Justin Knapp (Lauder Chinese ‘14) and I arrived in Nairobi on Sunday to begin research on our GKL projects. Justin is trying to understand the dairy sector in Kenya and see how government and cultural factors are influencing the sector. I am looking at the historical and contemporary trade relationships between the Arab countries and East Africa and hope to understand the renewed interest by the Arabs in investing in Kenya. We will be joined by Helay Fazel (Lauder German ’14) and after Nairobi, we will head to Kigali, Rwanda to attend the Rwanda Global Modular Class. Venkatesh (Lauder German ’14) will serve as the teaching assistant for the course.
It has been raining in Kenya for a couple of months and the weather is cool, but humid. There is a sense of calm now, post-election. While driving from the airport to the city, I drove past Uhuru park, where I could see hundreds of people and families spending their Sunday afternoon. However, the challenges (and opportunities) for the new government are clear from the time one lands at the airport. The terminal is operating well beyond its capacity and the new terminal is still under construction. As the gateway to Africa, Nairobi can ill-afford to not have a world-class airport. The traffic situation is challenging and some roads need repair. Hotels are expensive relative to comparable hotels in say, China. At the same time, there is a sense of confidence among the people; shopping centers in the Westlands area are full of people. For instance, it is hard to get a table at Nairobi’s Java coffee house (the closest one can get to a Starbucks experience in Kenya). It is clear that consumer demand is growing and investments are needed. Over the next few days, Justin, Helay and I hope to speak to people in government, development organizations, corporations and our alumni and try to get a better sense of the past, the present and more importantly, what the future holds for this rapidly developing part of the world.