Contrary to Donald Trump’s apparent view of ‘shit hole countries in Africa’, in many areas, Kenya is blazing a trail ahead of the West.
- Plastic bags are banned.
The environmental agency in Kenya (NEMA) banned plastic bags on 28th August 2017 and since then, anyone found with a plastic bag, country wide, is liable to pay hefty fines. The littering of plastic bottles continues to be a menace and recently NEMA threatened to ban production, sale and use of plastic bottles too – unless manufacturers install plastic bottle collection points by the end of April 2018.
“We can’t have bottles blocking our drainages and littering our highways” Director general Geoffrey Wahungu said.
It’s fair to say that the banning of plastic bags in Kenya has had the affect of focusing all of our minds on the problem of plastic waste. You can’t help wincing when buying meat, prepared veg or a cake from the supermarket presented on a plastic tray, takeaway cups with plastic lids just seem wrong, egg boxes pile up accusingly, we have got into the habit of saying no to the straw and nowadays, using plastic bottles is a major source of guilt. #bringbackglassbottles
- Security screening at malls, hotels and events
Since the 2013 Westgate mall attack in Nairobi, manned security checks have become the norm. Not a particularly nice place to be and the arbitrary checks are more about reassuring people than a realistic foil for terrorists but we’ve all had to get used to popping open the boot of the car and opening our handbags to do airport style screening at malls, hotels and events. This process used to surprise UK visitors, now it’s the same back home.
- We are careful with water.
Cape Town is about to run out of water. I think that the world has woken up to the fact that water is a precious resource that we should no longer take for granted but in Nairobi, we are very used to managing our water supply which is often rationed, controlled or in short supply. We also drink bottled water, which means that at the end of every meal, everyone must finish their glass. We water through the mains only one day a week but have a storage tank large enough to hold enough water for up to 2 weeks. Leaving the tap running while brushing teeth is a no, no. Shallow baths and switching off the shower while soaping are the norm. Watering the garden doesn’t happen and cars are washed once a week. I’m aware of the fact that we should make far better use of our grey water, especially as, during drought seasons, we’ve run out of water entirely for a day or two – not even a drop to wash hands. Euch! Fortunately crisis can generally be averted by ordering a truck delivery of borehole water, but this water is not always clean and definitely not potable.
- Killing it on street style.
While access to newly made, lower cost clothing has improved in Kenya, there still remains a buoyant market for imported/thrift clothing in Kenya. Why? Because it’s cost effective and there’s lots of choice. And don’t expect people to look dowdy in worn out pieces; Nairobi is hip and cool. In a country where around 80% of the population is under 35 years old, there’s an edgy vibe with a home grown crop of fashion bloggers and influencers. Although there are threats to ban the import of second handing clothing from the West to Kenya by 2019, my own teens are fully subscribed to the vintage fashion movement and they are not alone. 80’s sweatshirts, used branded hoodies and vintage jeans from trading apps like Depop.com can be rooted out in Kenyan markets for far less and definitely have a very cool cachet.
Kenya goes global? Hyper cool brother and sister duo Oliver Asike and Velma Rossa, bloggers and Thrift Social event planners 2ManySiblings (as featured in Vogue) have just confirmed their collaboration with ASOS for a #madeinkenya 2018 collection, coming soon.
- Tech, tech, tech, boom.
Adios Silicon Valley, hello Silicon Savanna. Since the incredible mobile money transfer system MPesa was invented here, Nairobi has become a breeding ground for tech-preneurs inventing low cost solutions to developing world problems addressing issues such as farming methods, access to medicine, access to education, solar power, access to the grid, the internet and so forth. Today, it’s not just the capital Nairobi playing host to these incubators, tech hubs are popping up all over the country and are still drawing the attention of socially conscious foreign investors who want to see their cash ‘changing the world’ and doing some good. 20 or 30 something tech graduates interested in leapfrog technology? Head to Kenya (you’ll find loads of your mates are already here…).
Featured image: Velma Rossa for ASOS