Sunday, May 31, 2009

On Second Thoughts...Are we a Failed State?

Last week, I watched Mutula Kilonzo react furiously to the Alston report saying that Alston had overstepped his mandate by writing the things he did about Kenya's systems, police force and attorney general. He went on to emphatically assert that 'Kenya is not a failed state!'

Mutula's response is by no means unique. Anytime a foreigner says anything less than complimentary about Kenya, government types can be counted on to respond with similar arguments..."we are a sovereign country", "what business do foreigners have saying that about us" etc etc.

I agree that we are not Somalia. We are still one nation (just about), we have never had full scale civil war, we still have some form of government, we have not had any coups etc etc. We do not yet meet many of the criteria that may be used to define a 'failed state'.


Can we really be so convinced that we are a success state? I do not think so.

The success or failure of achievements is measured relative to the circumstances within which the achievements are made.

As a country, we have lived a fairly peaceful existence, we inherited fairly decent infrastructure, we have a relatively well educated workforce, we have a fair amount of natural and mineral resources and a good proportion of our land is fertile. We are also fairly strategically placed geographically within the continent.

In short, this country has great potential. Isn't success realizing (or surpassing) potential? Are we realizing our potential? Can we therefore really say that we are not currently failing? Can we honestly say that we are (and have been) making the most of what we have? Absolutely not! We have chronically underachieved. Therefore at this moment in time, we are a failure.

We need to acknowledge that and change our attitudes to reflect that fact and get down to the business of fixing the problem(s).

Rather than 'shooting the messenger' when outsiders talk about us, we should listen to what they say, pick the points that are important and set about fixing them. Whether or not Alston or Annan or Rannenberger et al over-step their mandates is immaterial to me.

What is material is whether any of the observations they make are valid. Is our police force corrupt? Is our police commisioner complicit in killings? Is our attorney general's office inept? What is being done/is going to be done to repair these problems? Those are the issues I believe our government should be addressing whenever they refer to utterances/reports etc.

We need to concentrate our energies on establishing our independence and sovereignity by fulfilling our potential not by posturing like peacocks when sooner or later we are going to be reduced to going begging to the same people for food aid because we cannot feed ourselves. We may disagree with how a message is delivered but we have to take it on the chin and deal with what the message is. After all, we find ourselves in this position due to an abject failure to become self sufficient in the first place.

It doesn't matter where a message comes from, if that message has any iota of validity, if the message can help us improve in any way, then we need to learn to quickly and quietly take what's relevant to us and apply it for the betterment of the country and her people.

When we have improved and become an effective, self sufficient country that is fulfilling its potential, then we can seek to redefine our engagement with our 'development partners'.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The T Spot, Savannah, Java....

I just came from a meeting at the T Spot. The service we received was shocking!

A friend ordered a burger with fries and tea. His tea arrived AFTER his food. I ordered tea (after waiting for 20 minutes), I got a mochachino. Those are just two examples of what was an all round terrible experience at the place. Service was slow, sullen, rude and incompetent.

Prior to shifting our periodic meetings to the T-Spot, we used to meet at Savannah, Museum Hill. We moved because their service is also terrible and additionally they have a very limited menu that is often executed poorly.

I went to Java, Gigiri last week. Walked in, sat in the booth in the corner, turned on my computer and started working on something. I sat for 10 - 15 minutes without a single waiter approaching me. I eventually called one over and asked for what I wanted. She went off and never came back. I waited 10 more minutes before calling another waiter and making my order. I sat for half an hour in a restaurant with no waiter approaching me! It was not an especially busy time, the waiters were milling about chatting and joking amongst themselves.

Who trains the waiters in these places? It is all well and good investing millions to build a swanky looking place but the the same sort of thought and effort needs to go into ensuring that the customers experience is a good one. Equally important, the same thought and effort needs to go into maintaining standards. When I first visited each of these establishments, the service was excellent. Standards at each of them have gotten progressively worse.

And one last thing....the next time a waiter reaches over my food/drink I just might snap!

Restaurant managers....Smile, be polite, be quick, get orders correct first time and never....NEVER reach over the patrons dish. 5 simple rules that you should train your staff to live by.

Name change

Hear ye hear ye...."Mystery Shopper" is no more. I will now be blogging as KW.

Reason?...I guess I just grew tired of the pseudonym. It seemed like a good idea at the time but the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. Hopefully this will be the last such change...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rain. Our Gift.....Our Curse?

Sometime ago, Alfred Mutua did something that I totally agreed with. (Ironically his superiors really tore him a new one for doing so). Just before the Cross Country championships were to be held in Mombasa, he toured the area, went on a little power trip and had contractors arrested for "doing shoddy work"

The contactors were doing the area roads and when Mutua toured the place, he found newly 'repaired' roads had already developed potholes. He (quite rightly I think) had the contractors arrested and I remember him asking whether there was no rain in other parts of the world since in many other places roads don't spontaneously disappear at the first hint of precipitation.

Well, as I write this, I am sitting in the dark due to one of the recently frequent power failures my neighbourhood has experienced since the start of the rainy season. I have heard the same complaint from numerous other people.

Kenya has an agriculture based economy. One that is almost entirely reliant on rainfall. When rains fail we face rising food prices, rising inflation and even starvation in certain areas.

However it would seem that as far as rain is concerned we are screwed if it fails, screwed if it falls. Because rain invariably means that our infrastructure falls apart. Roads that had been tarmaced develop potholes, electricity supply that had become relatively reliable suddenly becomes erratic.

So the arrival of rain means that the cost of transporting produce will rise, because when the roads fall apart, transporters will have to raise prices to pay for repairs. When the electricity supply becomes erratic, industries will either stop work or have to invest in generators. The net positives that come from rain outweigh the negatives but it seems like a two steps forward, one step back sort of scenario.

If we are ever to start on the path to real development, I think the first step has to be to break out of this cycle.

In this article, Sunny Bindra speaks about how peculiar it is that Kenyan roads are recarpeted so often and more importantly how peculiar it is that Kenyans think this is a good thing. I have previously written about how I think 'road building' just might be the biggest scam in Kenya and because we spend gazillions doing and redoing our roads.

We desperately need to build roads that last, so that we can funnel the funds being used to recarpet and re-recarpet our roads to other areas of development and to increasing our road network (which embarrassingly is basically what it was at independence). We need our electricity supply to be totally reliable so that we can go about being productive without having to invest in generators.

I realize I have not even mentioned flooding and it's effects in this post.....

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Having been through what I have been through in my journey to become successfully self employed I have decided that I really would like to do the following someday (possibly as my version of CSR):

Start a not-for-profit One Stop Business Resource, Advisory and Mentorship Centre.

I would like it to be a place where anyone interested in entrepreneurship can go to learn about doing business, get help creating a feasible business plan, get help finding funding for their business idea and get mentorship and guidance to assist them get their business up and running.

It would also have regular educational talks and seminars from professionals, bankers and business people to educate participants about doing business, business finances and other aspects of business.

It would have close ties to banks, prospective investors and venture capitalists to help good ideas find funding.

Perhaps it could be set up to have a fund (donor, government and/or corporate funded) to underwrite any loan defaults.

Perhaps it could also be set up to receive some percentage of successful businesses earnings (from 'graduates') for some period in order to pay for its operations and a commitment from proprietors of successful businesses to stay involved and also mentor other aspiring entrepreneurs as well.

etc etc.

The general idea is to have a place where potential entrepreneurs can get

1. Information (about all aspects of doing business)
2. Financing
3. Mentorship & Support

all under one roof.

That will be my CSR.

Self Employment?...Why?

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to start and build my own business as opposed to be employed. I was always advised that actually "it is better to work for 5-10 years THEN go into business for yourself if you still want to do so". The reason given for this is often that one needs to gain experience before they start a business. I was also told that starting a business is very difficult and it is hell finding capital and every mistake costs you money and so on and so forth.

I disagree with this notion for a few reasons:
Firstly; one of my reasons for wanting to be in business is I want to rely on myself. I want to build something that is going to sustain me and my family in comfort irrespective of economic situation and other external factors. I don't want my fortunes to be tied to the decisions that somebody else makes.

Secondly; I didn't do that well in school. Never have. I am average student at best. This does not in any way reflect how intelligent I am. I think that some people are just not made for this formal schooling thing. Sometimes I wish I skipped the whole uni thing and jumped into the business struggle straight out of high school. Ofcourse, despite not setting the halls of uni alight academically, that period was fantastic for me in terms of exposure and helping me to form many of my ideas. Ironically, I am a fantastic employee. Somehow, my competitive juices just start flowing when I am in a work environment.

Thirdly; I feel like the whole "work for sometime and start your business when you're more secure/have more experience/have more resources" thing is a myth. It may work out that way sometimes but that course also comes with its own speedbumps. I have watched people who have done that and still struggled for a couple of years to set up their businesses, I have seen 'experienced' people also often need a learning period after coming out of employment.

I in no way expected my chosen course to be easy. I am fully prepared to struggle, fail, fall and make mistakes, have periods of self doubt etc etc. But I think that the experience gained from taking this course will serve me well. My course is basically a wager that by the time I am 35 or 40, I will be further along the road to self sufficient success than the guy who worked for 10-15 years and decided to quite at 35 or 40. I guess only time will tell, but I'm glad I am in the driving seat.

Importantly, I also want to struggle now, while I am young and before I have a family to cater to. I want my learning curve to be over and done with by the time I have sons, daughters and a wife to look after. I would rather go through this struggle today than 10 years from now when any failure or mistake will affect not just me but others who rely on me and who look up to me to provide for them.

All the above arguments do not even factor in the practical reality that it is now harder than ever to get a good job in Kenya.

Anyway..coming up soon, I will talk about some of what I have seen in trying to go on this path and what I have decided will be my CSR when I do take hudumabora inc. to the bigtime (Actually this post started as that but I got carried away with background).