Had nice week which started with an unplanned tour of snow-capped crater on Mt. Kilimanjaro courtesy of a South African Airways pilot to a Yvonne Chaka Chaka concert, among other fun activities in South Africa.
My comfort is that if the Highway Africa / Digital Indaba conferences’ were held in Kenya, the delegates would be drawn from Ministers, MD’s, and other senior corporate and government officials, and not ordinary journalists or mere mortals like myself.
Kenya vs. SA
One of the sessions covered this week was the controversial EASSy project which appears to have been now reduced to a Kenyan vs. South African affair.
South Africa traces its history, not to 1994, but to 1957 when Ghana become the first African country to gain independence. South Africa identifies with that milestone and thus immerses itself as a being proudly African and wanting to take the continent forward together though NEPAD and the African Union (AU) as a way to better all African lives and be more competitive with other continents. EASSy is NEPAD’s flagship project which is intended to bring down the cost of communication for the whole of Southern, Central and Eastern Africa.
SA’s leaders are largely drawn from the freedom-struggle movement are proudly African and strive to combat Afro-pessimism in all at forms. In economic terms, they are disciples of Joseph Stiglitz, who are wary of foreign aid and other donor-championed programs such as privatization, having seen how devastating they have been to many other African countries over the last 50 years.
South Africa proudly champions African solutions to African problems e.g. through NEPAD. It also proudly champions media coverage of Africa by Africans, not western media agencies. The South African Broadcast Corporation (equivalent of KBC) has spent 8 million rand and sent a staff crew of 60 to cover the recent elections in the DRC and already has foreign bureaus in Africa, Middle East, US and Europe and soon to open new ones in the Caribbean and China. Such coverage of the continent is something Kenyans may find unsettling.
Kenyans, on the other hand, have seen the OAU, East African Community (EAC), Preferential Trade Area (PTA), COMESA and other regional groups come and go with little impact. They are used to having neighbouring countries who are basket cases mired in wars, famines, or other problems and are happy to offer assistance militarily, hosting peace talks, foodwise, or hosting refugees. They are used to having to do things alone and the EASSy is just the latest example of this.
They view South Africa as new to the party, but eager to assume a superpower role and both economically and strategically dominate the continent. Thus they revel in small victories like when Kenya Breweries defeated Castle Breweries (SA) in the beer wars of the early 2000’s, denying MTN a cell phone license, or frustrating any South African company that tries to take over Uchumi.
Likewise, ordinary South Africans see Kenyans as having a problem with them. When I told an MTN employee that South Africa’s Telkom had been shortlisted to bid for the second national operator license in Kenya, she said Kenyans would never let a South African company win.
Also on Monday, the City Press a prominent black newspaper had two business headlines on Kenya titled Stock trading noise to end (referring to electronic trading on the NSE)and “Kenya credit rating hit by risk and corruption scandals” – an unfortunate spin on an otherwise positive assessment of Kenya by global markets.