Paths in the Data Jungle

A Kenyan Journey

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 this peace messages. At a conference in Ufungamano house, a venue of the NCCK, 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, where 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 end 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.

A Supermoon

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.

Election Fears

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.

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 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.

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, 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, 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.