Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Year of the Rat

Bang! Bang! Pop, pop, pop!

Hubby and I looked at each other with a mixture of desperation and sadness, as we listened to the sounds not so far off in the distance. We quickly switched the TV to Al Jazeera in hopes that if something were happening they could fill us in. Instead, their top of the hour news was about the Chinese New Year. Not yet willing to hope for the best, we reviewed which embassies were near us that could possibly be setting off fireworks before it was dark.

Is this what we’ve been reduced to? We hear a car backfire and we assume the worst? If so, we’re not the only ones who see signs of doom and gloom in everything from empty hotel rooms to recent economic reports. The lack of tourism dollars and the fate of the economy were high on the agenda of a meeting earlier this week in Nairobi of more than 300 top executives from the Kenyan business community.

According to one report I read, every tourist that cancels their trip to Kenya results in seven people becoming unemployed. And with the Red Cross now reporting that over 1,000 have been killed and 300,000 people displaced in the post-election violence, it becomes ever clearer that the humanitarian crisis that has erupted in Kenya over the last month could turn into a long-term problem if not addressed quickly. As Kofi Annan said, “Without an economy, there can be no Kenya.”

According to Steve Smith, the current chairman of The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) and managing director of battery maker Eveready, 750 trucks and 300 matatus were destroyed in the violence. While seemingly not huge numbers, each lost matatu will effect the thousands of people who rely upon them for daily transport to and from work. Moreover, the lost trucks directly impact not only manufacturers and consumers in Kenya but also those in the immediate region who rely on Mombassa as their main importing hub.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, inflation in January rose to 18.2% year-on-year from 12% in December, and interest rates have also crept higher. When presented next to the recent news that Zimbabwe’s inflation has hit a staggering 24,000%, Kenya’s 18.2% may not seem like much, but even Zimbabwe started somewhere.

Lest today’s entry get too bogged down in numbers and facts, let me end on a positive note. Rumor has it that the talks currently ongoing between the PNU and ODM leaders are going well. While no one is willing to say out loud that the two “big men” might actually learn to compromise, I have heard more than one person note with hope that the past week has been rather quiet here in Nairobi.

One week down – forty-six to go.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The tourism trade must be suffering greatly.
How are my flower farms coping? And my elephants, giraffes and the parklands?