A fascinating country, Kenya. I was last there in 2018. Famed for its wildlife what’s often forgotten about Kenya is its active participation in global trade for centuries before European settlement and as part of the great Indian Ocean trading networks. That familiarity with commerce has given Kenyans a comfortable ease with trading, trying out new ideas, and having a culture of welcome.
Along the Kenya coast are settlements which were trading entrepot with a documented history of trade with the various states of India’s western seaboard, imperial China, Yemen, Ethiopia and further south to Zimbabwe and Mozambique – get more on this here.
Why Kenya? Well, when I was last there one thing which amazed me was the growth in the size of the capital city, Nairobi. The city I knew as a child was verdant, lush and green with large leafy streets and comfortable houses set in their own grounds … a lot remains the same in the smart parts of the city. But there has been a massive growth in the population caused by people leaving the countryside for work in the city or because they can access better healthcare (Kenya also pioneers treatments for HIV). Others drawn to the city are refugees from conflict caused by the collapse of neighbouring Somalia (Kenya houses the largest number of Somali refugees anywhere).
Now you might think – if the rhetoric of western policitcians is anything to go by – that Kenya was being brought to the edge of collapse by a combination of ecology, geography and ‘floods’ of refugees sinking the fragile economy … well, no.
Nairobi is thriving – there is a buzz and an energy and a sense of exciting innovation that defies all expectations. Technologically, Kenya pioneered secure mobile payments more than a decade ago; it’s a concept we are just getting to grips with in the UK. The acceleration in trade and communications mobile has brought has transformed the way people do business … from finding the cheapest petrol to getting the best price for produce from your smallholding in a 25 mile radius, Kenyans have it sorted.
… and now?
Kenya is one of the first countries to take part in a ten year long trial to test the theory of a Universal Basic Income. Read all about it here.
“Our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it; those who strive to build a protective wall around it, and those who wish to pull it down; those who seek to mould it and those committed to breaking it up; those who aim to open our eyes, to make us see the light and look to tomorrow […] and those who wish to lull us into closing our eyes”
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o