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‘FOREIGNERS’ IN KENYA

Xenophobia would be a lovely word if you had just placed it on the board of the word game Scrabble* but it is an ugly sentiment when displayed anywhere else, and there has been just a little bit too much of “it’s all the foreigners fault” in our newspapers of late.

‘FOREIGNERS TURN COAST INTO SIN HAVEN’?

The Sunday Nation (June 16) accused ‘foreigners’ of turning the ‘coast into sin haven’, involved with the sex trade and the production of pornographic films, added to which their ‘unbridled impunity’ sees them grabbing ‘road reserves and public beaches to the exclusive islands in Malindi and Lamu’, wrote Galgalo Bocha.

The Kenya Forum loathes the sex trade and thinks that anyone, from wherever they hail, who is involved with, for example, child abuse, should have a millstone cast around their neck and be thrown into the nearest deep lake, but Kenya’s sex trade and pornography all the fault of foreigners? No Kenyan’s involved except for victims? Doesn’t ring quite true.

FOREIGN LAWYERS

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) meanwhile, has accused foreign lawyers of ‘taking up cases of a monumental nature without accreditation’ (again The Sunday Nation, June 16), by which they mean in particular, the UK law firm Leigh Day & Company who acted recently for Mau Mau veterans in the High Court in London.

The Kenya Forum thinks it quite right and proper that lawyers operating in Kenya, again, from wherever they hail, should be properly accredited, but isn’t their a touch of envy here from the LSK? Are some of their members not just a little bit jealous at missing out on the ‘Mau Mau millions’?

Nairobi's plush Norfolk Hotel owned by Fairmont

Nairobi’s plush Norfolk Hotel owned by Fairmont

FOREIGN-OWNED KENYA

The People newspaper on Saturday June 15, ran an expose starting on its front page under the headline Foreigners who own Kenya’, setting out to show that nearly 50 years after independence, Kenya’s wealth ‘remains largely in British and American hands through massive investment in key sectors’.

In Kenya’s tourism sector, The People’s correspondent Gitahi Ngunyi reported that the ‘big boys (and girls) of the industry’ – hotel owners and tour operators – are almost entirely British and American owned.

The big hotel chains include the Fairmont (The Norfolk, Mount Kenya Safari Club and Mara Safari Club), the Serena hotels, the Blackstone group (Hilton), the Intercontinental group, Mayfair and Fairview group, wrote Ngunyi.

SUMPTUOUS DINNERS AND ‘LUXURY ACCOMMODATION’

It’s not just that these hotels are foreign-owned that irked Ngunyi, it was the behaviour of the wretched foreigners who stay in them that stuck in his throat even more.

Thomas J. Barrack owns Fairmont Raffles Hotels

Foreign tourists are driven to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve ‘where they only part with a few dollars to access the park’, he complained. They feast their eyes on ‘Kenya’s famed Big Five’ before heading off to dine on a ‘sumptuous dinner’ and then repairing to their ‘luxury accommodation’.

After all that, Gitahi Ngunyi, spluttered, ‘most of the money spent by the tourists… will be transferred’ to the foreign accounts of the foreign owners, and he picked out two such owners by way of example: Thomas J Barrack (833rd richest person in the world, according to Ngunyi), owner through an investment company, Colony Capital, of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, and a Mr Geoffrey Kent, owner (with his wife) of the tour operators Abercrombie and Kent.

FOR ‘JUST A FEW DOLLARS’?

Let us just hold it there for minute.

For a start, as Gitahi Ngunyi points out, Geoffrey Kent was born in Kenya 69 years ago. The Kenya Forum do not know Mr

Geoffrey Kent - owns tour operators Abercrombie and Kent

Geoffrey Kent – owns tour operators Abercrombie and Kent

Kent on a personal level and we do not know if he has an overseas bank account but we suspect he must have an account or accounts in Kenya, employs not a few people, helps bring in what are in effect export earnings, and after 69 years in this country, seems to have demonstrated his commitment to it.

The Kenya Forum also checked the fees paid by foreigners to enter the Maasai Mara Game reserve. They currently stand at $70 (or Sh6,020) per adult, per day (and more than that if you pay in Shillings), not a fortune but neither is it ‘just a few dollars’.

Kenya’s economy relies heavily on tourism for foreign earnings. Sad to say that very little of this money is reinvested to make our country a more attractive destination to foreign holidaymakers, and that’s not to go into the subject of where, in the past, a considerable portion of the money paid by foreigners to enter the Maasai Mara has been siphoned off to, not reaching state coffers in the first place.

AGRICULTURE, HORTICULTURE, COMMUNICATIONS, MANUFACTURING…

Gitahi Ngunyi carried on in similar vein about foreign owners: of agriculture such as leading tea companies like British-owned Brooke Bond, James Finlay, Kapchorua and Williamson; horticulture, where Kenya’s ‘multi-billion flower industry’ is owned ‘foreigners through Sher Karauturi, Oserian and Finlay; communications – Safaricom, Telekom, Airtel, Yu and Kenya Data Networks; and manufacturing – ‘entirely a foreign affair’ including East Africa Breweries, BAT, Magadi Soda, Bamburi Cement and BOC gases.

Yes, it would be better if more Kenya-based business was owned and run by Kenyans, but that is gradually happening, says the Kenya Forum, meanwhile, the thousands of people that they employ, the investment in the country made by these large foreign-owned companies and the multi-billion shillings they earn, much of which ends up back in Kenya, is not to be sniffed at.

Kenya’s largely foreign-owned flower exporters, for example, brings in an income of about Sh21.2 billion a year. The value of tourism to Kenya in 2012 was about Sh95 billion and the country’s tea exporters are projected to earn Sh116 billion this year.

Looking at the goose that lays the golden egg and then deciding to take aim at it and shoot, is not a sound policy.

His Worshipful Councillor Abdul Mohamed, Mayor of Southwark

THE NEW MAYOR OF SOUTHWARK…

And now, by way of almost a footnote, a Mr Abdul Mohamed, or to give him his full title, His Worshipful Councillor Abdul Mohamed, has just been made mayor of the London borough of Southwark. Born in Eldoret and brought up in Uasin Gishu, His Worship the Mayor of Southwark is now a ‘British Kenyan’.

‘The day is not far off when a British-Kenyan will be occupying a ministerial position in the British Cabinet’, wrote the correspondent in the Standard on Sunday (June 16).

Could that happen in reverse in Kenya today? Could Mr Geoffrey Kent be elected? Probably not – he’s only been here 69 years. Bloody foreigners…

*(Okay, before Scrabble aficionados out there write in, with only seven tiles to play with at any one go you would have to have had ‘phobia’ on the board first and then add ‘Xeno’ to it to score at least 23 points and a lot more if you get the word down on a double-word score with a double letter score somewhere along the way).

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