Maina Kiai's Column

Maina Kiai's Column

Why we should focus on marketing Kenyan products to rest of the world

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The Kazakh people often remind me of Kenyans from the rural areas. Coming from a nomadic pastoralist background, they are warm, hospitable and have a deep relationship with tea, which they call “chai” in Russian. Chai is served all the time, and as often as possible. People drink it black with no sugar, black with sugar, or with lots of milk. I spent a few days back in Kazakhstan recently, in more relaxed and informal settings than during my previous visit in January — when temperatures were averaging -35 degrees Celsius in Astana, the capital. This time — the end…
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The rich do not care about the poor, and that is the society we are creating

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It is perplexing that in all the political wrangles in Kenya, there is scarce debate or ideas — from Cord or Jubilee — on how to fix the enormous income inequality gap, which surely sets the stage for social upheaval, dangerous populism or revolution. We have one of the highest gaps between the rich and poor in the world — joining South Africa, Brazil, USA and Nigeria. The recent estimates on global population growth should give us even more reason to worry. We have had good economic growth since 2003. But for the majority, this growth has not been felt.…
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Africa’s Development Must Not Come at the Expense of its Environment

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I was recently in a discussion with a group of young Chinese students studying in America and a couple of things stood out for me. When I asked them what they liked most about living in the US, they said it was the freshness of the air! I was astounded! As it turns out, China’s transformation into a leading industrial and economic power has come at a huge cost to the environment in most parts of the country. The students talked with horror about the smog in Beijing—in very similar ways to how we talk about traffic in Nairobi—and how…
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The Marginalised and the Poor have an Opinion, but Nobody is Listening

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One of the more fascinating dynamics of divided societies like ours is we strongly hold onto the idea that “our” individual view, “our” personal truth, is or should be the global truth. This “truth” is tied to the identity we value the most, which in divided societies is often tribal, religious or racial. And so it is in the US, another divided society. This week AP and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released a poll on American attitudes to the police and policing. While there were a few points of convergence, the differences based on race were striking.…
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Ruling Elite in Jubilee Should Worry About Growing Discontent in Country

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“What goes around comes around.” This saying was ably illustrated when President Obama called out the opposition for seeking US support on governance issues, when just a few years ago, when they were in government, they were lambasting the US for raising very similar concerns. While President Obama mentioned the opposition leadership, this also applies to the ruling coalition, who a few years ago were desperately seeking US intervention but now that they are in power, lambast and insult it. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of our political class: When they are in power, they attack critics…
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The Real Afro-pessimists Are Greedy Political Elite who Detest Criticism

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The other day, Mr Manoah Esipisu, the State House spokesperson, advised Kenyans to “celebrate our country and treat the Afro-pessimists, who see nothing positive about Kenya, with contempt.” I have since been trying, unsuccessfully, to figure out what Mr Esipisu meant by linking Afro-pessimism and criticism. Could he simply have been showing off his (reasonable) command of English, and had finally found a way to use the word Afro-pessimism? For he was way off: Criticism and Afro-pessimism are as far apart as night and day. Those who criticise this regime, and previous ones, are actually the ultimate Afro-optimists! For we…
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