Today I came back to Dhaka from Nairobi, Kenya. This was my first trip to Africa and despite the fact that I didn’t get much of a chance to move around, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.
Kenya is a country of around 44 mn people in the Eastern part of Africa. Compared to the North (Muslim countries like Algeria, Libya, Egypt) and the South (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia) the Eastern part is relatively poorer. Kenya’s per capita income of around $1,300 will put it close to that of Bangladesh.
After landing in Kenya, it felt to me the Jomo Kenyatta Airport looked old and small. I later learned that we had landed at the older part and there is a bigger and modern version. Compared to Bangladesh immigration and luggage took much lower time. The travel to the Sankara Hotel in Westlands made it clear that Kenya is home to probably more number of western companies compared to Bangladesh. The physical infrastructure was probably similar to Bangladesh. A few of the shopping malls weren’t that spectacular but roads were about okay.
A few things stood out for me in my very short stay. One is that Kenyans speak very good English. Apparently English is the first language for many of the African countries (except the Northern ones where people speak Arabic). Secondly, there are many people of Indian origin living there. The Indian cuisine (spices etc) in particular has made strong inroads in the Kenyan culture. Thirdly, the growth of technology (mobile internet, mobile banking etc) has been way faster than most of its peers. A 2014 report says that Kenya has around 67% smart phone penetration. Another says that internet penetration is about 59%. I think that the spread of technology was helped by the fact that people spoke and understood English very well. In other countries like ones in South Asia, content in local language might be required to really drive up the penetration rates.
The weather was fabulous. Even towards the end of April when it gets really hot in South Asia, Kenya had very little humidity and cool temperature. Personally, I would rate this as the best feature of the country.
The biggest concern for me was the law and order situation. There is very tight security all around. The recent attack by Somali terrorists in a University really shook the world. Tourism had declined by around 30% in the first quarter of this year. I heard from Bangladeshi people living there that armed robberies and break-ins are quite common. Nevertheless, my meet with the Kenyan people led me to believe that they are good people with great sense of humor. Rotten apples are found in almost all corners of the world.
Also there are frequent risks of drought which have adverse impact on its main exports. Major export products are agricultural . This year the drought in Kenya is likely to help Indian tea producers increase sales volumes.
Kenyan corporate sector does not plan to remain confined in its own geographical area. Equity Bank one of the most prominent banks plans to expand to many African countries over the next decade. It is too early to say whether its plans are logical or overoptimistic.
I left Kenya with the hope that I will go back there again and really explore the beautiful green country properly.