Kenya posed a problem for me. Though I had read the travel guides, learnt some history and found out as much as I could before there was still a conflict in my mind. It was a conflict between two emotions that I am still struggling with despite having visited the country in 2007. I went as part of a group but what I saw struck me personally and continues to affect the way I view the world.
On the one hand there was awe and fascination. It is hard to avoid being struck by the beauty and majesty of the Kenyan countryside. The sheer scale of it beat down upon me like the baking African sun.
…people don’t rush under the Kenyan sun.
I was amazed at the wildlife in Tsavo East National Park, I drifted back to animal documentaries as a child and I was almost commentating, in an Attenborough-esque whisper, on what I was seeing. I was also struck by the sheer life and vitality of the people I met, especially the children.
Much of Kenya was a vibrant, exciting and colourful whirl of huge personalities, incredible stories and a vitality that I only really appreciated when I came back to the subdued streets of England. Despite this there is a slow and languorous pace to life, people don’t rush under the Kenyan sun. I chatted for days with a boy called Ibrahim who was 6, he loved hearing about life in England and took it all in with fascinated eyes.
…Ibrahim asked for money from me for his education.
Ibrahim brought the conflict home to me. The other emotion I felt in Kenya was guilt at the inequality I was witnessing. On the last day that I was staying in his village Ibrahim asked for money from me for his education.
As it happened I did not have any cash with me but what he was asking for was such a small amount considering the sum that I had spent on my trip. It seemed hard to drive out on safari and enjoy the easy majesty of a basking Cheetah when I was aware of the problems being faced by the people living around the park.
…political riots and deaths in Kenya.
The guilt returned later in the year as I read news reports of political riots and deaths in Kenya. It almost felt like a return to exploitative imperialism to have jetted in, enjoyed the beauty of the country and done some token volunteer work before leaving the people I met to the same old problems. This left me thinking of the inequality and dramatic imbalance of wealth in the world.
Four years later this guilt was reflected at the recent G8 summit at Deauville. The need for human capital development and increasing the availability of economic infrastructures were emphasised as important to economic development. In other words there is still a need to amend the disparity of wealth between people.
…the problems that Kenya still faces…
Africa is an incredible continent and Kenya really is a brilliant place. I am truly honoured to have experienced it and I would not swap my experiences for anything. What it has emphasised, for me, is the problems that Kenya still faces and the role that European countries can play.
A few of my pounds would have done a lot for Ibrahim in the same way that intelligent aid and investment could do wonders for the Kenyan people. These wonders can be achieved just by using what we take for granted in this country.