Thursday, 1 May 2008

Living Conditions

I have been meaning to write this for a long time, but life has grabbed me by the throat and kept me in the real world - that is the world of having to work, rather than writing blogs.

While I was in Kenya in March, I lived with Kenyans, ordinary Kenyans, in their homes.

So, where to start? I suppose, with my living conditions in the South of England.

I live in a large bungalow in a small village. Our property backs onto the lands of an ancestral home, so it is calm.

The bungalow has the usual central heating, lighting, telephone line, fitted kitchen, bathroom, shower room, three bedrooms and two living rooms, two TVs - it is a "normal", middle class abode. I have a car, not new, but reliable. I have two computers and a laptop, all permanently connected to broadband.


My first stop in Kenya was Kisii, where I stayed for 10 days with friends, Vincent and Abigael. They live in a rented two-bedroomed bungalow comprising a sitting room, kitchen, wet room and the two bedrooms.

There is no electricity or running water and the toilet is a deep-pit latrine 20 or 30 yards from the house.

Most of the garden is for growing food and Vincent has also bought a second plot adjacent, to grow more.

I felt rather guilty as, being a guest, I had been given the "good" bedroom. I shared it with one of the kids, Josephat. Everyone else slept in the other bedroom. This suited Jojo, as he never strayed more than about 3 feet from me the whole time I was there. He has decided that I am his Baba Mzungu (white Dad).

Lighting is by kerosene lamp in the main room and by torch or candle anywhere else.
The kitchen is a room with a couple of low work surfaces, no running water and no cooker. Cooking is over kerosene or charcoal.

Water is brought up from the river every day by a water carrier and has to be boiled.

Internet connection is out of the question, so collecting emails, etc., involves a trip into town to visit one of the many cyber cafés.

The wet room is just a room with a small hole in the wall to let out water. Having a wash involves heating water in the kitchen and carrying it into the wet room in a bowl.

Despite being a "soft" European, I survived. No - more than that. I actually enjoyed my stay there. I happily put up with what I saw as deprivation. OK, going to the loo during a downpour was a bit of a pain, but hey! This is Kenya!


The second leg of my stay was far more "civilised". I had arranged to use an apartment in the village on the coast, sharing it with my girlfriend and her two children.

This apartment comprises a massive living room with dining area, a kitchen with a combi cooker (two gas rings, two electric), although the electric part is not connected, and a fridge/freezer, a bathroom with a bath with shower, "real" toilet, basin and running water (only cold). The bedroom has a king-size and large single bed.

There is electricity, although only one power point in each room. There is also a TV in the living room. The whole is finished off with a large, east-facing balcony.

Few of the windows are glazed. It is not necessary, the temperature never falls below 20C. They are all covered with mosquito-proof netting.

This leg of my stay in Kenya was luxury - a real shower, a real toilet, a real kitchen. And then, of course, I was with my girlfriend!


The third leg was in a suburb of Nairobi. My friend there has a four-bedroom terraced house with a front and back yard. It is in a gated estate with security guard.

The house comprises two floors. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and a bathroom, the ground floor has the living room, kitchen, wet room, a guest bedroom and with access from the front yard there is the fourth bedroom. Normally this might have been the domestic quarters, or workroom.

The kitchen is basic, but does have electricity and running water, although it is not advisable to drink it.

The wet room has an "Asian" toilet which flushes, a basin and a shower head, again giving only cold water.

Cooking is over kerosene or charcoal, but every room has electric light, as long as the supply is working!

This was very comfortable, and I could happily live in this house, but it was not as "comfortable" as the apartment on the coast. Nor would I particularly want to live close to Nairobi.

Given the choice of the three places I know, I would settle in Kisii - the coast is just too hot.

This stay in Kenya, particularly Kisii, reminded me of just how lucky I am, living where I do.

But even the house in Kisii would be considered luxury to many Kenyans, who live in small traditional mud huts under thatch, not through choice, but because they can afford nothing better.

Is No News Good News?

Through the wonderful medium of Skype, I usually have some contact with Vincent in Kisii (he is the director of the children's home), but I haven't heard anything from him for since about Sunday - it now being Thursday. The last time this happened, he had been down with malaria.

I believe the kids are still off school, so of course, there is more to do at home (Jojo and Benta are living with Vincent and Abigael), and also the other kids on the register will be floating around.

But, Vincent is my "link" with Kenya. Without it I go cold turkey. I like to get news of what is happening, especially as Kisii is so different to Nairobi. It is a provincial town with its own economy.

I also get news of the children, and sometime, even some funny stories, or photos.

So, without my almost daily contact, I start to worry. Is everyone OK? What is the food situation? Is one of the kids ill or injured? Or maybe Vincent or Abigael?

I know that even the smallest of our children is far more robust than the average European. They don't have our soft lives. Kids of 9 or 10 can wield a machete to cut wood without cutting both their legs off. But it is worrying to see them using such a dangerous tool.

Oh well, I dare say that everything is fine, Vincent is either tied up with work, or the kids, or both and he will get into town to the cyber-café when he can.

In the meantime, I will sit here and worry.

Where is Zimbabwe going?

It has been announced, albeit unofficially, that Morgan Tsvangirai has beaten Uncle Bob in the Presidential election. The country is gearing up for a run-off election between the two.

In the meantime, the army and "war veterans" are carrying out a campaign of terror against the supporters of the MDC.

So, let's just assume that after the run-off, Morgan wins outright. Then what?

The army seems to be loyal to Uncle Bob; the war veterans certainly are. So what will the new MDC Government do? How will they bring Zimbabwe back into some sense of normality? Will Tsvangirai and his new government be allowed to rule, or will there be a coup?

Winning an election in a country where violence and repression has been the order of the day for so long, may not count for much.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A Lesson in How To ...

... Run the Country's Finances.

From the BBC News Website (

Kenya cash shortfall over cabinet.

Kenya needs to find another $300m to pay for the expanded coalition cabinet formed after a power-sharing deal.

Finance Minister Amos Kimunya says he may be forced to shift funding from vital programmes like resettling the displaced to pay for new ministries.

Or from the Daily Nation website (

Grand Cabinet to cost Sh33bn in two months

Taxpayers will pay Sh33 billion to fund the grand coalition Cabinet in the next two months alone.

Some of the money will be shifted from programmes with major social implications, including the building of new hospitals and road rehabilitation.

The programmes had been factored into the Budget for the current financial year which ends in June.

The high cost of managing the expanded Cabinet became clear in a mini-budget presented by Finance minister Amos Kimunya in Parliament Tuesday.

Kenyan politicians are among the world's best paid MPs - each taking home about $17,000 in salaries and allowances each month. To re-direct money that is destined to help the poorest in the country is disgusting!

Monday, 28 April 2008

More violence ... ?

It has been reported today on the BBC that Charles Ndungu, the leader of the political wing of the Mungiki, Kenya National Youth Alliance, has been shot dead in his car near to Naivasha.

A couple of weeks ago, the wife of the leader of the sect was murdered and this led to riots, bringing Nairobi to a standstill. These were only brought to a halt when Raila Odinga agreed to talks with the sect.

Can we look forward to more "reprisals" from this outlawed and lawless, mafia-style organisation? Or will it lead to another crack-down on the Mungiki by the police?

Either way, the only people who will benefit will be the undertakers.

Staggering from Crisis to Crisis

I have been taking a keen interest in Kenya for about four years now, and until recently, say Christmas last year, everything seemed to be calm. Kenya rarely figured on the news websites or in the UK newspapers.

But, since the Presidential election, Kenya is never out of the news, allegations of vote rigging, violence, political corruption, mass murder, inter-tribal violence, the Mount Kenya Mafia, police brutality,displaced people, assassinations, the Mungiki, food shortages, and now the prison warders strike - have I missed anything?

And all this has happened in the last four months! What is happening to this wonderful country? How can so few people (the legislators) cause so much havoc in such a short time?

Will Kenya ever get back to the peaceful haven that it was before the elections, or will the underlying racial tensions continue to dominate the lives of the wananchi?

As far as I can make out, Kenyans were so proud of their mixed culture, with 42 tribes, Arabs Indians, and Europeans, all living in harmony, and on my first visit in September 2007, I was impressed.

Now, after my second visit in March of this year, although I did not see any violence, I did notice a tension, especially in the Rift Valley. Maybe I was imagining it, but as far as I was concerned, it was there.