179. Kenya 6: Africa – how can we help?

dream-world-internet-kenya.jpg What can we do to help the people of Africa?

Should we visit, as tourists? Is it enlightenment, or voyeurism, when tour companies arrange sightseeing trips to the ghettoes of Nairobi?

The problems are so massive that it’s easy to admit defeat – to assume that if governments can’t sort the problems, then aid agencies and individuals don’t stand a chance.

I don’t share that view. There’s a lot we can do, and here are some suggestions.

Visit Africa, if the opportunity arises.
Take an open mind with you. In world terms, we are fantastically wealthy. And wealth carries with it the responsibility to help others less fortunate than ourselves. It’s too easy to cite safety and convenience as reasons for shying away – if a billion people are living in desperate poverty across an entire continent, surely the least you can do is make yourself aware of it ?

By visiting, you will be investing some of your own money into the local economy, and that’s a very good start. Once there, I guarantee you’ll see things differently. You wouldn’t be human if the sight of hardship, starvation and disease didn’t change you into a more thoughtful person.

When you go to Africa, get out of your hotel.
There’s just no point in travelling halfway across the world to see Africa, and then remaining closeted inside little Europe or little America. Hire a driver, and take a tour of the local surroundings. See how people live. Talk to them. Listen. Smile. Be friendly. You’ll learn.

Take your old clothes and shoes with you.
Rather than junking them at home, or giving to the charity shop, it’s easy to pack your old clothes into an extra case, and take them to Africa. Leave them at the orphanage, or give them to needy people that you meet.

Anything you can take yourself will get through directly, without any commissions or administration costs. You can take quite a lot – as a family, we travelled out with seven suitcases, and came back with three.

Children’s clothes and shoes are especially needed, and don’t take up much space. Just amongst our stash we counted 35 pairs of outgrown children’s shoes.

Take unwanted toys.
Many African children have no toys at all. Electronic goods, or those needing batteries will be of limited use, but basics like dolls, card games, and toy cars and figures can bring happiness to a poor child, anywhere.

Take books, pens and pencils.
We had millions of old kids’ books at home, and stacks of odd crayons and pens, too. They all went in the suitcase, and came out at the orphanage. I read four novels on the beach, and gave them to the orphanage staff. All those books will be well-read now, and the kids will be scribbling for years more to come.

Take unused and unwanted medicines.
You shouldn’t travel with restricted drugs, but most family medicine cabinets contain a few packs of basic analgesics, anti-biotic creams, insect sprays, bandages and plasters which are incomplete or close to expiry. Don’t throw them out – take them with you to Africa. Supplies like these make a huge difference.

Give good tips to thin people.
At home, you’d tip $20 or £10 with a meal. The guidebooks will suggest you tip a quarter of this in Africa. But by tipping on a western scale, you’ll be injecting real cash, and helping an African family buy food for a week, or even a month. Tip those who serve you, in shops, hotels and on buses. It costs very little, it makes a big difference, and it’s rewarding to give.

Book local services, wherever you can.
Most hotels offer trips to local attractions, and arrange safaris and flights, too. They take a huge cut, then send the profits back to their foreign owners.

kenya-revival-centre-2008-by-roadsofstone.jpgJust outside the hotel, local companies and taxi drivers offer the same services at lower rates. Your money will be employing local people rather than stuffing the pockets of western tycoons.

You have to exercise rudimentary caution, but if a local company has a good reputation, make the effort to use it.

The best trip of all that we did ? A dhow journey around the bay, arranged through a friend of our waiter. Three unforgettable hours for the whole family, and it cost $20. With a $20 tip, it was a win-win all round.

Recycle your packing.
Two days before we travelled, I ditched the entire contents of my suitcase. I left my new summer clothes and shoes behind, instead taking half-worn stuff. At the end of the holiday, I washed everything out, and gave T-shirts to the waiters and my gym shoes to the pool man. They wore them the next day. I travelled home in my beach sandals. That cost nothing at all.

Give spare food and toiletries.
If you have useful items left at the end of your stay – packets of biscuits, half-used hotel shampoos and soaps – don’t throw them away, give them to someone who can use them. They’ll really appreciate it.

Think about what you’ve seen.
When you arrive home, try to keep an interest in Africa. It’s easy to forget everything too quickly, but try to retain some of the new perspectives you’ve gained. Talk to your friends, and tell them about life in Africa.

Next time the TV news talks about starvation or disease in Africa, don’t switch off – stay and listen, take note of the telephone number and think about making a £10 or $20 donation. If everybody does it, we can make a real difference.

Speak up for Africa.
Many people will tell you that as Africans, these folk must expect less. They’ll say that it’s the African countries’ fault, and we can do nothing to help. So tell them they’re wrong. Explain how you spoke to local people when you were in Africa, and they they’re just like you and me. They don’t deserve their plight, and we should do all we can to help them.

Buy Fair Trade products, wherever you see them.
The system isn’t perfect, but it’s there for a reason, and African workers get a better deal for their labours.

Ask questions of the companies you use.
Enquire with your hotel operator how much tax they pay locally. Most likely, it’s nothing – the byzantine tax structures of western companies are designed to avoid paying. Look at the roads and medical services, and you’ll see the effect.

When you buy imported Kenyan flowers from Marks and Spencer, drop the chairman an e-mail, and ask how much tax the company paid in Kenya last year. You don’t need to push too hard – just asking the question is making a point.

Convince your politicians to make a difference, too.
Have a look at the candidates standing in your next national election. Chances are, one of them will be in favour of cutting your taxes, sending back immigrants and invading a few foreign countries, whilst the other will speak up for people who have much less than you, both at home and abroad. Think about that, just a little, and make the right choice.

Well, that’s a long list. If you have more ideas, I’ll be delighted to hear them.

And if it seems too much effort, then please remember this: the poor of Africa have only problems on their plate, whilst we have so much more than we need.

masai-village-children-kenya-2007-by-roadsofstone.jpgWe owe it to Africa to do all that we can.

Africa - how can we help? : : Africa - how can we help? : : Africa - how can we help? : : Africa - how can we help? : : Africa - how can we help? : : Africa - how can we help?

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164. Kenya 2: The dusk behind the beach
161. Kenya 1: The road to Mombasa
124. Exploring Africa with Bono
172. Kenya 5: on corruption and a crooked election

42 responses to “179. Kenya 6: Africa – how can we help?

  1. Wonderful suggestions all, Roads. To that, I would add getting involved in “micro-lending” through organizations such as Kiva. That’s my preferred route, given that the investment compounds on itself.

  2. Thank you, Jonas. Micro-lending, Kiva – they’re all new to me. I’ll go and look up those ideas forthwith, unless you can tell me more before I get there.

    It’s always great to share your insights. The laptop for every child scheme you featured on your site in August last year fits the bill, too.

  3. I wrote about micro-lending a while ago, but the idea is as compelling as ever:


  4. How fascinating, Jonas. I learned a lot today.

    What a great organisation Kiva must be, matching borrowers with willing and commitedly flexible, thoughtful donors.

    I’m sorry if I didn’t do you justice when reading your post the first time, when it appeared. I must have glanced away when I saw you state you had grown fabulously rich (yeah, I know you didn’t ever say that). So I missed the really important part

    Micro-lending is such an interesting idea, along the lines of it being more lastingly beneficial to give a man a ploughshare, rather than just a sack of rice.

    The scales of the lending involved aren’t impossibly high, though. So I’m not quite clear why it’s really better to lend these third world entrepreneurs $200, rather than just giving it to them outright?

    I’m sure the ploughshare argument must come into this somewhere, but I can’t quite complete the reasoning in my mind, on the basis that it would always generally be better to lift the burden of capital and interest repayments for the borrower, and for the donor/lender just to look on a cash gift as a no-strings attached kind of seed capital, graciously given.

    Apologies if I’m just being dim. It wouldn’t be the first time…

  5. Oh, the story is incredibly fascinating, believe me. Yunus began his enterprise by lending a grand total of $28 to five individuals. You see, that was how much these five owed to money lenders, and that $28 dollars kept them essentially enslaved. Why lend such small sums? Because Yunus made it a point to demand that the money be put to good use…to support an ongoing enterprise. He demanded repayment so that he could repeat the exercise, all the while spurring entrepreneurship within Bangladesh that would permanently raise people from poverty. As of today, Yunus and the Grameen Bank have lent BILLIONs. All loans have been repaid, and millions have become business owners, benefitting themselves, others and society. While the dollar amounts remain small, the enterprises they’ve financed continue to flourish and grow. It is capitalism from the ground up…the dollars fueled sustainable enterprises and these enterprises have raised the standard of living for millions.

    As I wrote, he’s a personal hero of mine…a true visionary.

  6. Oh, if you’d like to read/learn more, I recommend his book on the subject:


    By the way, his latest book, on “Social Business” is equally compelling.

  7. Hello Roads and Jonas,

    It’s difficult to say which, the post or your comments, is more interesting.

    As I said in a previous post, I’m a Mexican living in Mexico… just to avoid analyzing in which world I live :o) and I have to say that Jonas is completely right. Microlending is and will become each time more important if we want to achieve the UN’s goal of poverty erradication by the year 2015.

    Yunus is an amazing example and just as himself, there are many inspiring individuals that in different scales try to make a difference.

    Kiva is an amazing example and most important, we are not talking of merely giving away the money, remember that you can feed a man that will eat one day but if you teach him how to fish he will eat everday. Efforts like Kiva also let people become real entrepreneurs. It’s truly important to deliver dignity and empowerment, not only money.

    Let me add a couple of good reading suggestions to the one that Jonas already shared.

    How to change the world: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas

    The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

    And I strongly recommend to anyone interested in living in a better world getting a subscription to “ODE” magazine… the magazine for “intelligent optimists”. I don’t have any professional relationship with it so this is not a sales pitch. The December 2007 issue includes a very interesting article that mentions Kiva and the one for January-February 2008 has an article written by Yunus about the Social Business Entrepreneur. You can also visit http://www.odemagazine.com and I’m sure you will be interested.

    So, it really doesn’t matter in which numbered world we happen to live, there’s enough work for all of us. After all, we have a deadline on 2015 and time flies. Remember that we have to be the change we want to see in the world!

    Take care,


  8. Thank you, Jonas and Patricia. Lots more reading, which I’ll follow up shortly.

    And the trick in lending is to be able to support many more people, multiple times. That makes good sense.

    Yunus and his bank sound really remarkable. Many thanks for drawing my attention to this, and for letting a few more people learn through the comments you’ve left here.

  9. Thank you Roads! I really appreciate your help.

    Have a good day,


  10. Hi again, Patricia.

    Ode Magazine looks intriguing, too. Many thanks.

  11. Hi Roads, you are absolutely right. This magazine has been like a small treasure found by pure coincidence.

    Hope you enjoy it.


  12. Well Roads, you asked for ideas and I have one that doesn’t require that you travel or lend money. Plus, there is the added benefit of learning new words. Hope you and your readers find this interesting.

    There is a site called Free Rice http://www.freerice.com/index.php. It is an addictive word game with donations to the United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP).

    The game consists on a word and four possible definitions. If you choose the correct definition, the site’s sponsors (identified by a different banner each time you give an answer) donate 20 grains of rice to the UNWFP. It is a relatively new site but since October 2007 24,944,074,790 grains of rice have been donated.

    So well, there’s another idea for you list. According to the World Food Programme, the rice is currently being delivered to refugees from Myanmar who are sheltering in Bangladesh . Pregnant women in Cambodia, schoolchildren in Uganda and Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

    Take care,


  13. 25 billion grains of rice – that’s hugely impressive, and thank you for the idea, Patricia. I’ll investigate that game.

    Best wishes to Mexico, from a warm spring evening in London.

  14. I’m sure that you will enjoy it Roads. Learning and helping at the same time. Such a great combo!

    Wishing you and your family a very nice weekend from a Mexico City ready to start melting in this, the month with the highest temperatures in the last 100 years…


  15. What compassionate hearts have congregated here….
    I traveled to Haiti in the ’80’s. I imagine the scenes of poverty are similar to those in Kenya…Thank you all for the education regarding just what can be done to help. I hope it inspires many to do what they can….

  16. Thank you, Shadowlands. Each of us alone can do little. Together, we can change the world.

  17. I hate to be the curmudgeon here but if helping Africa is really the goal then wouldn’t it make more sense to take the huge amount of money involved in a trip (let alone a family trip!) to Africa and just donate that money to whatever charity you feel is most effective in solving the problems? Never mind what a trip to Africa does to your global footprint/global warming (Why is travel both the one sacrifice people are unwilling to make for the environment and one that has such a huge impact? If I have to listen to one more Boulderite bragging about their hybrid car and solar panel house while in the same breath going on about their latest trekking trip to Nepal I’m going to heave). Do we really need to witness poverty first hand to understand it or is this merely to make ourselves feel good about the money we’re donating? I know Bob Geldof took a lot of flak for his trips to Africa and rightly so. Also, there’s plenty of poverty here in the U.S., I don’t need to waste a bunch of fuel, pollution and money to go somewhere else to witness the third world. Anybody been to a Native American reservation lately?

    There are also negative impacts of tourism on native populations. One I can think of off the top of my head is people going to markets and not haggling with merchants. Tourists think they’re helping but what happens is that prices go up and the locals suddenly can’t afford things because they’re competing with wealthy tourists.

    I agree with the sentiment of helping but I think money and social upheaval is what they need, not wealthy tourists gawping at them, driving up their prices and trashing the planet in the process.

  18. Hello Elayne,

    I have to confess that when I first read your comment I thought wow… that’s a tough comment… I guess that no one told her that if she can’t say something nice, she should say nothing at all.

    But after that first impression I did get your point, we do have to think on the planet and on each different culture in order to avoid hurting instead of helping. That said, I honestly think that if someday I find myself without money or without the possibility of giving my loved ones food, water, clothes, medicines and shelter and people in my community, my town, my country can’t help me because they are in the same situation and the only help could come from far away, I would love to find someone willing to spend the money to travel, help and make more people understand that help is needed… and I believe that global warming wouldn’t be as high in my priorities as it is today when I have all my basic needs (and more) safely covered.

    You also have a point saying that we should act locally. Right now I’m working in a project trying to convince different Congressmen on changing a Law that will benefit a lot of people, specially newborn babies in my country where we also have our good share of poverty and needs. So, ideas are always welcome! Did you find any new way to help on your last visit to a Native American reservation? If you share the experience with us we may be able to make the list of ideas that Roads started days ago even more interesting and worthwhile.

    In the end, I believe that there is no possible harm on trying to help both, locally and globally, no?

    PS. If there is anyone that doesn’t know what curmudgeon means, go to http://www.freerice.com maybe you can learn its meaning there.

  19. That’s great, Elayne and Patricia. It’s good to have this debate, and these are really good questions to address.

    I have a thick skin, and I can’t pretend to hold the key to a better world all on my own. I use carbon. I spend money, on myself, and on my family. The amount of good that I can do in this life is always going to be balanced against the damage that I can cause.

    I can’t claim to get that right. But I can do my best to engage, and that is such an important start.

    As for poverty in the US and Europe – that is something I would aim to alleviate. But it’s a completely false argument to have, in reality, since America and Europe do not truly know the faintest edge of meaning of the word.

    If every American and European were to spend a week living in sub-Saharan Africa, it would cost a fair amount of carbon, in the short term. But in the longer view, it would put the problems of the planet into an entirely different perspective. And I venture that it would lead to a solution for most of those problems, almost overnight.

    The real scandal here is not just that African poverty is so deep and devastating – it’s that it lies entirely out of sight, and wholly out of mind.

    Thanks again.

  20. Just for laughs I looked up the cost of airfare to Kenya from Denver. I chose a fly date several months out so I’m not getting some inflated value for flying say next week. Cheapest fare was $2332 for a 3 week stay. Add in hotel and it’s $3846. Then there’s travel to and from both airports, travel while I’m there, meals, etc. I have no idea what that costs, maybe $40/day on the conservative side? Plus most of us have expenses associated with leaving home, for me it’s dog boarding which would run me over $1500. If my husband goes with me that’s a grand total of $7000 not including the dog boarding, $8500 if you include the dogs. Now, I’m pretty sure I’m good at math and I’m trying to figure out how spending $7000-$8500 just so I can get to Africa to hand out some old clothes and throw some extra cash at the hotel staff and maybe some people on the street is really honestly helping anybody except maybe me to feel good about myself. Surely there are cheaper, more effective ways to educate the world than shipping them all to Africa and I’m thinking that if every American and European were to send $7000 to help Africa (and seriously, how many people can afford that?) it would do a heck of a lot more good then if they actually went bumbling around Africa for a week throwing around some old clothes and a few dollars here and there.

    I honestly don’t believe that you can go to Africa (or anywhere for that matter) for a week or three as a tourist and come away with a solid understanding of the problems let alone any reasonable solutions. As to the question of whether I found a way to help the Native Americans on my last visit to a reservation I’d say absolutely not and that’s exactly my point. I was there because I happened to be passing through and needed a place to spend the night. I did leave a small donation with a group I felt was worthwhile and I left nice tips with the hotel staff (I always do, no matter where I am) but I didn’t go away thinking this had made even the slightest bit of difference and I certainly wouldn’t suggest it as an effective way of solving the huge problems there.

    If you have some useful skill or the desire to learn one and want to quit your present way of life and move to Africa, live amongst the people, get a solid understanding of what is going on and what you can realistically and effectively do to help then I say yeah that’s worth the plane trip, pollution and financial investment. But a week there as a tourist? Come on, you go home and say yup lots of poverty and it sure is dreadful and maybe you send a bit of money that’s a fraction of what your trip costs and it makes you feel better but how is that helping? It’s fine to go to Africa as a tourist and try to learn what you can for your own enrichment and that is something else entirely but I don’t see it as a cost effective, realistic solution to Africa’s deep & complex problems.

    Ask any non-profit what’s the best way to help their cause and the answer 99% of the time is money. Do some research and send that $7,000 check to the group you feel is working to do the most good and that is the most effective way to help.

  21. Thank you, Elayne. At the most reductionist level, you might just be right – I could (and no doubt should) decide never to go on holiday ever again, and give all the money I save to charity. I could (and no doubt should) sell my house and everything I own and donate all the proceeds to Oxfam. So could we all. But it isn’t going to happen, at least not tomorrow.

    The truth is that we have a budget for our holidays, and we usually spend it. We can either go to Spain or France or Greece or Scotland, or we can stay at home. Or we can go somewhere more interesting and further afield, once in a while.

    If we spend our money in France or Scotland or even Australia, we don’t have too many concerns about how we allocate our spare cash, or who will benefit from it.

    What I am saying is that if people are going on holiday to Kenya, and there are hundreds of thousands who do so every year, then there are relatively easy and simple and inexpensive things which they can all do to make a small difference, rather than mindlessly lining the pockets of Western hotel owners because they are too scared to go outside the hotel gate.

    I don’t remember saying that I understood all of the problems of Africa – or that I felt remotely good about anything of what I saw – on the contrary, it made me feel decidedly uncomfortable, a point I made quite clear in The dusk behind the beach, as well as in On the orphanage and AIDS, where I also expressed my profound admiration for the British woman who did exactly as you suggested, namely in selling her house and giving all her money and skills to build and run an orphanage.

    I have every personal sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans in your country, but I have no doubt that if the richest country in the world can’t be bothered to address the problems of its own citizens, then none of us in the rest of the wider world would wisely give a cent to assuage a nation’s guilt.

    It is sadly true that America, as the richest country in the world, spends proportionately less on overseas aid than any other western nation, which is really saying something since the US only even spends a third as much (0.16% of GDP) as the pathetically stingy British government. I am sure you would be the first to change this.

    All the same, I am sadly aware that I feed my cats, and you certainly will feed your two dogs, more than the average daily calorie intake of an adult in sub-Saharan Africa.

    I don’t think any of us is really in a good position to cast the first stone. There is so much more that we all can and should do, but the very first thing is to rid ourselves of this ridiculously narrow self-pitying position where we say that there is ‘bad’ poverty at home, so why should we do anything for Africa.

    Ignorance is the most fundamental component of inaction.

    For what it’s worth, I just don’t share your critical view of Bob Geldof, and how anyone can condemn him for anything he has ever done for Africa is really quite beyond me. The man has put an entire continent’s sufferings on the map, and he has mobilised governments and the public to help, and he has saved countless lives through all his work.

    The first thing he did? He simply told people exactly what he saw. And he looked for ways to help, and he did them. I don’t remember seeing any stories of how he gave away all his money or his house, but the man has made a huge difference and should be lauded from the highest for doing so.

    Thanks again.

  22. Hello Roads, here I am, with a standing ovation for you here in Mexico.

    I have to say… thank God for different points of view.

    There are so many issues to address and worthwhile causes to participate on, close to us and far away, all with an urgent need of attention that if we all thought the same way maybe everyone would be interested only in helping one of those causes.

    Thanks for sharing the unique experience you and your family had in Africa. I look forward to read more of your always interesting posts.

    Take care,


  23. Thanks, Patricia. The truth is that Elayne is correct in all that she says.

    We are all of us hypocrites in the west. We talk about change earnestly, whilst living the life of Riley and doing precious little. Or we just conveniently forget about it – that’s so much easier, on the whole.

  24. Ah, I think the problem here is that I’m clearly not in the right income bracket for the proper perspective on this discussion. To me, spending $8500 on a vacation is, well, I can’t quite find a polite word for it but it’s not something I would do even if I won the lottery tomorrow. My first reaction to the idea of spending $8500 on a vacation is ‘wow, how can anyone do that and waste such a huge amount of fuel and cause an unspeakable amount of pollution when there are people starving all over the world?’ Am I the only one who sees the irony in this? And you can say oh global warming isn’t that important when people are starving but the thing is the ones who will feel the effects of global warming first and hardest are the poor people in third world countries. The good that you do for a very small amount of people as a tourist is a blip on the radar screen compared to the harm that you do when you get on an airplane.

    I think the difference in what we are saying is this. I’m at a party in Boulder and a rich guy starts waxing poetic about Africa. The conditions over there make his very soul bleed. Then he starts bleating about his upcoming trekking trip to Nepal. Roads is saying hey rich guy instead of going to Nepal why don’t you go spend your money in Africa. You can pass out some trinkets while you’re there and pay people to do stuff for you. And that’s fine. But what I’m saying is hey rich guy, you’ve got $8,500 to burn, why don’t you do your trekking in Apsen or Crested Butte or somewhere nearby. You can have a beautiful, decadent vacation for $1,500. Not only can you save a boatload of fuel and pollution but you can send the extra $7,000 to Africa where maybe a medical clinic can buy some medical supplies and save some lives or maybe an orphanage can feed some kids for a while or whatever. You don’t have to sell your house or car or condo in Vail, just take a vacation like a semi-normal person, it’s not such a huge sacrifice to make if you really care as much as you say you do. Not getting on a plane to Africa (or Nepal or wherever) for a luxury vacation is not going to make a huge dent in your quality of life. It’s easy, trust me, I don’t get on planes to exotic places all the time and I’d say my life is pretty full.

    And if you do want to take your luxury vacation to Africa well that’s fine. We all make our decisions about how we want to tread on the planet and the point of this discussion is not to point fingers. But let’s not dress up the trip as something it’s not and pretend that it’s a viable solution to easing poverty.

  25. Thanks for your 2 cents, Elayne.

  26. I came across your blog on Technorati. Nice site layout. I will stop by and read more soon.

    Mike Harmon

  27. Thanks, Mike. Topically to this post, I see your interest in outsourcing to developing countries. It’s a growing trend, much in evidence here in Britain. The practice can pump cash into third world economies, and can be cost-effective for companies and reasonably efficient for customers, too, if sufficient training is given.

    Employment levels have been high in this country for over a decade now – certainly high enough for there to be few complaints about loss of jobs at home through outsourcing like this – but as we move towards recession it will be interesting to see how those reactions develop.

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  29. I enjoyed your post, Roads, and I agree. There are many little things people can do – at home and abroad, wherever that might be.

    I think that one thing that happens is that people can become inured to the poverty around them, whether it be extreme or moderate, and that seeing it in another country out of context with their own lives – well, like you said, that can make a person more aware and more thoughtful.

    Thanks for your post; thoughtfulness always makes us better people.

  30. Thank you kindly, Silver Fox, and it’s very good to hear from you. Travel broadens the mind.

    I’ve received some criticism here for travelling to Kenya at all, yet it was an invaluable experience which I won’t forget. Although I can’t claim to be an expert on the problems facing Africa, in fact I’ve worked in different parts of the continent throughout my working life.

    The opinions I’ve expressed within these pages aren’t based on a few hours idly dossing on a deck chair – rather they’ve been crystallised from many long and arduous trips across the length and breadth of the continent, as well as an appreciation of the thoughtful writings of (amongst others) William Boyd, Barbara Kingsolver, Jean-Christophe Grange and, most recently, Ryszard Kapuscinski.

    The importance of tourism to the modern Kenyan economy can’t be overstated. Tourism is (or was, until recently) the single largest foreign currency earning industry in Kenya. The country’s 2 million visitors in 2007 together brought in $3.5 bn to the country’s economy.

    Tourism contributes 12% to Kenya’s GDP, 21% of export earnings and employs half a million people who make up 9% of the country’s workforce (and government figures indicate that a further 600,000 Kenyan jobs are indirectly supported by tourism).

    A real problem for Kenya has long been the dependency of tourism on the general health of the world economy outside her borders. Worse still, it is ironic in the extreme that such a generally peaceful and multi-cultural society should have been savagely targeted by global terrorism through the Al-Qaida bombing of the Paradise Beach Hotel in Mombasa and attempted destruction of an outbound Israeli airliner in November 2002, which resulted in the devastating collapse of tourist incomes throughout the following years. The industry was only just recovering when the outbreak of violence after the disputed elections of December 2007 sent visitor numbers plummeting once more.

    Despite justified concerns about the environmental impact of tourism, it’s clear that the country can’t presently survive without the industry. Visitor numbers in 2008 are reportedly down by 90%, reflecting security concerns following those elections.

    Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), recently called for tourists to return to Kenya as soon as possible, citing this as a key factor in restoring the east African country’s stability, economy and biodiversity. The income generated by tourism sustained numerous wildlife and conservation projects, he said.

    I began this post with an open question about the morality of tourism in Kenya, and the discussion here has served usefully to expand on that debate. My writing here can’t pretend to offer real or lasting solutions to the vast and varied problems faced by Africa.

    Yet when the day comes that visitors do return to Kenya, there are many simple and easy things which travellers can do to assist the people there, at minimal cost and effort to themselves.

    I’ll be wrapping up this series very shortly. In the meantime, thanks to everyone for all their contributions.

  31. Interesting discussion Roads. I remember having similar debates with friends who did exactly as you – they were perturbed by their visit and equally concerned about the issues involved – just too complex for most of us to get to grips with but doing anything that helps to address the imbalance has to be a step forward.

    Of course a multi-faceted approach is required ranging from the political to low key personal initiatives such as those you suggest as well as bringing expertise and understanding to bear in reappraising fundamentals e.g. building and services, land use etc – there are thousands of initiatives around the world looking at low cost ecological solutions that make the most of local conditions. Solutions that just require a bit of smart thinking e.g. design-led initiatives such as the Hippo roller barrel:

    This innovation not only frees women from balancing heavy barrels of water on their heads by enabling children to fetch more water than previously it puts less strain on their skeletal frames.

    Or the play pump:
    Created locally but made viable and sustainable through the understanding of an advertising exec who made the funding possible.

    Architecture for Humanity’s “Design like you give a Damn!’ is full of ideas gathered from all over and draws upon a diverse range of understanding and expertise:


    Worth a look. Pity to end the discussion so much more to say / do…

  32. Thank you, Trekker, and a warm welcome to Roads of Stone.

    Some great ideas there, particularly the Hippo roller water barrel.

    As for wrapping up, I’ll shortly be putting together a summary post linking to each of these six Kenya articles. I’ll certainly leave the comments open for further discussion like yours.

  33. It is more than an interesting article Roads.

    “A kilogram of rice costs more than US$1 and a barrel of oil costs over $100. One influences the other. The subprime loan crisis will cost more than $1 trillion and the Iraq war will cost the United States alone as much as $3 trillion.”

    Is there anyone that finds some logic in all these numbers? There shouldn’t be. And hopefully each person that reads this understands that it’s not the time to sit down thinking that the world is in trouble, it’s time for some serious actions.

    Solutions will not happen overnight. They evolve as an elaboration of thoughts and ideas over time. But then they have to become actions. There are so many good ideas posted here that hopefully we can all create some change. It doesn’t matter if it is a small change, let’s do it.

    By the way, it is a beautiful picture you have now as masthead for this page.

    Take care.

  34. Thank you, Patricia. Yes, it was exactly those numbers which spoke to me.

    Strangely, there is little or no public discussion here in Britain of the ongoing financial cost of the Iraq War.

    And I’m not sure why that is. I think that mentally we’re already out of that conflict, even if we’re still paying the bills.

    I’d much rather spend more money on better things, as you say.

    Meanwhile, I’m glad you like today’s masthead. I’ve got the pictures off my camera now, and I’m going to write something about my trip to the snow, just as soon as I’ve got my running shoes back into gear this evening.

  35. I love this article. Wonderful ideas of how we can help in Kenya. On a local level–each of us can stretch, pull and sacrifice more to help those around us. Very inspiring!

  36. Thank you, Nichole. It’s a drop in the ocean, really, of course, but millions of drops can make an ocean, given enough time and persistence.

    Meanwhile, the irony of writing my next post about mountains of food isn’t lost on me, unfortunately. What blind and mindlessly fortunate utopia we inhabit, every single day.

  37. Roads… this is a great blog. My own personal belief is that we could all do something but I find that human nature makes us selfish and uncaring. These comments are not targeted to you personally but to the general population.

    It’s sad but true indeed.

    I work in the field of water treatment and I’ve always wondered how I can help… apart from the obvious… I have several ideas that might be worthwhile looking into but these ideas cost money, and money I don’t have… being an engineer, my ideas are technical and equipment related…

    I am involved in a project right now in the Republic of Benin. Several companies are getting together to offer a sustainable solution for the country and also, generate jobs… I think that for now, I’ll have to piggy back on the larger social responsible firms until I can branch out on my own. We’ll see

    Anyway, like you said, one person cannot solve the world’s problem, but we could change our attitude and make a small difference. To me, even giving just a penny to a hungry child and seeing his face light up means the world to me… I don’t know about you, but I take pride and joy from simple pleasures.

    I’ve become a fan of yours.

  38. Many thanks for reading Alan, and thank you for your thoughtful comment, too.

    Water management is a big subject in supporting the developed world. As you imply, technical solutions are only part of the story – it’s getting the assistance to where it’s needed which often provides the biggest challenge. That takes imagination, and a lot of courage. I wish you all the best with your projects.

  39. Thanks so much for the site , It will be glad if you also venture in other places like i come from and see how poverty has locked us. Well done

  40. Thanks very much, Mike. It’s good to hear from you in Kenya, and I’m glad you support the site.

    There is so much to see in your country, and an enormous amount for all of us to learn, angrily fixated as we are on the size of bankers’ bonuses when half the world is struggling to eat.

    Best wishes to you from here in London, and many thanks again.

  41. The best help is education. For instance I dropped from college since I could not raise the fee from my poor family background. Those with ability to pay can make it through and most of them are successfully employed. The economy is service-oriented and even with with good infrastructure, the means to create wealth is education which currently only benefits the rich.

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