I started learning to play Badminton from my Dad (Ex-WO1 Paul Penu of blessed memory) at the age of 10, following him to the courts he developed around the various military barracks where we lived. At the time, I least anticipated that this was going to lead me into the semi-serious business of playing badminton for my university and for Ghana at a continental games organised for All African Universities in Nairobi, Kenya in 2014. It came to pass, with a gold medal and 2 silver medals in three separate events. On the side lines of these games however, I have not just pick medal but have had some interesting (non-sporting) observations that I found worthy of commentary and sharing with my networks and I hope that you find them interesting and thought-provoking. Welcome! Karibu Kenya!
IMMIGRATION: It’s more than just a term (Also in Africa)
There are many African youth who downplay the commitment of African security forces to protect their people. Do not be deceived; Africa is awake to her security responsibilities. At least, Kenya gave me the feeling that they were awake to the external threats that knocked at their doorstep. From their uncompromising demand for the health declaration process (bearing in mind the West-African Ebola scare) to the concrete evidence of residence in Kenya. Right there in my presence, a fellow Ghanaian had to call her host to attend an interview by the immigration officials before being allowed in. I could barely differentiate between the security/immigration clearance process we had to go through in Kenya from that I had experienced in Western Europe, Asia and the USA. The message was clear: Kenya had woken up to the external security threats it faced from the likes of Al Shabbab and they were leaving ‘little’ to chance. West-Africa is gradually becoming a fragile region amidst the deafening insurgence of terror groups and the increasingly porous immigration checks. I hope that countries like my homeland Ghana, wake-up to the reality.
KENYAN SECURITY; one of the most haunted in Africa
As a Ghanaian, the devastation caused by the West-gate mall attack is fresh on my mind as it robbed Ghana of a renowned human resource in the person of Prof. Kofi Awoonor (a Ghanaian poet) of solemn memory. Kenyan malls like the Nakumatt conglomerate and the Tuskys are still highly patronised. The threat of terror had not daunted the freedom of movement of Kenyans, and for me this was a positive sign that terrorist had not succeeded in diluting the freedom of those they intend to subdue. Far from the expectations that Kenyan’s would be hiding under the hoods of their houses, they are enjoying a ‘normal’ life; albeit inverted by the heightened security checks at every instance. Churches in Kenya had the conspicuous presence of security attaches with metal detectors at their entrances; subjecting every entrant to bodily screening. All shoppers had to submit their persona and luggage to security screening before entry. One of the reasons we had to abandon our planned night out as a Ghanaian contingent was because we had no security clearance. One thing I am not sure about however, is whether these changes in Kenya are for the better or for the worse. Would Kenyans rather choose being treated as potential terrorist until proven ‘clean’ or would they relish a reverse to the Ghanaian situation where saints are determined by their outlook and caution thrown to the wind? Any pronouncement will be a subjective evaluation but I will be happy to know what the Kenyans think about their fence, what the Nigerians are experiencing and how Ghanaians would rather feel; free or safe?
FREE FOR CORRUPTION? …..OR ….CORRUPTION FREE?
During one of our drive outs of the main campus of the University of Nariobi, I found a puzzling inscription at the main gates: “This is a Corruption Free Zone”. My first reaction was to say wow! This is a corruption breaker. It was my belief that anyone who would see this notice at the entrance of the number one ranked University in Eastern and Central Africa would dump their corrupt ideas and resist the temptation of engaging in all forms of vice. But I was confused shortly afterwards. Why? Because I remembered that just the previous night, I was schooled by a student leader in the University of Nairobi who mentioned that probably the biggest of the woes of Kenya was corruption. So I was compelled to shelve this optimistic opinion and verify the real value of such a notice from the members of the University. So on one of my privileged walks around the campus with open-minded student escorts, I asked the thorny question. The response I had was shocking. To them, the notice was a white elephant. In fact, one of those I was walking with revealed that most of the students had interpreted the notice to mean that people were free to indulge in corruption within the University (free for corruption instead of corruption-free). I did not need any further discussion to realise that, most probably, this notice was just a window dressing. So I subtly asked and continue to ask myself, how Ghanaian universities were going to react to the erection of giant notices that read at their entrances “This is a corruption free zone”.
NAIROBI: A tale of Two Cities
From our point of arrival (on 11th July 2014 at 1 am at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) and throughout our drive-outs for the games in other parts of the city, I was convinced that Nairobi was one of the cleanest and well planned cities on the continent. By the standards in central Accra in Ghana, central Nairobi was our target dream. The streets were litter-free, the shops were well organised, street-hawking was effectively outlawed and, residential facilities were elaborately and almost impeccably designed. Shoe-shinning joints were comfortable centres with sit-in stuffed chairs and newspapers available to occupy clients whilst their shoes were polished. Newspaper vendors were clad in their respective media-branded jackets. By far, this was a pleasant scene for the majority of us Ghanaian and I did not hesitate to debate the very few of our compatriots who thought that Accra was no different.
To clear any doubts that the whole of Nairobi was a ‘heaven’, I asked to be taken to the other-side, where the Kenyans called “downtown” Nairobi. By the generous offer of two Kenyan friends, I visited downtown and it was amazing the sharp contrast I found. The cars were rickety, adherence to traffic rules was like a taboo, stagnant water right in the middle of the streets and of course the ever present garbage on the streets. For my friends in Ghana, recall a trip to Chokor (in Accra) or Bakaano (in Cape Coast) and you are in downtown Nairobi. It was almost like there was a clear demarcating wall separating downtown Nairobi from uptown Nairobi; but this was not so. They both resided in the same metropolis and in fact they were freely connected through vehicular transactions. Hence for me, Nairobi remains a brighter city than most capital cities I have visited in West-Africa. Nevertheless, it has two sharply and regrettably contrasting worlds.
This is the end of part 1 of “Memoir from Kenya”. In the second part of this article, I will be writing about the lingua advantage of Kenya, why the University of Nairobi maybe my next destination for studentship and how Kenya can learn from Ghana’s good socio-political example. Meanwhile, let the comments begin.