Contrasts in Kenya

Some things in Kenya form an interesting contrast compared to life in America.

Audrey and I took a walk through the Kibera slum, today, with our friend, David. In order to dress as close to normal African garb as possible Audrey wore a skirt, and I wore my nicest pair of dress shoes. I almost never wear them back home, but they just looked normal here. With them I walked on the dirt roads in Kibera where the pot holes were filled with garbage and there is no sewage system. Same with Audrey. She never wears skirts in Orlando, but it was the most normal thing she could wear here. In order to look normal in one of the poorest parts of Kenya I had to wear my nicest pair of shoes and Audrey had to wear one of the nicest outfits she has ever worn in years.

My phone provided another irony. In this same slum is the highest concentration of mobile phone users in Kenya, as I understand it, and it seemed there were more ‘M-PESA’ shops than anywhere else in the city. M-PESA is the cell phone money transfer system that most Kenyans use to send money between people and between small businesses. The M-PESA shops are where you make cash deposits and withdrawals from your account, like a bank. For 2011 they estimate that 15% of the Kenyan GDP will flow through M-PESA.

My high-end Android smartphone, like the ones we gave tomorrow’s graduating mLearning Class students back in September at the start of the class, was not completely out of place in one of the largest slums in Africa. But since it has no “M-PESA” program on it, it couldn’t even perform one of the most basic functions that most Kenyans depend on for doing business.

Many Americans expect the rest of the world to follow the same development path America is on, but the reality of life today is that each place will find a development path of its own.

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