Tag Archives: kenya

Kenya, Day 1

(More Kenya notes)

I arrived at the airport around 5:30 am. First time in Kenya since 1988 – 34 years – but the airport was pretty much the way that I remembered it. I’m sure it’s larger.

Customs and immigration were painless, and my suitcase was out before I got to baggage claim. No complaints there.

After a little hassle trying to get some cash, I got a cab to the Jacaranda Hotel in Westlands.

Along the way I was just staggered by how everything has changed. Everything. The roads to the airport is very nice (which probably needs its own blog post!) and there are so many new buildings.

Granted, it has been 34 years. The driver was amazed that I had been gone so long. He was 5 when I left!

I didn’t take enough pictures – Maria says I never do – but here’s a picture of the Oracle building close to my hotel.

The hotel is beautiful. I am sure I have been here before, possibly to use the pool? Not certain. It’s showing its age, but it’s still an oasis in the middle of a very busy part of the city. I can, however, see the expressway out of my window.

This is my second room – they moved me to a nicer room the first day I was here. Larger, although the view isn’t quite as nice.

In my first room I had a view of the central pool and courtyard, which was quite lovely.

After a short nap, and breakfast, I summoned a car and went to Good Shepherd Church, which is where we went when I lived in Nairobi in the 80s.

It was nice to visit, although I didn’t know anyone, and after hanging around for a while feeling awkward, I walked the 2 or 3 miles back to the hotel.

Walking was a bit treacherous, with sidewalks alternated by mud paths and the occasional sudden gaping hole into the sewers. You have to stay alert.

And the traffic. Wow. That, also, probably needs a separate blog post.

I had lunch at the Artcafe restaurant one block over, but, alas, they were out of samosas, which is specifically what I went for.

In the afternoon I sat out on the central courtyard and read, which was delightful.

Later, I met with the people from SpaceYaTech, which I have already written about. And by that time it was dark, and I had dinner at the bar and restaurant there in the pool courtyard.

In all, a thoroughly lovely day.

It’s not home any more, but it’s home-ish, and it’s lovely to be back. 34 years is an entire lifetime, and everything here has changed, radically. Although some things are still the same. It’s a weird mix, and it would take longer than a week to unwrap all of it.

(More pictures on Flickr)



(More Kenya notes)

On November 13th, I met with two representatives of SpaceYaTech at the Jacaranda, in Nairobi – Sharon Jebitok and Pamela Kendy – and one other, Hudson Obai, joined us online.

SpaceYaTech – A space for tech – started in April 2022 as a Twitter space for discussion and networking. It rapidly grew into a larger community, who has since moved to Slack and discord. They are largely focused on mentoring in software development, devops, and the open source community.

Out of this discussion has grown a number of projects on Github, which facilitate discussion and mentoring.

The projects include a content management system which will be used to build their website, a forum where the discussion can land, and a web application for coordinating mentors. They now have more than 300 developers working on these three projects. These specific projects were chosen, so that the people working on them were also using them, creating a feedback loop for quality, but also for the satisfaction of seeing one’s work in production.

Pamela was one of the students who received mentoring via SpaceYaTech, and from being a complete beginner at first, has now become an experienced UX designer.

One of the things we discussed was the fact that her formal education was in psychology, not computer science, but far from being hindering, this diversity of expertise enhances UX design, since it gives her insight into how people think, and also helps her work with users/customers to improve user experience, and build personas around the various user types.

Related to that, I’ve had several conversations here in Kenya about the fact that the Kenya government recently passed legislation that required anyone working in tech to have a computer science degree or certification. This has since been overturned, which I think is sensible, since what makes tech interesting is not the technology itself, but the diverse ways it is applied, and a diversity of backgrounds is what makes that possible. Furthermore, the majority of people I have ever worked with in technology have degrees in something else, and are self-taught in the actual technical aspects. (This includes me.)

As the group has grown over the past few months, from a small group of enthusiasts on Twitter to a more formal organization, they have encountered some growing pains. These challenges include, among other things, a lack of funds (they are all volunteers), a lack of mentors (they have had a huge influx of people looking for mentoring) and a lack of computing resources for CI, testing, and deployment of their projects. They also want broader visibility on social media so that more people can benefit from what they’re doing.

If you are interested in mentoring young, brilliant developers in East Africa, please do have a look, and reach out to Sharon or Hudson.

Not a Kenya citizen, apparently

There’s some drama going on in the news in Kenya right now. Without going into all of the detail (it’s quite a soap opera) one of the characters in the drama is one Miguna Miguna. (Yes, that’s really his name.)

Weirdly, I have been acquainted with Miguna for several years. He used to come to my Kenya website, say awful things about pretty much everyone, and then threaten to sue me when anyone said anything at all about him. Even when they had documented evidence. Like about his time in prison for opposing the Moi government, and other details that are conspicuously absent from his Wikipedia page.

But I digress.

One of the details of great interest to me is his citizenship. At some point, he acquired Canadian citizenship while in exile from Kenya (again, due to his political activism). The constitution says pretty clearly (and, as a lawyer, one would think he’d know this) that if you acquire foreign citizenship, you lose your Kenya citizenship. Read it for yourself. And you must apply for reinstatement, if you want it. Kenya does not automatically recognize dual citizenship, although there is a process you can go through to gain it, if you’re in that position.

Now, this last part was news to me, and so I’ve been reading over the last few days. Perhaps I could apply for reinstatement of my dual citizenship?

The 1991 constitution, I vaguely remember, introduces some language that eliminates dual citizenship. However, everything I can find about it now says that the only substantive change in that revision was the abolishment of the one-party state.

This led me to dig some more, because I have always believed that I had dual citizenship when I was born. I was born in Kenya to USA citizen parents.

Turns out, the 1963 constitution does not recognize Jus Soli – the notion that you’re a citizen of the bit of dirt you’re born on. Turns out, that’s actually somewhat uncommon, and mostly only recognized in the Americas. Not in Europe, Africa, or Asia, where (for the most part) you are a citizen only if your parents (or, in most cases, one of them) was a citizen.

So, although I have believed all my life that I’m a citizen of Kenya by birth, it turns out, legally, I never was. And, of course, the 2010 constitution makes it impossible for me to have that citizenship (re)instated, even if I had been, as I would have to reside in Kenya for 7 years, which is not practical at this stage in my life. And, as someone who was not, legally, born a citizen, I’d have to renounce my US citizenship as part of that process.

This is odd. Practically speaking, it makes no difference. I have never had enough knowledge of local politics to want to vote. I can still travel to Kenya without a visa. And I still have my childhood and my memories. It makes no practical difference whatsoever.

But I still feel like I’ve lost a part of who I am. Or, something that I always believed I was.

Biashara Street

Biashara Street
February 5, 2012
From WeekendWordsmith.com

Step away from the
odour of bodies and exhaust into a

chutney of cardamom

Sacks of
cashews overflow onto
floors covered with boxes,
and more heaps of
burlap bags
full of jasmine rice,
basmati rice,
long brain brown rice
from exotic places I
dream of going, some day.

In this quarter mile of
dusty street
are gathered all the spices of the world,

from Sri Lanka,
and far-away San Francisco.

Tea, coffee and
cocoa pods
lend their aroma to the
general cacophony of smells,
discordant, but, somehow

a symphony in a thousand voices.

Knowing that school uniforms
are only a street or two over,

I stand and breathe deeply
of the cloves,
curry powder,
and saffron.

For the Weekend Wordsmith – Chutney

Terrorists and Freedom Fighters

Today is Jamhuri Day – Republic Day – in Kenya, the day when we celebrate Kenya’s establishment as a republic in 1964.

Yesterday I was reading the Wikipedia article about it, and it stated that the day is often associated with Dedan Kimathi. I found this very odd because I had never heard that it was associated with him, and I had only ever heard of him as a terrorist, monster, and murderer. I had never once considered him as a national hero.

But it turns out that in 2006 the Kenya government erected a bronze statue of him right across from the Hilton. I was completely unaware of this, and it strikes me as revisionist history in the worst way.

However, this morning I was thinking, as I often have before, how the distinction between freedom fighter and terrorist is entirely one of perspective. After all, Castro, Khadaffi, Mugabe were all freedom fighters, and George Washington was a notorious terrorist.

It also makes me wonder how much of my understanding of Mau Mau is based on the fact that I was myself a white person in Kenya at a time when most people still remembered Mau Mau. The Mau Mau were savage monsters who massacred indiscriminately out of unrestrained bloodlust.

And of course that is most assuredly a grossly slanted view, too, with the truth being somewhere in the middle, as it usually is. Kenyatta, one of the early leaders of the movement, was arrested in 1952 and remained in prison for the entire period of the ‘Kenya Emergency’, as it was called, but after that he became Kenya’s first president.

It used to be that history was written by the winners. In the day of Wikipedia, history is as often written by people trying to clarify old oppression. I think I should finally read Facing Mount Kenya, and whatever other first-hand accounts of Mau Mau I can find. I’d really like to know how much of my “knowledge” about Mau Mau is just the British perspective I got in school.

Tempest in a chai-pot

Apparently a bunch of very ill-informed people are filing lawsuits, claiming that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the USA.

What’s amazing to me about this entire article is that nowhere in it does it address the actual constitutional issue – that a candidate for president be a “natural born citizen.” That means that they were a citizen at birth, rather than naturalized later. Regardless of whether Mr. Obama was born in Kenya or Hawaii, he is a “natural born citizen.”

Now, he has provided his birth certificate, and that’s a legal document, so there’s really no case to begin with. But it bugs me that so much fuss would be made over a non-issue. As it happens, every president so far has been born in the USA, a fact about which I was apparently mistaken. However, the constitution does not require this – merely that they be a US citizen on the day of their birth.

I, for example, was born in Kenya, but I am a “natural born citizen.” Not that I’d be crazy enough to want to be president. But the fact that the question even arises is troubling. Are military kids, born overseas, automatically ineligible? The constitution says that they’re not. And are we really so terrified of foreign contamination that someone born to USA citizens on foreign soil is automatically suspect in some way?

Xenophobes really, really irritate me.

Kenya agreement

While I am, of course, pleased that Kibaki and Odinga reached an agreement, I’m a little disgusted at the way that they are acting like they are great heroes for it.

I hope that, some day, they have the decency to be ashamed of themselves for their shockingly selfish behavior, and the more than 1000 of their country people who lost their lives due to their consuming hubris.

Remember, if you will, that they haggled over this agreement for nearly 2 months, while the people burned, murdered, raped, and generally destroyed the world’s image of what has always been the greatest nation on the continent. Remember also that the agreement that they have arrived at is very close to what was proposed in the first week – that Odinga is the PM, and that there be some limited power sharing while they work towards a new election.

So, while you celebrate, Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga, remember that those 1000 lives are on your hands. Also remember that you have a long road ahead of you to heal the wounds that you have caused. I’m sure you’ll spend the next 6 years trying to shift the blame, but rest assured that the rest of us won’t forget.