Category Archives: expats

Kenya’s Money in the Past: Diplomatic Engagement

This week saw the publication of “Kenya’s 50 years of Diplomatic Engagement, from Kenyatta to Kenyatta,” a book on the history of the diplomatic services and foreign policy in Kenya.

Edited by Dr. Kipyego Cheluget, Kenya’s Assistant Secretary General at COMESA, it is a collection of writings by different authors including foreign ambassadors. It is the result of a nine-year journey that came from an idea that came when he was Director of the Foreign Service Institute – to document the history of the diplomacy in Kenya. And he then set out to travel around the county, interviewing and recording former ambassadors and diplomats such Munyua Waiyaki, Njoroge Mungai and even unofficial ones like politician Mark Too. Some of them have since passed away like Bethuel Kiplagat and Phillip Mwanzia, and whose widows were present at the book launch.

The Chief Guest was Former Vice President, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka who has also served as a Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Education and he said that to upgrade Kenya’s  diplomatic performance, the country should reward career diplomats and have them, not election losers, as Ambassadors, and legislate a 70:30 ratio of professionals over politicians in such posts, a reverse of the current imbalance. The event had panel talks with former ambassadors on topics like peace-building in Ethiopia, Somalia and the East African region, using sports as a tool of diplomacy, combating apartheid, the lost years of engagement with Russia shaped by the Cold War and how the pioneering diplomats worked through trial and error for decades without an official foreign policy.

The MC for the event at Taifa Hall of the University of Nairobi, Nancy Abisai said the only good books is a finished book, and Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Education Dr. Amina Mohamed, added that, following a challenge by President Kenyatta, her Ministry was in the process of setting up a unit for the publication of Kenyan memoirs and which would be operational by January 2019. Former Vice President Moody Awori, who at 91 is still an active Chairman of Moran, the publishers of the book, said they were looking for more scripts to turn our more such books.

Excerpts from early sections of the book and launch

  • It has never been right to say that Kenya’s foreign policy is a “wait and see” one. Diplomats were able to negotiate to host a combined World Bank/IMF meeting in 1973 and for UNEP to have its headquarters in a newly independent African country – Ambassador Francis. Muthaura.
  • Njoroge Mungai initiated steps for President (Mzee) Kenyatta to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1972 and Singh Bhoi drafted the dossier.
  • Dennis Afande opened the Kenya Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in February 1977. He was the only employee there for four months and the only signatory to the Embassy bank account for the period.
  • When Paul Kurgat went to apply for his scholarship visa at the Nairobi Russian embassy, in 1984. he was arrested and questioned about links to Oginga Odinga. He was later to return to Russia as Kenya’s Ambassador in 2010.

The book is available in local bookshops, such as the University of Nairobi one, at a cost of Kshs 1,395 (1,200 + VAT) and a digital version is also available on Amazon for $8 (~Kshs 800).

Nairobi debate on BREXIT

Yesterday there was a debate in Nairobi on the UK’s referendum on EU membership, on which there will be a vote in the UK (and Gibraltar) on June 23. Europe is the second largest destination for Kenya’s exports (after the rest of Africa) and the UK is second in Europe with about Kshs 40 billion of exports from Kenya, slightly behind Netherlands (a destination for flowers). Overall, the UK is the fourth largest destination of Kenya’s exports (after Uganda, Netherlands, the US), and it imports about the same amount from the UK (Kshs 42 billion).

The debate was sponsored by the St. Paul’s Property Trust and had  Aly Khan Satchu (as the moderator), Graham Shaw (Brexiter) arguing for Britain to exit) and Chris Foot (Remainer)  arguing for Britain to remain in the EU).

 Reasons  to BREXIT

  • If #BREXIT doesn’t happen now, Britain will beholden to unelected decision-makers in Brussels for the next 40 years. Other countries will soon have similar votes.
  • The (bureaucratic) EU has 5 laws on pillow cases, 109 on pillows, and 12,000 on milk.
  • Germany bailed out Greece, and the EU will soon have to bail it out again (Italy is also shaky)
  • EU laws limit Britain’s ability to get top talent (e.g from Kenya) as they have to give preference to the EU states.
  • Under the EU, the production of a country is controlled (they may have to destroy fishing boats, and Portugal’s wine industry was destroyed by the EU).
  • Britain will have to renegotiate trade deals with 28 (and maybe 32) countries, but probably has no interest in trading with 10 of them.
Brexit debate in Nairobi

Brexit debate in Nairobi

Points against BREXIT

  • The great Winston Churchill wrote a book titled “Europe Unite”.
  • 56% of Britain exports are to the EU, – don’t BREXIT.
  • The last time the UK thrived outside the EU, it had a protectionist market called the colonial empire. 
  • There has not been much discussion about the positives of being in the EU – only the negatives – and that is not enough reason to leave.


  • Impact on Barclays Premier League (BPL)? : Arsene Wenger (Arsenal manager) asked Britain to stay in the EU (which is a huge global export, but how many in Europe watch the BPL ?).
  • The world is moving towards integration  (e.g The East African Community).
  • The rise of nationalism in Europe is a concern.
  • Britain at 16%, is Europe’s biggest export market, ahead of the US (14%), and China (8%).

Also see this forum, with the (then) High Commissioner from Britain to Kenya in which he discussed the relationship between the two countries.

EDIT: Brexit happens in 2020

Guide to Port-au-Prince

Guest post on a visit to Haiti, two years after the earthquake where it’s an odd mix of NGO’s, dollars, insecurity, and voodoo

Getting There: Only British Airways gets you there with change over stops in London, New York (or other US airport), then on to Haiti for about $2,500…always with a one night sleep over and 22 hours flight time in total. You can use Kenya Airways too via Dubai, Paris, Miami then Haiti and for that you use a UK Visa

The airport (Toussaint Louverture International Airport) is pretty fast as long as you have your visa… You require a UK visa or US Visa to be admitted into the country. Unique: They have a band playing all the time to welcome you into the country. They also have uniformed casual laborers who offer to push your trolley from the clearance office to the pickup point about 200m for a small fee…..however the trolleys at the airport are not free like in Kenya…its $10 for one.

Getting around: Locals mostly use matatus which are called tap tap. Taxis are not readily available and they are not colour coded or marked or parked in certain areas….. They are few private vehicles, and take these at your own risk.

There are parking boys are on the streets and when there is traffic they dust your windscreen and car with a dirty dry rag and expect you to pay something small.

They have two main highways. Also, there’s no parking lane on the streets. The roads are very narrow so people park half on the kerb and half on the road that causes mad traffic…. but the President is escorted everywhere by local police and UN police.

Insecurity Getting around you feel very insecure as riots are the norm and you see people walking with placards and complaining about the president, political affairs or the NGOs. This is because foreigners are targeted – so if you don’t speak fluent French, and look exotic, you’re advised to walk with a local or use a driver wherever you go. Basically, if you work for an NGO, you’re a hostage (biggest targets for kidnapping) who rarely walks more than 100 metres.

Business & economy: The country is run by 1% of the population… and there’s an absolute divide between the poor and rich. It’s not surprising to see an Aston Martin, and rich people withdraw money from the banks on Friday because they are scared they might collapse over the weekend – so by Friday afternoon you cant find money in the bank!

You can use dollars or gouds (Haitian currency) to trade, but the ATM’s do not dispense dollars. In October 2011, dollars started disappearing from the country as people were hedging against inflation and it became so bad that from December you could not get any dollars from the bank – and some organizations had to send money in from neighboring country and then have G4S transport it here so that they could pay for their expats and operations.

Haiti street

As is in most places, suburbs are next door to the slums and they have mass graves due to the earthquakes. Its mountainous and hilly and houses are built on the hills in an unfathomable way.

Two years after the earthquake, there are still camps (in the form of tents) in the middle of the CBD where the displaced people stay. e.g. in the park next to Hilton Hotel. Gangs have been formed in the camps and they are responsible for the kidnapping of NGO staff to solicit for money from the NGOs. The gangs are so good and efficient that if your wallet is stolen in the city, and you know a gang member in that area code, they will get it back for you for a fee with everything intact!

Communications My roaming line is expensive it’s like Kshs. 180 per minute without taxes (post paid), and local calls to Kenya cost about $2. They are hotspots in a few expatriates restaurants.

Where to Stay: Hotels are like $140 -160 and these include Le Manoir $140, El Rancho $130, Ibolele $155 while Karibe, a 5 star is $320. Electricity is very unstable and generators are used a lot.

Customer service: is a thing of the past it takes at least 40 minutes to get your order in most restaurants… and once you finish eating they clear the table and don’t present the bill….and when you ask for it, it takes another 30 minutes… you’re advised to ask for the food and the bill together ..Walking out without paying is also an option as it actually takes them long to notice as its not an area of priority. Despite this food is expensive, and for a nice meal, the cheapest is ~$15. The main local dish is Rice and beans and beers cost about $2.

Shopping & Sight Seeing: The ladies mode of dressing on a day to day basis leaves nothing to your imagination….Maybe its Caribbean culture or the weather which is hot and hummmmid!!!. Also, an interesting sight while walking around is seeing pharmaceuticals hawked on the street – with medicines taped around big basins.

French Is the main language here and all the newspapers are in French or Creole. There are beaches & animal orphanages, but very few malls and nothing much good to shop.

They are 4 big groceries/supermarkets (like Nakumatt) where many shops and they also have very high end shops which sell some very expensive French designer stuff. Popular gift items are some very good paintings and pictures which are hung on the streets and in the cultural centres.

Odd points: Voodoo is the order of the day;  it’s their culture and people carry anointing oil. It’s no surprise to read in the papers or watch news of someone found walking with skulls. They have festivals and carnivals to celebrate it. and they drink a liquid which makes their eyeballs turn back to their heads and then parade in the streets doing their rituals. Creepy stuff! As with all Caribbean countries, reggae is the in- thing, but there is even voodoo music which plays in all the clubs (at a faster beat with drums and chants).