Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What's changed?

It's been five years since I was in Kenya.  My #ibmcsc #kenya colleagues are asking me - what’s changed?

Right off the bat, I notice a few things in the plus column, a few in the minus, and a lot in the grey zone…

Plus column:
·      Real growth and development in the tech sector (see previous post)
·      Tangible sense of optimism about economic growth and opportunity

Minus column:
·      The traffic is much worse.  So much so that it now has a real impact on the kind of plans you can make (e.g. it may no longer be feasible to travel to work, then go home, then go to another neighborhood for dinner). 
·      Security is on another level altogether.  It seems like entering any public building now requires at least a pat-down, if not a full metal detector, empty your pockets, sign in and out kind of affair

Grey zone
·      New road construction.  Grey zone because it might provide temporary traffic relief but only temporary…if the past history of other cities is any indication the new roads will fill up just as soon as they’re opened.  Nairobi might be at the point of no return with regard to cars – there will only be more and more cars and no amount of road building will alleviate the traffic much. 
·      Lots of new building construction.  Nice sign of growth and prosperity, but how are all these people going to get around? Where will the water come from?
·      Fewer street hawkers.  It probably does keep things a bit safer and more orderly, but I miss those guys! What if I DO want to buy a pink elephant balloon on the street while sitting in traffic? I'm reminded of my probably best ever Kenyan street purchase.  It was in 2009 when Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat – a book about corruption in Kenya – had just come out.  It was hard to find in bookstores (they were afraid to carry it) but where did I find it? From a hawker on the street when I was sitting in traffic in a matatu. Another great street purchase was finding a hawker selling the exact political map of Africa I’d been hunting all over town for for days. 

It’s easy to lament some of the changes, and no doubt some could be better managed, but on the other hand any fast growing place is going to have challenges and growing pains.  Kenya is no exception.

That's traffic on a road that I don't think used to have traffic on it

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