Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30, 2011 - Progress?

Sometime during our first year in Kenya, we saw lane lines being painted on the road.  By hand.

Almost four years later, we saw lane lines being painted on the road again this past weekend.  With a sprayer (takes less time to do and might even last longer)!

So maybe that is not the greatest technology in the world, but it IS a technological improvement and is also just one small sign of the development happening in Nairobi right now.  A huge highway bypass system is being constructed, parts of it already in use, along with more office buildings, apartment buildings and housing compounds than we can count.  Roads are being improved (at least somewhat; some of K's colleagues used to commute for 90 minutes to get to work and now it only takes 30 minutes, which frees up 2 hours of their day to either be productive at work or spend with their families) and lighting for night time driving is also better.  One of the newest and definitely fanciest malls just opened a KFC (yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken) and a Yogurt Planet (which I think is a little slice of heaven).  Since we moved here, Kenya has also established itself as a world leader in mobile phone technology and banking (see M-Pesa or this article or this article) and is far more advanced than the US and Europe.  Kristoffer is even using this technology in many of his development projects at WFP.  At Nairobi's biggest (only) toy store chain, you can now get many high-end toys from the US (if you are willing to pay three or four times the American price).  

Grow grow grow.  Develop develop develop. Progress progress progress.
It's great.  
But...

The problem with all of this development, as I see it, is that it targets the middle and upper classes - including a large population of financially stable expats (guilty as charged) - BUT it neglects the poorest and most disenfranchised members of Kenyan society, including those 3 million or so people who are currently starving.  I suppose that is not all that different than in any other country where there are rich and poor populations, it is just that for some reason it seems even more criminal in this context.  The poor here are a type of poor and a type of hungry that you and I can't even possibly imagine (and when I write that I am remembering a time in NYC when a homeless man was begging for change, and I offered him half of a sesame bagel with cream cheese and tomato that I hadn't touched and he turned it down because he didn't like sesame seeds).  

So yay for Nairobi: grow! develop! progress! But boo for Kenya: start taking care of ALL of your people (and a new social movement called Kenyans for Kenya is requesting the same).  In a country that has as much wealth as Kenya has (much of it in the pockets of just a few people I believe), there should be a focus on helping all Kenyans put food in their mouths and not on bringing an expensive American fast-food chain to the mouths of a few.  Progress is great, but let's get our priorities straight first.

LMW

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

KFC is development? Everything by American standards I guess