I was fortunate enough to travel to Kenya last week, for the first Tech4Africa in East Africa, and then a trip to the Masai Mara afterwards for some much needed downtime. My trip was by no means extensive, and my experiences were really our event, speaking to the people I met, and spending time in the Mara, so please take this as from that
What follows are my thoughts and observations from the trip:
On average, Kenyans are friendlier than I expected, and probably friendlier than the average South African I’m used to.
Nairobi has probably the worst traffic I’ve experienced (worse than big cities in Vietnam), and I managed to get away lightly.
I was astounded by the general level of education and awareness of everyone I met. Some people asked about the British economy, others asked about Madiba, everyone knew about Wimbledon and Andy Murray, and Zuma / Malema in South Africa.
We stayed at a Best Western hotel which was very similar to the one I stayed at in Tel Aviv, even down to the music in the restaurant. The staff were brilliant, the rooms great, the wifi fast and free, and the food was fine (breakfast got boring after a few days but hey!).
Don’t bank on the internet / wifi at Jomo Kenyatta Airport – it’s patchy and slow.
When you arrive, get yourself a data SIM card, it’ll probably be easier than relying on wifi which is spotty.
Safaricom is everywhere, with Airtel a pretty far away second. I would wager Safaricom to be the biggest brand in Kenya.
mPesa is on every street and everywhere you look – all the local people I spoke to in one way or another said that it’s a great service used by a lot of people, has freed up trade and made them rely less on banks. Even some of the tourists I met were using it and raving at how they wish they could get something like this in Europe. “I don’t want to have to go to the bank to transfer money, or carry cards everywhere I go”.
Big brands you’ll see are FMCG, Samsung, Nokia, Safaricom, mPesa, Toyota, the banks and of course Coke. Pretty interesting as it’s what you’d expect from a growing emerging market.
The informal entrepreneurial sector is really around service provision, again for the needs of a growing emerging market – so everything from hardware to furniture to cars being sold on the side of the road.
The Masai Mara is incredible. I’ve never seen so much game in one place. Within 4 game drives over 2 days, I had the privilege of seeing 4 of the Big 5, along with seeing the beginning of the wildebeest migration (regarded by some as the 8th natural wonder of the world). My photos don’t do it justice, and as a South African who is proud of his natural heritage, I have to say that Kenya is on a different level.
European tourists think the above is normal when they arrive, because it happens so easily. So you’re watching a lioness eating a wildebeest about 5m away from you, and Maria from Spain arrives and is chatting away loudly in the vehicle next to you, without even watching the lion. Or Mr Woo from the East is leaning out of the vehicle trying to take a photo with his Jumbo lens – thinking the lioness is a big pussy cat that won’t just swat you for being irritating.
When you’re in the Mara, you either get to travel in a Land Cruiser, or a modified Taxi (matatu) with it’s roof extended up so you can stand up when game viewing. I don’t know how those vehicles stand up to the beatings they get on those roads.
Stephen, our driver and guide whilst in the Mara was brilliant. Calm, patient, knowledgeable and easy to get along with, we really enjoyed spending time with him and getting to know the locals – from eating in a Kenchicken to getting the locals to help us out of the mud!