Nairobi’s first cupcake shop demonstrates the power of a rising consumer class — and teaches a lesson about labor in emerging economies, too.
If anyone needed more evidence that Kenya’s economy is on the rise, a sort of confirmation arrived recently — in buttercream and a half dozen flavors that change daily.
Sugarpie Cupcakes in Nairobi has won plenty of fans and local press, attesting to this city’s changing tastes. The expats tend to favor Belgian chocolate, while the Kenyans prefer chai or red velvet, but overall sales have grown fast since the business launched late last year.
Running the business is no cakewalk — but its vagaries and workarounds reveal a lot about Nairobi’s consumerist aspirations, and the economics that underlie them. A rising number of middle-upper-income Kenyans sees cupcakes as one of many small luxuries they can afford. And some among Kenya’s large, (non)working class see that as something to aspire to.
Read the full story at OZY.com
In the 19th century, foreign explorers came to Africa in search of ivory, rubber and slaves. Today, they come for Africa’s minerals — its copper, zinc and tungsten. The developed world needs them for its skyscrapers, cell phones and much in between.
The exchange is sometimes unfair. Often, African governments don’t know the value of the natural resources underground, but mining companies from the West — and, increasingly, China — do. That knowledge asymmetry has cost African countries and their citizens as much as $1.4 trillion over the past 30 years.
But a more level playing field may be in sight, thanks to a World Bank initiative that aims to compile Africa’s mineral maps into a single, public database: the so-called Billion Dollar Map. The goal is to give African nations as much information as possible about their natural resources so that they can earn a fair price for the minerals they sell, World Bank officials say.
While mineral maps of the African continent exist, most are private or piecemeal. The Billion Dollar Map is crucially different: Its contents will be available to the public. And that, experts hope, will minimize underpricing and corruption, and help governments get a fairer price for their countries’ resources.
Read the full story at OZY.com
In the nation’s public sector, there are huge disparities between the highest earners and the low. Now, Kenyans are fighting over who should take a cut.
Anthony Langat and Jacob Kushner
NAIROBI, Kenya—Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ignited a nationwide debate over government employee wages this month when he surprised the country by announcing he would reduce his own salary by 20 percent.
The move signaled the beginning of a fierce debate over government wages, which are rising out of control: This year, public sector salaries are expected to eat up 54 percent of all tax revenue and equal 13 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to cabinet secretary in charge of the Treasury, Henry Rotich.
“The recent growth in public sector wage bill is unsustainable and unacceptable,” Kenyatta said in a March 10 speech that sparked the wage debate. “If we maintain this trend we would be dedicating an ever larger share of the wealth we produce as a country to the remuneration of public servants.”
Read the full story at GlobalPost.
NAIROBI, Kenya —Today marks six months since gunmen trained by the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab stormed a popular shopping mall here, in a siege that left 62 civilians and five Kenyan soldiers dead, and at least 200 others injured.
The victims consisted of both Kenyans and expatriates. Their families and friends remained traumatized by the attack and angered by the government’s response, during which Kenyan soldiers looted the mall, even while bodies remained strewn about.
The Israeli-owned Westgate Mall opened in 2007. It was a popular hangout for Kenyans and expatriates alike until it collapsed during the September 2013 siege. But one group of Kenyans in particular holds a uniquely intimate connection to the mall and the event that destroyed it: These hundreds of Kenyans were employed in the mall’s 80 shops and restaurants, and depended on the mall for their livelihoods.
Their wages, small by western standards, supported their families or paid for their continuing education.
When the gunshots erupted, workers fled side-by-side with patrons. Some hid from the gunmen for upwards of 11 hours before being rescued. In small acts of heroism, some workers led others up or down staircases to safety, or out back doors.
In the aftermath of the attack, some were transferred to other franchise locations owned by their employers. But many lost their jobs entirely.
Six months later, GlobalPost asked mall employees to reflect on how the attack changed their lives and how they are coping with its long-lasting effects.
Read the full story and watch the video at GlobalPost.
Vincent Gallo Kebogo used to work at an ice cream shop called “Mama Mia,” located in the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Six months after the mall was stormed by the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab, Kebogo reflects on the devastating attack and how it has affected his life.
Urban Kenyans hate wasting time in traffic as much as you do, and they’re turning to mobile-phone apps to free up the road.
By Jacob Kushner
Traffic in Nairobi is so mind-numbing it makes L.A.’s Interstate 5 look like the Autobahn. Motorcycles squeeze between cars and trucks that practically park on major boulevards and highways. Street peddlers walk to and fro selling newspapers, flowers, air fresheners and children’s toys to captive audiences. Roundabouts become cartoonishly clogged.
Nairobi is the world’s fourth most congested city, far worse than any in the U.S., according to a 2011 survey. Kenya’s government estimates traffic jams cost Nairobi $600,000 per day in lost productivity and wasted fuel. That’s $219 million per year.
As the number of cars on the road increases, the city’s future holds even more frustration and waste, unless Nairobi can find a different type of solution for its traffic woes. One team at IBM’s headquarters in Nairobi thinks it’s found an answer – and if it works, it could provide relief to millions of commuters throughout the developing world.
Read the full story at OZY.com
Chinese companies and banks were once seen as bold and fearless as they invested in countries Western investors deemed too risky. But this may now be changing.
By Jacob Kushner
In 2007, when two Chinese state-owned companies struck a deal with the Congolese government to build the biggest mine the country had ever seen, all involved were riding high. In a mega-deal originally worth some $9 billion, Sinohydro and the China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) would gain access to 6.8 million metric tons of copper, the future profits of which were to underwrite the prior building of hospitals, roads and other infrastructure.
At the time, the China’s involvement in Africa was booming and the Sicomines deal embodied much that was symptomatic of Sino-African relations: it was massive-scale, involved vast infrastructural construction linked with similarly vast mineral resources, and was taking place in a country many other investors would have deemed too unstable.
It was not long, however, before confidence in the deal began to wane, especially amongst the deal’s financiers, China’s Export-Import Bank (Exim).
Read the full article at Think Africa Press.
A botched investment by Kenya’s social security agency may delay workers’ retirement benefits, make a Chinese construction firm richer and leave thousands of small landowners with nothing.
By Anthony Langat and Jacob Kushner
NAIROBI, Kenya—This, says Samuel Wambiri, is how corruption can disrupt a life in Kenya.
Ten years ago, the 54-year-old father of three purchased a small plot of land on the outskirts of Nairobi for a modest 315,000 shillings. That’s about $3,700, which Wambiri agreed to pay over 10-years. And upon that land, Wambiri built a home where he and his wife could retire.
But last month, just as Wambiri had finished paying it off, the agency that sold him the land announced some troubling news: Wambiri would have to pay 920,000 shillings, or $10,824 more — four times more than his original investment. That’s because the Nairobi County governor decided Kenya’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which sold the land, needed to build a sewage system and access roads through it at significant cost.
The NSSF announced it would transfer the cost of the utilities to the landowners themselves.
“I was happy that I had finally finished paying for my land,” Wambiri said. “I was looking for somewhere to settle, and I settled.”
But now, Wambiri and an estimated 5,500 fellow small-parcel landowners in Nairobi’s Tassia II neighborhood may be forced to vacate their new land altogether if they don’t find a way to pay the bill.
Read the full story at GlobalPost.
Tarnished: The True Cost of Gold tells the stories of those who mine gold—the lustrous, coveted symbol of wealth. Eleven journalists traveled to 10 countries to tell these stories. Their work combines first-rate reporting, vivid imagery and video, previously published by the Pulitzer Center, an innovative non-profit that supports international journalism.
In Chapter Four, Jacob Kushner investigates the future of mining in Haiti, a land ravaged by an earthquake in 2010. Gold remains its hidden treasure, one of the country’s few unexploited natural resources. Kushner asks where the wealth will go when—and if—tons of precious metals are unearthed. (A version of this chapter was originally published by Guernica Magazine).
Download the eBook for iPad and and iBooks for Mac.
An increasingly supportive church and other signs suggest Kenya may be departing from its neighbors in the region by accepting homosexuality.
NAIROBI, Kenya — For years, homosexuality was as unlawful in Kenya as it was in neighboring Uganda or in Nigeria — countries where anti-gay sentiment is growing.
Kenya’s penal code prescribes up to 14 years in prison for men who commit “acts of gross indecency” with other men or for any person who acts “against the order of nature.” It’s the same maximum sentence that existed in Nigeria, and seven years greater than what was until recently the maximum punishment in Uganda.
Uganda’s parliament passed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The Ugandan president said on Friday that he plans to sign the bill. President Obama on Sunday condemned the move, and warned “such discrimination could harm its relationship with the United States.”
In January, Nigeria’s president signed a law that also orders that homosexuals be imprisoned for life and even makes gatherings of homosexuals illegal, including those held by advocacy or rights organizations. The law has already led to numerous arrests.
But in Kenya no such attempt has been made to reduce legal protections for gays, and many Kenyans seem increasingly willing to accept homosexuality as a fact of life, or to move beyond political posturing over the subject altogether.