Thursday, October 2, 2014

Kenya now in top 10 richest African economies - and a middle-income country - due to rebasing its 2013 rates of economic growth

The Kenya National Statistics Bureau released new figures yesterday on the state of the Kenyan economy. It revealed that major sectors had been under-estimated and valued incorrectly (Daily Nation, October 1, 2014). These sectors include telecommunications (17% under-estimated in 2013), manufacturing, real estate, agriculture, and financial services.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have verified the new figures. The changes came as a result of re-basing (changing the base year for its calculations from 2001 to 2009). Revised 2013 figures show that Kenya is 25% wealthier than previously estimated. For example, the Kenyan economy expanded by 3.3% in 2009 after rebasing (instead of 2.7%), 8.4% in 2010 (instead of 5.8%), 6.1% in 2011 (instead of 4.4%), 4.4% in 2012 (instead of 4.6%), and 5.7% in 2013 (instead of 4.7%).

With the rebased figures, Kenya is now ranked the 9th richest country in Africa, overtaking Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Ghana – and remains the biggest economy in East Africa, widening its leading margin.

The government had planned to reach middle-income country (MIC) status by 2030. However, it now qualifies as a MIC with the new figures. The government’s national policies will now be realigned.

But for the everyday person, life remains unchanged. Unemployment remains a serious concern, especially for its youth. IMF said that the Kenyan government needs to support developed and emerging economic sectors to stimulate employment. The World Bank said Kenya still qualifies for cheaper loans from the bank and other international lenders. The revised status just gives Kenya “bigger room for more local and international borrowing to fund development” but it still needs to manage its credit. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith: book review

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (2009) is categorized into five sections: Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, and Remembering.

Reading is a series of essays on Smith’s favourite authors. She begins with Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) who’s novel Their Eyes were Watching God is described as “a beautiful novel about soulfulness.” She says of E.M. Forster (1879-1970), who “made a career of disingeneousness” but who was a “progressive among conservatives” that “there’s magic and beauty in Forster, and weakness, and a little laziness, and some stupidity. He’s like us.” Smith likes George Eliot (1819-1880) because “she was a writer of ideas” and “she was on the border of the New” who pushed the novel’s form to its limits. Roland Barthes (1915-1980) is described as “radical invocation of the reader’s rights” while Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) is a “bold assertion of authorial privilege” who “believed in the butterfly qua butterfly.” She liked the “elusive, allusive pleasure of the Nabokovian text.” Of Franz Kafka (1883-1924), it is his “alienation from oneself, the conflicted assimilation of migrants, losing one place without gaining another” that makes him an “existential prophet.” Reading Joseph O’Neill’s (1964-) Netherland, which took seven years to write is “to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition” whereas Tom McCarthy’s (1969-) Remainder, which took seven years to find a mainstream publisher, “clears away a little of the deadwood, offering a glimpse of an alternative road down which the novel might, with difficulty, travel forward. We could call this constructive deconstruction, a quality that, for me, marks Remainder as one of the greatest English novels of the past ten years.”

In the section Being Smith writes about her craft as a writer, from her own experiences. She’s a “Micro Manager” building a novel sentence by sentence without “the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it.” She says some writers don’t read when they are writing their novel, but for her, “My writing desk is covered in open novels.”

In Seeing she describes her admiration for movie legends Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) and Greta Garbo (1905-1990).  Hepburn “remains my lodestar” for “she is a woman behaving herself naturally, without fear, without shame and with the full confidence of her abilities.” Garbo “had a relationship with light like no other actress; wherever you directed it on her face, it created luminosity. She needed no soft or diffuse lighting to disguise defects. There were no defects.”

In Feelings Smith gets closer to home as she writes about her family, specifically about her father Harvey and her brother Ben.

Remembering is about American novelist David Foster Wallace (1962-2008). “When Wallace wrote he offered everything he had to his readers, including the kitchen sink.”

The title of her essays depicts her changing writing style and process over the years. It is an interesting insight into the way reading shapes her writing, and writing reflects her reading. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

World Tourism Day in Kenya: 2014

World Tourism Day is commemorated annually on September 27. Its idea was conceived at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) general assembly in Spain in 1979.The 2014 global host is Mexico in the city of Guadalajara, and the theme for this year is “Tourism and Community Development.”

Although it is called World Tourism Day (WTD) in most countries it is a celebration with week-long activities. Kenya has celebrated WTD for over 30 years, and this year the focus is promoting tourism to Kenya and among Kenyans – international and domestic travel. Therefore community-based tourism – in which local people have a stake in ownership, management, and benefits from tourism – is a key theme for Kenya.

The 2013 World Economic Forum survey on global tourism and travel competitiveness recognized Kenya as a leading tourism destination and the location for some of the best hotels, parks, spas and lodges in the world. However, with the attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall a year ago, Kenya’s tourism industry has slumped a bit. In the first six months of 2014 there were 428,233 tourists (down from 495,660 in the same period in 2013) according to Saturday Nation (September 27, 2014). With the establishment of the Tourism Recovery Task Force under the Ministry of East Africa Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, efforts commencing from next month will aim to capture “digitally conscious consumers” – to rebrand Kenya tourism.

Kenya has a lot going for it, such as its 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Mt. Kenya National Park and Forest (listed in 1997), Lake Turkana National Parks (listed in 1997), Lamu Old Town (listed in 2001), the Mijikenda Kaya Forests (listed in 2008), Fort Jesus site in Mombasa (listed in 2011), and the Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley (listed in 2011). In addition, there are 18 other sites in Kenya on the tentative list for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Apart from these sites there is an amazing diversity of wildlife. This includes the “big five” – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros – and other wildlife, such a vast variety of birds. The annual Mara wildebeest migration, called the 8th wonder of the modern world, occurs from June when around 1.3 million wildebeest gather in the Serengeti to calve and then slowly merge into a single herd to migrate north at the first scent of rain. The volume and variety of animals at that time is an incredible sight.

Kenyans are friendly, hospitable, and well versed in making the sights and safaris an unforgettable experience for tourists – which includes their distinctive cultural heritage of music, arts, fashion, and literature. The tourism infrastructure in Kenya is well developed, catering for different levels of the market – from deluxe to delightful. 

Skulls and skeletons at the Nairobi National Musuem

The Nairobi National Museum at Museum Hill is one of the National Museums of Kenya – there are regional museums and other museums that come under the NMK umbrella. The Nairobi National Museum (which also has the Nairobi Snake Park on site) has interesting earth sciences collections including the archaeology section (the study of human prehistory), paleontology section (biology and geology prehistory, especially mammals such as elephants, but excluding humans) and palynology/palaeobotany section (fossil pollens). It is internationally recognized for its contribution to prehistoric studies and has one of the largest collections in the world.

The Archaeology Section at the museum includes stone artifacts, pottery, bones, harpoons, iron artifacts, shells, beads, ochre, and wooden vessels from 2.5 million to 1.8 million years ago from the West Lake Turkana Basin to the Acheulean period (1.8 million years to 300,000 years ago) to Middle Stone Age (300,000 to 50,000 years ago) to the Later Stone Age (50,000 to 5,000 years ago) to the Neolithic period (5,000 to 1,000 years ago) to the Iron Age and modern day.

Researchers of the Nairobi National Museum have a number of current key research projects including the West Turkana Archaeological Research Project, the Origins of Modern Humans Project (in the Naivasha-Nakuru and Narok areas of Kenya), the Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological Research Project, the Lake Magadi Archaeological Research Project, the Baringo Project, the Swahili Studies and Coastal Peoples of Kenya summer field program, the Laikipia Archaeological Project, and the Obsidian Source Survey in Kenya.

Some recent discoveries in the last five years include fossil hand bones, foot prints, stone tools, rock art, and Iron Age sites in the Mt. Kenya region.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wildflower by Mark Seal: book review

Wildflower (2010) is about the life and death of Joan Root (1936-2006), the wife and producer/assistant of wildlife documentary film-maker Alan Root. One of the couple’s films about termites, Mysterious Castles of Clay, narrated by Orson Welles, was nominated for an Oscar in 1978. Other films included the migration of wildebeest herds across the Serengeti, the Galapagos Islands, elephants, cobras, mountain gorillas, and the first hot-air balloon flight over Mount Kilimanjaro. They were an indomitable team.

Born in Kenya to British parents, Joan was also well-known for her conservation efforts at Lake Naivasha. But the novel begins with her marriage to Alan in 1961, and their collaborative travels and films, predominantly across East Africa.

Compiled from letters and memorabilia from her husband, Seal enters the mind and emotions of a remarkable adventurer. While Alan was the “front man” and the man behind the camera, Joan was the one that put the film together “and more” – photography, preproduction, post production, processing, recording, accounting, procurement, packing vehicles, and fixing things. “Joan did all that single-handedly.” Yet she was quiet and self-effacing, staying in the background. Seal describes Joan in favourable terms – beautiful, gentle, quiet, strong, capable, meticulous, and organized.

Setting up home at Lake Naivasha, it had become the couple’s headquarters and film studio, but it was also a home for animals of every kind. Film-making was the glue that held them together. But over the years Alan spent more and more time editing his films in London. And then he met “the most attractive” Jennie Hammond – who increasingly took charge of Alan’s life. He married her in 1991.

From that point, the focus of Seal’s book is firmly on Joan’s personal reinvention and her “major turning point” after the divorce and subsequent loss of her career – her emotional state, and her life on her property in Naivasha. No longer a “shrinking violet” she did things out of character – joining the elite Muthaiga Club and going to London for a face-lift. Still acutely sad, she became consumed by the conservation of Lake Naivasha, which would create her biggest challenge of all.

Well-written, well-paced, intriguing, poignant, supportive and understanding, Seal writes of Joan's tensions and conflicts with poachers, criminals, and land-grabbers, reaching a climax with constant home invaders, gun-point robberies, and the violent deaths of those living around her – and her ultimate murder.