to me, with an experience of more than 30 years as an election volunteer in Germany, is the transparency of the counting process: Each ballot is unfolded by the presiding officer and assessed by all present officers and observers for the respective candidate. Also the counting is done together, so no room for any fraud is left open.
The long day, starting at 6 am, ends after midnight, when all results are counted and tallied to the IEBC. From there it will take up to seven days for a final result to be officially announced. Hopefully all candidates and citizens will accept this result.
African Arts in a Village
2022-08-07: One of the HAART activities is placed at Karen Village, a cultural hub with over 25 studios and social enterprises in the noble borough of Karen. Beside a temporary exhibition one lasting contribution of HAART’s campaign is a mural with its central message: take action against human trafficking.
The vast area is marked with art all over, vibrating with originality and wit.
We even find an Ethiopian restaurant for an excellent dinner.
A Widely Unknown World Day
2022-07-30: Do you know that July, 30th is the World Day against Human Trafficking? HAART is using this day to promote its fight with many different actions. Among them are boxes in shopping malls displaying the dimensions of this crime and the false promises traffickers make.
One survivor, Ms Mary Muroki, now works with HAART to protect other people from that what happened to her. Her story, narrated by herself, is heart-breaking, but full of hope and strength. Remarkable is not only what she tells, but the quiet, intense way to tell about the hardnesses in her life. You can hear it here.
A Call for Safe and Peaceful Elections
2022-07-28: As the election day approaches quickly, many actors in the Kenyan society raise their voices to call for safe and peaceful elections.
Under the umbrella of the Mulika initiative, funded by USAID, the main religious groups in Kenya join forces to enforce these peace messages. At a conference in Ufungamano House, a venue of the NCCK in Nairobi, catholic and protestant leaders, along with Muslim and Hindhu representatives, discuss for two days issues of the election preparation and offer their help.
In the focus of questions stands the IEBC, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission as the main organizing body of the elections. After the problems in 2017, when the elections had to be repeated due to grave execution problems, the Kenyan public has a close look on this commission. Its communication has room for improvement, to say the least, and some of their recent actions are not building up trust in it.
Speaking with some of IEBC’s employees, who work with great engagement to safeguard the elections, shows another facet. They are very disappointed about the ongoing critique and many rumours raised in the public about its conduct. It is great to see that fairness and correctness of elections find strong advocates among them.
In their press statement the religious leaders urge all stakeholders, IEBC, politicians, police, media, and all Kenyans to facilitate fair, credible and peaceful elections.
Flashmobs in Nairobi
2022-07-24: What if you are forced to work as housemaid or sexworker? Human trafficking is a crime with horrible consequences for the victims. HAART, the NGO Dorothee works with, tries to raise awareness for this ongoing human rights crisis. Flashmobs in very different places of Nairobi like a noble shopping mall or an informal settlement are just one type of action to promote this.
Excellent dancers and rappers catch the attention of the inhabitants and carry the message about human trafficking into an environment with very vulnerable people for human trafficking, here in Kibera.
Peacekeeping at Bigger Scale
2022-07-20: The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), the organisation I am working with, undertakes together with other institutions some intiatives to keep the upcoming election safe and peaceful. This encompasses election observation (including primaries), peace messages voiced in member churches and dedicated research about the feelings in Kenya with regard to institutions and politicians.
The picture painted at the annual conference of the Executive Committee of the NCCK today in Limuru is a mixed one: some findings are encouraging, many are not. The level of credibility of governmental institutions and politicians is quite low, and many people don’t believe in fair, free and correct elections. Nonetheless the calls for peace and national cohesion are widespread, and chances are still good for non-violent elections.
Part of the good news is that these elections may differ from earlier ones in one important point. They could be the first not too heavily influenced by the underlying ethnic-identity problem Kenya faces from the start. Both of the leading candidates adress the same ethnic groups, but with different issues and promises. This could make these elections the first issue-based ones ever.
Peacemaking at Small Scale
2022-07-17: You want to know whether you qualify for UN Secretary General? Try to bring two cats together. Zuri the stray cat (white-gray) is not too well received by Lucy the cat (brown), but Dorothee reaches sort of a fragile state of peace. We have to see whether this will keep or ends up in open fight. ‘Zuri’ means pretty or nice in Kiswahili, but she is also a born street cat with an experience of assertiveness. Or might it be that Zuri will not be satisfied without the street life?
Fight Every Crisis
2022-07-15: The conditions of living in East Africa in general and in Nairobi in special are deteriorating constantly. As a report in the daily newspaper Nation puts it: “In Nairobi, the wealthy live large, the middle class survive while the needy merely exist in the hope that the next sunrise will bring better fortunes.”
Life in Nairobi has never been easy if you are not so well-off, but now the combined crises of drought (through climate change), fuel and food shortage (mostly due to the war in Ukraine) and COVID-19 make it really difficult, not to mention the persistant crises of corruption and criminality. One immediate consequence is much less traffic in the streets, giving a previously unknown feeling of ease to get from A to B.
And still the life in the capital seems to be better than in rural areas in northern Kenya. Reports are sparse even in Kenyan media but the hunger seems all too common there. According to the Borgen project help is under way, but in no ways sufficient. Unfortunately there are not too many voters living in the most affected areas.
2022-07-14: The supermoon also rises over Kileleshwa:
Commemorating a Sacrifice
2022-07-11: Yet another long week-end, due to a muslim holiday: Eid al-Adha, the “Feast of the Sacrifce”, the second and bigger Muslim feast after Eid al-Fitr. In Muslim tradition Ibrahim should sacrifice his son Ismail (instead of Isaac in the Jewish tradition). Here also an animal is slaughtered in place of the son, Ibrahim’s willingness to do so was enough for God.
If that holiday falls on a Sunday, as in this year, the following Monday is not automatically free as for other holidays. But this year being an election year the government declared it so, on a very short notice, Friday only.
Singing for God and Peace
2022-07-10: Living with a purpose can change your life. The people behind ‘Tunedem’ try to convey this feeling through their music classes. ‘Tunedem’ is derived from ‘tune them’ and tries to use musical education as a means for tuning people in to the grace of God. The initiative is located at the Hope Church in Lavington, a rather noble borough of Nairobi.
The band behind the project plays Reggae music with Christian texts. Although Dorothee tells me that later the concert turns into a punk festival with Pogo dancing. Definitively I left too early.
2022-07-08: Like all human rights violations also violence in the context of elections has a gender bias. Kenya experienced strong violence after the 2007 elections, and also the last election 2017 was accompanied with outbreaks of rape, assault, and murder.
What did the offcials learn from these events to prevent such crimes during and after the polls in August? According to this comment in daily newspaper ‘Nation’ the government is aware of the issue.
Last Friday survivors of the 2007/2008 post-election violence shared their stories. They are shattering, especially the stories of women: rape that resulted in pregnancies and HIV infections, crippling assaults and other infringements with long-lasting effects destroyed their lives.
The most discouraging news is that there is no real news in the official plans to prevent further election-related crimes. Tangible and concrete actions are still lacking, and nearly none of the perpetrators of past crimes were prosecuted and convicted.
Hopefully prayers won’t be the only measures to ensure peaceful elections. Otherwise the bare word ‘election’ will become a menace to many Kenyans.
A House with a View
2022-07-06: I cannot get accustomed to this view. How could I?
A Different Part of Nairobi
2022-07-04: During my work for the NCCK I explore a very different part of Nairobi. The NCCK runs a hospital in Huruma, a lower middle-class borough visibly not so well-off like other boroughs. It was very impressive to see the engagement of doctors and nurses there to provide to their patients not only basic, but also advanced medical services.
The most encouraging fact is that the treatments and services are offered at truely affordable prices covered by the health insurance system in Kenya. Therefore the hospital can indeed serve the people of its neighbourhood.
Safari in the City
2022-07-02: Nairobi is famous to be the only capital in the world with a national park inside the city limits. And she is rightly so: the scenary is impressive to the brink of surreality. Seeing animals well known from wildlife documentaries against the skyscraper skyline of the big city is unforgettable.
Despite the fact that the park is relatively small – for this reason there are no elephants here – many animals live apparently in peace, undisturbed by the human visitors in cars. Be sure to take a guide, unless you won’t see many animals; the tour guides know best the places where to look for them.
Of the three big cat species we only see lions; cheetahs don’t show up, neither do leopards. This is a good sign, because it means their nightly hunt was successful. More photos can be found here.
Eating Out in Nairobi
2022-06-30: Our Kiswahili teacher already warned us: a sentence like ‘ninapenda kula’ (I love to eat) is grammatically correct, but no one would say it. ‘We eat because we have to’ was her explanation.
But they are there, the good places to eat. They are not so easy to find, so better ask a friend with more experience in Nairobi. With this help we find this beautiful Italian restaurant for our wedding anniversary.
Chef Giovanni really knows the secrets of Italian cuisine, and they serve wunderful wines, a rarity in Nairobi, as far as we can tell for now. Not to mention the friendliness of the whole staff.
Oh, want to go also there? The restaurant is called ‘La Terrazza’ in Ngong road.
Door to Door with Crooks and Criminals
2022-06-28: Following a report of the daily newspaper Nation our supposedly quiet and peaceful Kileleshwa has become 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 boroughs 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.
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 borough, 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.
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.
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, close relatives 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, waterbucks, 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 is 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 it.
Therefore we learn a lot about Rothschild and other giraffes and especially about their diet, with practical demonstrations. We never came so close to giraffes before. Did you know that giraffes have black tongues?
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 Nairobian 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 borough 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 borough 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 (Bread for the World), a German development agency. Dorothee works with Haart, an NGO working against human trafficking. I help the National Council of Churches of Kenya to become a more data driven organisation.