Posts filed under ‘Africa’

Mitumba 101: The Second Hand Clothing Trade in Kenya

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Toi Market. Nairobi’s largest second retail hub. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

The Blue Sweater

The founder of non-profit venture capital fund, Jacqueline Novogratz, is the author of “The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World.”  In the book, she describes a blue sweater, donning “zebras in the foreground and Mt. Kilimanjaro right across the chest,” that she wore often as a child.  Like many of our own childhood artifacts, the sweater was donated to good will once she started high school.

That exact moment is where the story goes global…

“Fast forward 10 years, about 5000 miles.  I had left my career on Wall Street and was working in Kigali, Rwanda with a small group of women to start the countries first micro-finance bank to make small loans to poor women.  When I was jogging through the streets, and low and behold 10 yards in front of me I see a little boy, pip squeak, knobby knees, wearing my sweater.  So, I run up to the child, grab him by the color, turn it over and there is my name,” said Novogratz.

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Novagratz’s sweater is one article of clothing among millions that are circulating the globe as part of the second hand clothing trade (SHCT).  Although the SHCT accounts for approximately 0.5% of global trade in clothing, more than 30% of those imports went to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as early as 2005Figures provided by an Oxfam report indicate that used garments, initially collected and sold by western charities, account for nearly 50% of the clothing sector in SSA.

The SHCT is a billion dollar industry that spans the globe.  According to a CNN report, “whilst exact continent-wide figures are hard to come by, global used clothing exports from OECD countries stood at $1.9 billion in 2009, according to 2011 U.N. Comtrade data.”   An estimate in the same article approximates import activity to be worth $3 billion, and the subsequent retail transactions to be worth two-times that amount.

Mitumba 101

In Kenya the second hand clothing trade is known as mitumba.

Used clothing was first imported as duty free charity in response to regional conflicts during the 70s and 80s.   The trade evolved into a commercialized business sector in the early 90s, when market liberalization policies were introduced into the Kenyan economy.  Those policies allowed for the importation of goods, like mass shipments of used clothing, at reduced costs.

Indigenous textile industries across many African economies could not compete with the lower cost and higher quality of used clothing from abroad.   In Kenya specifically, the resulting competition coupled with other factors like the collapse of the Kenyan cotton board, a drought from 1995-1997, lack of locally produced synthetic material and newly arriving cheap Asian imports, led to the closing of Kisumu Cotton Mills, Allied Industries Limited and Heritage Woolen Mills.

However, before you mourn the loss of local textile production, you should know that this is not entirely a sob story.   From the ashes of one industry, another one has emerged quite triumphantly.  Mitumba is a bustling business sector in Kenya.  It has created thousands of jobs where the government and private sector have failed to do so.  Furthermore, the state cashes in on import revenues and so do local city-municipal councils that require all vendors to purchase trading licenses regularly.

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Retail clothing vendor in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Mitumba is popular across the entire spectrum of Kenyan society.  The poor could not afford to clothe themselves otherwise, while middle class and affluent Kenyans turn to Mitumba for designer labels and high quality, unique clothing intended for western markets.

Mitumba Supply Chain in Kenya

  • Exporters/Importer: The second hand clothing merchants sort the clothing by condition and category; good/poor quality, women’s/men’s/children’s, shirts/pants, etc. Then, they’re bundled in plastic packaging called bales and shipped to the major East African port city of Mombasa in large containers.   The bales are purchased by the ton.  When they arrive in Kenya, they are stored in warehouses, mostly around the port of entry.
  • Wholesalers: Major wholesalers purchase bales in Mombasa and transport them by truck to Gikomba market in Nairobi, ground zero for the wholesale mitumba trade in Kenya.  Next, medium wholesalers purchase the bales and sell the clothing to retail vendors who travel to Gikomba from all over the country to purchase stock for their businesses.
  •  Retailers: Toi market, an offshoot of Kibera slums, is the largest retail market for used items in Nairobi.  Other vendors fan out to cities and towns across the country.

On the Ground in Gikomba Market

Hop on matatu #7 behind the National Archives in town for the short ride to Gikomba Market, Kenya’s hub for wholesale SHC sales.  This is a thrift shop on steroids.  Gikomba is a labyrinth of rickety wooden stalls, adorned with rows of garments hung like ornaments on a Christmas tree.  Vendors, perched above colorful mounds of clothing, call out to customers, shouting prices from their stalls.  Bales of clothing are hauled through its narrow, muddy corridors on sturdy backs and rickshaws, as customers bob and weave through the chaos looking for quality clothing at the lowest price.

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Bales of clothing waiting to be sold at Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

The sound of “camera, camera” fills the air.  Clothing, both retail and wholesale, are sold in rounds by grade.   Each round is called a camera, first camera, second camera and finally, the third.  Once the bales are opened and sorted, the best quality clothes will be the first to go.  Vendors often build relationships with each other in order to get first dibs on “first camera” clothing.

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Ladies T-Shirt from Australia. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Used clothing bale from Canada. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Francis, from the Kingara section of Nairobi, supervises a store that sells bales of clothing in the market.  Drivers for the business go back and forth to Mombasa at least twice a week, bringing  back about 70 bales of clothing with them each time.  The drive from Nairobi to Mombasa is about 8 hours one way.  According to Francis, a bale of 1st grade clothing can range anywhere from KHS 9000 (about $100) to KHS 14000 (about $200).

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Francis is seated on a bale to the left. He supervises this wholesale bale business in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Thomas Wahome, 24, and Samuel Mwangi, 28, have both worked in Gikomba market for 3 years.  They rent a stall for KHS 1500 (about $20) a month to sell men’s and women’s jeans.  At their stall, the cheapest pair costs 100 shillings (about $1.50).

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Thomas Wahome and Samuel Mwangi at their stall in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Paula Bosire, an accounting student at Strathmore University, likes to mix and match her wardrobe.  Some of her clothes are brand new from local chain stores and others are second hand.  She is a frequent visitor to Gikomba, where she goes to find prices even cheaper than Toi’s.   “I shop at Woolworth’s and Mr. Price for statement pieces and come to Gikomba for really good deals and things that are practically new.  Sometimes the difference isn’t much,” she said.  On this day, Paula left Gikomba with stylish scarves and a pair of slacks and jeans that cost KHS 40 (about $0.50) each.

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Paula Bosire shopping for scarves in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Geoffrey Messo, 24, is a mitumba retailer at Umoja, an estate in Nairobi.  He has been in business for 8 months and visits Gikomba twice a week to purchase new stock.  He retains customers by building relationships with them, getting to know their styles and taking personal requests for items.   According to Geoffrey, starting off as a mitumba retailer is not difficult because it requires very little capital upfront.  However, like any business mitumba is not devoid of challenges.  Sometimes Geoffrey is stuck with clothing that doesn’t sell.

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Geoffrey Messo in Gikomba. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Gikomba market generates tons of spinoff employment.  It’s like a city within a city.  Security guards are hired to protect stalls and stock.  There are tailors on site to repair clothing and stalls set up exclusively for ironing.  Shoe cleaners wait at the exit of the market with brushes, soap and water to wash off the mud accumulated from a busy day of shopping, and food vendors are on site to fuel the spending.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Naima, is known as ‘mathe’ in the market which means mother in shang, Kenyan slang.  Originally from the coast province, she is the owner of ‘Real Madrid’ restaurant, located at the center of Gikomba’s hustle and bustle.   She’s run her business in the market for 8 years.  In addition to feeding hungry shoppers with typical Kenyan dishes like chapati, samosas and greengrams (lentils), she caters for parties and offices in the Westlands and Hurlingham sections of Nairobi.   “People come from very far to pick clothes for their businesses.  This is a meeting place for them.  They sell, exchange, I let them do whatever they want [here].  They come in the morning, leave their things, I keep them safe while they go to buy.  Then, they come to eat, talk with friends and return home, ”said Naima.

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Naima’s business is more than just a restaurant. It’s a social gathering space for those buying and selling in the market. On a typical day, her establishment is filled with the sound of laughter and friendly banter. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Since there is no running water, Naima provides plastic gloves for finger food. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

A portrait of Gikomba market would not be complete without mentioning that it is also Nairobi’s wholesale fish market.  Hotels, restaurants, businesses and even individual shoppers flock here to purchase fresh and smoked fish from Lakes Victoria and Turkana.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Helen is standing to the far left, in front of her fish vending business in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Geoffrey Messo, the clothing vendor who I met shopping for stock, introduced me to his mother Helen.  She has been selling fish in Gikomba for 10 years.  She sells fresh fish from Lake Victoria.  She receives shipments of fish everyday.  Along with most vendors in the market, she rents a space in communal refrigerators to store her supply.  Her customers, many of whom are restaurant owners, come straight to her in Gikomba.  She also makes home deliveries.

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Fried fish, stew, sukuma wiki and ugali. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

If you’re not in the mood for samosas or greengrams at Naima’s ‘Real Madrid,’ stop by the fish section of the market for freshly fried Nile perch, a side of sukuma wiki, kale, and the Kenyan staple ugali, corn flower cooked with water to a dough-like consistency.

On the Ground in Toi Market

Toi market is located at the outskirts of Kibera slums in Nairobi.   According to Citizen TV Kenya, ”the market, which started in 1992 as a food center, where people could stop for a bite to eat, has become a vast emporium of second hand shoes, shirts, bags, pants and dresses. “  Toi market is the primary retail-shopping destination for the average Nairobean.   It’s less hectic, more spacious and secure than Gikomba market, which is located near the city center.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Boniface started working in Toi in 2005.  He has lived in the adjacent Kibera slums for 22 years.  He was previously employed in the ‘jua kali’ sector making furniture, but left to go into business for himself.  “  I wanted to be self-employed, to rely on myself and my own business, to live my own life, personally.  The business is cheap to start,” said Boniface.  Unlike most vendors in Toi who rent, Boniface owns his stall.  He purchased it for KHS 25,000 (about $300).

Jackline Arunga, 18, is a newbie in Toi.  She has only worked in the market for 1 year, selling children’s clothes exclusively.  She rents her stall along the roadside for KHS 1500 ($20) a month.  Once a month, she travels to Gikomba market to restock her supply of mitumba.  Jackline’s long term goal is saving money to enroll in university.

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Jackline Arunga at her children’s clothing stall in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Brisbane John Ndavi owns a stall in Toi market with his wife.  They have worked here for a decade.  Like for many Kenyans, it is difficult to survive on one income alone.  So, Brisbane has more than one job.  He is a full time security guard at an international embassy in Nairobi.   Brisbane and his wife sell mitumba from a great location on the roadside.   The price of owning or renting along paths, well worn from foot traffic, is double that of stalls off the roadside, deeper inside the market.  Brisbane sited land ownership discrepancies as one challenge to feeling secure in this line of work.  Neighboring Kibera and Toi market are both informal settlements, and who exactly owns the land has been a huge point of contention for decades.   There are constantly rumors about developers seeking to gain ownership and wipe out the market.  According to Brisbane, many vendors work with the fear that one-day, they’ll show up to work and find their structures ransacked and torn down.

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Brisbane John Ndavi and his wife at their stall in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Second hand shoes are cleaned, polished and presented like new. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Toi market is not just a hub for clothing.  It is a central location for all kinds of used items.  On any given day, it’s common to see customers, both affluent and poor, Kenyan and expatriate, combing through books, toys, electronics, utensils, accessories, furniture and other items.  According to The Standard, Verah Aboga is one of the businesspersons who sells second-hand kitchenware.   Aboga, who operates from Kitengela on the outskirts of Nairobi, sells the items on order to her customers in the city.  Aboga noted that second-hand utensils are becoming popular because the market has been infiltrated by low-quality items. “Most of the sufurias (cooking pots) sold in the Kenyan market are very light and are not even made of stainless steel. This is what is making people switch to second-hand utensils, especially those who mind about quality,” she said.

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Toi market houses all kind of used items, not just clothing. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Toi market houses all kind of used items, not just clothing. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Challenges to Mitumba

Market liberalization, coupled with the low purchasing power of the vast majority of Kenyans, has made the country fertile ground for the SHCT.  It’s wildly popular across the entire societal spectrum.  Nonetheless, there are several factors that could threaten the industry’s future in Kenya.

1) Cheap textiles from Asia are flooding the market.  Although the competition from this onslaught is real, many Kenyans remain loyal to mitumba for its higher quality.

 
2) In 2012, the government raised import duties on SHC shipments.  According to an article originally published in the Daily Nation, “While a container of mitumba used to attract duty of between Sh900,000 and Sh1.1 million before the new taxes were implemented early this year, the new rate is now Sh1.8 million, an increase of more than Sh800,000, they said.”

3) Local textile firms, that hope to stage a comeback, are lobbying the government to impose a levy on SHC shipments.  They’d like the additional revenue to go towards a fund subsidizing cotton cultivation.

Although government policies and the ever-shifting tide of international trade may ultimately have it in for mitumba, the view from the ground doesn’t hint at a demise any time soon.  At an average of 90% off western retail prices, how can you go wrong?  Shop on Kenya!

17 July 2013 at 06:32 7 comments

The Women of MCDT

By: Abhishesh Adhikari

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One of the Kiva partner MFIs that I am helping in Uganda is Micro Credit for Development and Transformation (MCDT.)  It is based in Kampala and provides financial services primarily to low-income women who come to Kampala from remote areas of Uganda. Even though the average loan size for a borrower at MCDT is only about $200, it is amazing how impactful the loans have been in helping these women become financially independent.

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8 July 2013 at 16:42

Young Kenyan Entrepreneurs at the Forefront of Tech Innovation

        Young Kenyans are harnessing their country’s growing tech prowess to go into business for themselves.  For example, Jamila Abbas and Susan Oguya, created a mobile application called M-Farm. The application allows Kenyan farmers to access real time market information, buy farm inputs from manufacturers and find buyers for their produce, all through SMS.  Lorna Rutto started EcoPost, a company that turns plastic waste into durable fencing posts, an environmentally friendly alternative to timber.  At Strathmore University, Kenya’s leading institution for business and accounting, many students are interested in pursuing traditional career tracks like joining the ranks of major financial firms, but quite a few are just as eager to start their own enterprises like Jamila, Susan and Lorna.  On a recent afternoon on campus, I sat down with Asha Mweru to discuss Chochote, an e-commerce platform that she launched with her classmates Ivy Wairimu and Victor Karanja.  Chochote, which is the Swahili word for “anything,” started as a simple classroom assignment.

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The Chochote Team: Asha Mweru, Ivy Wairimu and Victor Karanja
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

        The team of 4th year Strathmore students sought to connect buyers and sellers on a platform based on excellent customer service, discounted prices and home delivery.  Currently, it targets consumers between the ages of 18 and 48.  Chochote’s tagline is “not just anything.” It’s transitioning from offering a wide range of products like electronics, cosmetics and clothing to a narrower, more particular supply of unique crafts, jewelry and fashion items, similar to Etsy. Ivy explained that, “Kenyans are very specific [about] what they are buying.  So, we [investigated and] found out what the specifics are,” then decided to re-brand.

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        The project has received support from the IDEA Foundation and ilab Africa’s business incubation center at Strathmore.  Currently, they get between 600 and 900 hits a day and hope to reach the likes of popular Kenyan e-commerce sites like Uzanunua and Online Shopping. Their foreseeable goals include increasing their suppliers, expanding to reach consumers across the region and establishing a Chochote mobile application.  After all, Kenyans are just beginning to warm up to the idea of online shopping. “Since everything is going virtual, why should Kenya only shop at Amazon? Why shouldn’t we have our own thing here? Kenyans between the age of 18 and 48 have accepted that the internet is here, it’s here and sure to be used. They’re accepting it, so let’s grow with them,” said Asha.

        Nonetheless, online shopping is a very new concept here.  “Kenyans are still quite skeptical towards e-commerce and this is a challenge we’ve had to take head-on,” said Asha.  Other challenges faced by the team include accessing seed capital, establishing relationships with reliable suppliers and remaining abreast of clients’ changing preferences. On a macro level, the team points to the current state of Kenyan primary and secondary education as a hurdle to overcome too.  In conversations with Kenyans, I’ve personally heard that there’s more of an emphasis on memorization than critical thinking.  According to Victor, “Someone once said that our education system is meant to produce employees not employers.  Notable, however, is the number of Kenyan entrepreneurs that circumvent these challenges therefore making it easier for the rest of us.”

        Despite these challenges, the Chochote team would not have it any other way.  “Honestly, I’ve never liked the idea of being micro-managed, and solving a problem and actually seeing the solution being implemented gives me a thrill,” said Victor. The team explained that the most exciting part of entrepreneurship is the ability to create employment opportunities rather than compete for limited slots that are already there. Ivy’s dream is not only to see Chochote become profitable, but to ensure that it expands enough to generates jobs. “Through our work with Chochote, [we’d like to] build a successful e-commerce model that can be replicated within Kenya and Africa at large.”

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The Chochote team at Strathmore University Business School
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

        Perhaps, the team’s experience will have them avoiding 9-5’s forever.  They’re part of a new generation of Africans who are inspired by the likes of Muhamed Yunus, public intellectual Dambisa Moyo and the founder and CEO of Open Quest Media, June Arunga, among others.  Both women were chosen by Forbes Magazine to be among the 20 Youngest and Most Powerful Women in Africa.  In addition to the rise of visible role models that they can relate to on the global stage, their immediate environment is more conducive to innovation than ever.  In Kenya, sky’s the limit.

5 April 2013 at 09:57 1 comment

Africa’s Silicon Savannah: Why Kenya? Why now?

Kenya Map

There is no shortage of articles documenting Africa’s position on the cusp of global development, with Kenya as a particular harbinger of those expectations. The Economist has reneged on writing off Africa as a “Hopeless Continent” several times since it featured the headline a decade ago. In 2011 it published “Africa Rising,” in which it identified 6 of the fastest growing countries in the world as African, with GDP growth surpassing East Asia. Last August, it dubbed Kenya Africa’s “Silicon Savannah,” bringing an onslaught of attention to the burgeoning technology scene here. Its March 2nd issue includes the article “Aspiring Africa,” that describes the continent as the fastest growing in the world.

The fan fare around African growth is not limited to sporadic shout outs from The Economist. Recently, Johnathon Kalan of the Huffington Post published an article that describes the fusion of “Potential, Poverty, Politics and Parties” that draws American college graduates to social enterprise start-ups in Nairobi. More important, however, is the current generation of young, educated Kenyans who are tired of the status quo. They feel entitled to jobs and livelihoods that are fulfilling and afford them some degree of social mobility. They are joined by Kenyans abroad, some of whom have been away for a decade at least, pursuing degrees and jobs, who are now choosing to return to Kenya for opportunities that did not exist when they emigrated. Together, these young professionals understand the role Kenya can play in spearheading growth for the entire continent. They are prepared to role back their sleeves and play a role.

As much chatter as there is surrounding Kenya’s burgeoning technology scene, most articles stop short of explaining why it’s happening in Kenya and why it’s happening now. This week, I’m digging a little deeper into the context behind the phenomenon.

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Urban-Rural Dynamics

Until rapid urbanization began after independence, Kenya’s population was predominantly rural. In 1963, only 8% of the population lived in ‘towns’ or cities. Nairobi’s population was 267,000 and Mombasa’s was 180,000. Of those ‘townspeople,’ most were Arab, Indians and Europeans; not Africans, who typically worked in town for short or long periods, then returned to their rural homesteads where their families remained. Today, Nairobi’s population has grown to approximately 3 million people.

Although people are flocking to cities, their ties to the countryside are still strong. Often, one or a few family members migrate to cities and the rest of the family stays behind. A taxi driver I’ve used frequently is from the Naivasha area in Rift Valley. His wife and children remain in the country side, where he farms fruits and vegetables to sell at Nairobi bound markets. During the week, he leaves his family behind and comes to Nairobi to drive a taxi. This is a common arrangement in Kenya; city work during the week and village life on the weekends.

The movement from rural to urban by one or a few family members created the need for domestic remittance transfers. Family members are making money in the cities and need a way to send it back home. In other countries, like Mexico, where many family members work abroad, the opposite is true, the demand for external remittance flows are greater. Hence, Kenya’s unique rural-urban dichotomy set the stage for the internal funds transfer explosion that we’re amidst now. Once cheap mobile phones flooded the market, Safaricom filled the need with its SMS based money transfer platform, M-PESA, making Kenya the global leader in mobile banking technology. All of the subsequent innovations here have been inspired and made possible by the widespread use of cell phones and M-PESA.

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Government and Infrastructure

The government is promoting the use of mobile money and technology development in Kenya. Bitenge Ndemo, who became minister of Information and Communication in 2005, is credited for spearheading the initiative. He bypassed ceaseless discussions between 23 African countries about launching a joint fiber optic cable, by linking right into a cable from the United Arab Emirates instead. It’s been his priority to lay down additional cables ever since. “When the cable was switched on in 2009, Ndemo made sure universities got unlimited internet capacity.” said Robin Dixon of the Los Angeles Times.

Bitenge Ndemo’s push for Kenya to become a regional technology hub does not end there. Most recently, he’s spearheaded the Konza Technology

City project, which broke ground on January 23rd. Fifteen kilometers outside of Nairobi, the $10 billion investment will be a public-private venture that includes a business district, science and technology parks, a university, conference facilities and residential areas. The government of Kenya anticipates that the project could yield 200,000 jobs in 20 years, along with sizeable investments in other sectors like health, education, manufacturing, financial services etc. Executives behind the project have already received 250 applications from local and international firms who would like to invest in Konza. Some of the multinational corporations seeking a piece of the pie include Samsung, Google and China’s Huawei Technologies.

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Minister of Information and Communication, Bitenge Ndemo

Critics of the project have serious reservations about the government’s ability to bring such a large-scale project into fruition, when it has not yet managed to gain hold of municipal issues in the capital like traffic, electricity, water and drainage that fester under expansion. Nonetheless, the proposition and ground breaking of Konza represents a clear vision that policy makers and business executives have for Kenya as an ICT hub in the region.

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Artist Impression of Office District Konza Techno City

Research Labs and Business Incubation

M: Lab East Africa at the University of Nairobi: Key to Kenya’s growing role in IT and mobile application development are its research labs and business incubation centers, where techies and entrepreneurs gather to collaborate, network and implement projects. In 2011, the University of Nairobi established M:Lab East Africa with the help of iHub, a local technology center. First funded by the World Bank InfoDev grant, the lab was founded to facilitate the innovation of low-cost, high value mobile applications.

iLab Africa at Strathmore University: Just on the other side of town, Strathmore University, Kenya’s premier private institution for business education, has its own research and incubation center called iLab Africa. At iLab, faculty and students have teamed up to develop mobile applications that overcome development challenges in health and education. ILab boasts a few high profile partnerships. For example, Strathmore and Safaricom offer a masters degree in mobile application development. Samsung has established an innovation lab there and Google funds IT education for girls in rural schools, in addition to sponsoring mobile application boot camps at Strathmore and elsewhere in the region.

With support from the Clinton Foundation and Ministry of Health, iLab has generated an application that tracks pre and post natal care of mothers and their babies in rural areas. They’ve also created one that sends the HIV status of newborns to doctors and clinics for treatment. On the education front, they’re mobile application development is centered around digital rights management and the provision of learning materials.

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The view from iLab Africa in Strathmore University’s Student Center

Climate Innovation Center (CIC) at Strathmore University: In addition to ilab Africa, Stathmore University hosts Kenya’s Climate Innovation Center, a climate technology innovation hub, established with the World Bank’s infoDev program. The center is poised to accelerate growth and innovation in renewable energy, agriculture and clean water by providing entrepreneurs with the funding, mentorship and facilities needed to innovate.

 iHub: iHub is a physical nexus for the tech community in Nairobi. Established in 2010, it is an open facility for young entrepreneurs, programmers, designers and researchers. Free membership is offered to anyone with a demonstrated involvement in technology. Ihub provides access to facilities, networks for funding and opportunities to collaborate. You can become a member of its online community remotely, have physical access to the work space or pay a monthly fee for a semi-permanent desk.

Ihub’s very own research team is engaged in projects like their collaboration with Refugees United, an organization that helps refugees track missing family members. The team has upgraded the organization’s paper based sign up form to a WAP enabled sign up on mobile phones. They’ve generated easy to consume info-graphics about trends in East Africa and launched Spider M-Governance in 2011 to identify gaps in water governance transparency in Kenya.

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iHub

1 March 2013 at 16:38

Following a Kiva loan from Calgary to Dar es Salaam!

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

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I’m on a quest to follow a Kiva loan from lender to borrower! How often have I dreamed of this whilst browsing my loans on a frosty winter weekend in Canada?  Now I have an ideal opportunity to do so as the Kiva Fellow in Tanzania, so I’ll take you along for the ride!

My directions are set when a friend emails from Calgary: “I donated to the Jaguar Group.  They’re asking for a loan in support of their beauty salon. I chose that one in honor of you – I figure you might want a haircut or a color given you are there for months!”  Too true; I’ve been in Tanzania since September and this Kiva fellowship has been rich and rewarding, but also tough, so I’m looking a little ragged…  And salons here offer beautifully intricate braids – why not give them a try?

I love the idea of making the personal connection between a Kiva lender in my hometown of Calgary, and a Kiva borrower here in Dar es Salaam!  I had the dubious distinction in KF19 Fellows’ class of traveling furthest to my placement, so this will be an opportunity to reel in some of that distance.  And what fun to report back to my friend on how his loan is working out here on the ground!  I immediately start making arrangements to meet Juliet, the featured borrower of Jaguar Group…

Lender’s city; borrower’s city

You may already be familiar with Calgary – prosperous modern city buoyed by oil wealth; 5th largest metropolitan center in Canada; enviable location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains; renowned for its volunteer spirit; host city of the ’88 Winter Olympics (remember The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team?); 9th largest lender city on Kiva in 2011 (way to go Calgary)!  In short: it’s a privileged city with a lot of heart!

What can I tell you about Dar es Salaam?  The name conjures up exotic images of centuries old sea-trade, sultry summer evenings, and short ferry rides to magical Zanzibar island!

Container ship and fishing boats juxtaposed at the mouth of Dar es Salaam’s famous harbor.

Container ship and fishing boats juxtaposed at the mouth of Dar es Salaam’s famous harbor.

But the reality of daily life is far from tropical paradise for most of Dar’s 3 – 4 million inhabitants; believe me, this is one grindingly hard city in which to eke out a living…  Still, people keep coming, lured by hopes of a better economic future than they face in their hometowns or villages.  Dar is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.  It’s a statistic with unenviable consequences: Dar’s infrastructure is clearly not keeping pace with the burgeoning population.  Unrelenting heat and humidity are exacerbated by almost daily power cuts that mean no fans or air conditioning (in the words of my office-mate: “We are practicing for the fires of heaven!”), and no reliable refrigeration for foodstuff (where do maggots come from anyway?)

It's fitting that the Flame Trees are in bloom!

It’s fitting that the Flame Trees are in bloom!

The dala-dala (bus) system is extensive and was genuinely well designed at inception – but now it’s inadequate and the overcrowding is epic!  Likewise, unremitting traffic on overwhelmed roadways morphs the “5 p.m. rush hour” into the “2 – 8 p.m. standstill”.  (Can traffic officers judge precisely when 64 passengers crammed in a sweltering dala with seating for 32 will finally reach breaking point?  Only then do they signal us through the intersection!)  Admittedly construction is underway to address transportation issues, but I regret the almost imperceptible progress in the 5 months I’ve been here.

Dala-dala: Never thought I’d be the one riding precariously on the bottom step, clinging tightly to the handrail because the door can’t close…

Dala-dala: Never thought I’d be the one riding precariously on the bottom step, clinging tightly to the handrail because the door can’t close…

Yet, in the face of wretched infrastructure challenges and the fact that formal employment is not keeping pace with population pressures either, the people of Dar find ways to get by – they have to.  So the informal economy is bustling and every hot and dusty road is lined with shops and stalls; every opportune space is claimed.  (Note to self: “That’s why Kiva loans to entrepreneurs are so relevant in Dar!”)

Ali, who brightens my walk to work each day with his greetings!

Ali, who brightens my walk to work each day with his greetings!

Dresses for the two-dimensional!

Dresses for the two-dimensional!

And if half of all Tanzanians are getting by on $2 per day per Kiva’s country statistics, it’s surely not from want of trying: it’s common to work long hours here in Dar.

No two ways about it – it’s a hardscrabble life here. But there’s a side to this city that defies all expectations: people in Dar (as in all Tanzania, in fact) are extraordinarily friendly, and helpful, and tolerant!  I know it sounds cliched, but this is truly friendliness, and willingness to help, and tolerance, on a scale I’ve seldom encountered in my travels on any continent. It occurs to me this is the real key to living in Dar!

The expedition across town

Of course you realize Kiva borrowers don’t work in downtown office towers, but still you might be surprised by the widespread locations of their businesses (such as Juliet’s salon).  Greater Dar es Salaam area is extensive, and many Kiva borrowers live and work on the outer fringes – perhaps 50 km away from my base at the main branch of Kiva’s partner MFI, Tujijenge Tanzania.

The road I walk to the office, just outside the downtown core.  Main roads are paved; most others not.

The road I walk to the office, just outside the downtown core. Main roads are paved; most others not.

Off to see a Kiva borrower’s business on the outskirts of greater Dar…

Off to see a Kiva borrower’s business on the outskirts of greater Dar…

I had no concept of the stamina it would require before I started visiting borrowers last September!  My mind boggles when I consider that loan officers from Tujijenge routinely travel across Dar to attend borrower group meetings every week…  (The numerous challenges MFIs such as Tujijenge face in delivering services here in Dar are daunting.  That’s why I admire MFIs for working here - where the need for microfinance is great, where it can make a significant impact on the lives of borrowers, but where it is not easy.)  The loan officers are all busy as bees so I enlist Rita, the star Kiva Coordinator at Tujijenge, to join me on this visit to Juliet.  We set off together, as always.

Rita: Kiva Coordinator, and my invaluable helpmate and friend for the last 4 months.  I couldn’t have made it in Dar without her!

Rita: Kiva Coordinator, and my invaluable helpmate and friend for the last 4 months. I couldn’t have made it in Dar without her!

I use my favorite strategy:  Start early in the morning.  Take a series of “city-bus” dalas to the furthest point at which bajajis (auto rickshaws, named for the pricipal company that makes them) are available.  Cover the final stretch to the borrower by bajaji, because the alternative of switching first to a “mini-bus” dala then risking life and limb on a piki-piki (motorbike taxi) is no fun at all.  Persuade the bajaji driver to wait whilst we visit the borrower. Then do the trip in reverse.  And hope to get home before dark…

Trio of blue bajajis - the fiery decal more indicative of spirit than speed!

Trio of blue bajajis – the fiery decal more indicative of spirit than speed!

(Rita scolds me for excessive expenditure on bajajis, but I can’t help it: I love everything about them!  Bajaji drivers are fearless; they are consummate alternate-route-finders in the face of traffic jams; they are willing to tackle any road.  Bajajis can negotiate all terrains successfully, or at least are light enough for this Kiva Fellow to push out of the sand when stuck…  The open-air design provides sweet relief from the heat (even if the air I’m breathing is laden with diesel fumes, and bugs impale themselves on my camera lens), and I can choose how many of us are on board.  I bet you’d take a bajaji too, if you had the chance!)

On today’s trip to see Juliet, a second bajaji driver dashes up just as we finish negotiating our fare with the first.  “Mama,” he calls to Rita, “you gave me my loan at Tujijenge!”  It means he has a Kiva loan!  “Oh, I wish we could go with you then,” Rita responds.  “It’s alright, you can go with him – he’s my friend,” says the Kiva guy, with characteristic Tanzanian friendliness.  (What a great coincidence!  I told you I love bajajis!)

Meeting the borrower

Turns out my meeting with Juliet is not happening after all…  Instead of Juliet, Prisca is waiting for me at the roadside.  Prisca is Chairman of Jaguar Group, and she tells me Juliet has bowed out today.  Of course I’m disappointed, but I try to imagine myself in Juliet’s position as a borrower.  Is she simply too shy?  Battling a family or business crisis she’d rather not discuss?  Scared because she’s behind on a repayment (even though she’s paid off 5 previous Tujijenge loans successfully)?  Unwilling to have nosy neighbors learn from my obvious presence that she has a loan (out of financial privacy concerns, or because they may press for a share of the cash)?  Unwilling to have her husband learn she has a loan (and thus jeopardize her personal financial stability)?  Or is it something else entirely?  I don’t know, but I’d far rather Juliet refuses than indulges me at her own expense – my visit is purely whimsical and not business related.  It’s an apt reminder that a borrower’s loan is a significant business contract that is not undertaken lightly; it must be managed and paid back in the context of real-life complexities.

Meeting the borrower (Take 2)

Prisca saves the day by inviting me back to her store.  I’m very happy to accept because, after all, the Kiva loan covers Jaguar Group, not Juliet alone.  (Group loans are a mainstay of microfinance.  You can read about their many benefits in Dar in my earlier Kiva post: Group Loans – Filling a Particular Niche.)  Prisca hops aboard our bajaji and we’re off on a roller-coaster ride!

Prisca in her store.

Prisca in her store.

Prisca owns an impressively well-maintained store selling sodas (pop) and beer.  There’s a shady seating area too, so Rita, the Bajaji driver, Prisca, and I settle down to enjoy a cold soda (bonus – Prisca has a fridge!) and a chat.  I show Prisca her Jaguar Group’s loan on Kiva, and she breaks into a wide smile as she sees herself in the photo!  She quickly points out Juliet, as well as Judith who was featured in Jaguar’s previous Kiva loan.  She’s somewhat incredulous when I point out my friend from Calgary in the Lender section…

I ask Prisca about herself.  She’s married, has a young son and daughter, and has always lived in this area of Dar.  Her store used to stock a wide variety of goods but in 2011 thieves broke in and stole pretty much everything, including the scale for weighing goods like rice and dried beans.  It was a cruel setback. That’s when Prisca joined Jaguar Group and started taking loans from Tujijenge to try to get back on her feet.  Yes, the series of loans have helped restore her business – injections of cash every few months are invaluable in buying bulk stock at cheaper prices, and purchasing items like the fridge to draw customers.  Some of the extra profit that is generated helps with household expenses (think school fees) too.  But there’s still a way to go…  That’s why Prisca has stayed with Jaguar Group, and recently become group Chairman.

Closing the circle

I’ve done what I’ve always dreamed of doing: followed a Kiva loan from lender to borrower!  Now I know the people on both sides of the contract, and I’m totally delighted.

I report back to Calgary: “The bajaji ride was one of the best yet!  The rest of things didn’t quite go to plan, but still they ended well.  I met Prisca, not Juliet.  I got a soda, not braids…   Prisca was amazed to see you!  Her business is coming along, and she says the loan is helping.  Here’s the postcard I made you – it was a brilliant day, thank you!  M.”

Marion12

Click here to lend to a Kiva borrower in Dar es Salaam. (Please check back at the start of next month if all Tujijenge Tanzanian loans are currently funded!)

See more of the daily sights I’ve enjoyed in and around Dar in The Illustrated Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner! (Tanzania Edition).  Or see the complete antithesis in On the Road Less Travelled: Kagera Region in Tanzania.

24 February 2013 at 07:00 2 comments

My first everything in Ghana

After an easy trip. I arrive to Accra, Ghana. The first feeling you have when you step out of the plane is an intense hot an humidity, and this in when you miss the snow at home.

It is 8 PM and the Ghanian national football team is playing the semifinals of the African Cup against Burkina Faso. The whole country is mobilized. I can hear the screams all along the airport. For the moment they are drawing, but with good opportunites. Maybe it is because of the macth that taxi drivers are behaving in a foolish way. I asked one of them about a hostel I knew, and he answers me he takes me there without any problem. I jumped on the taxi with all my stuff, we move forward few meters and he starts asking everyone where the hostel is. I ask him if he truly knows where it is, and he answers me no.

I make the same process with another taxi and it happens completely the same, till a kind woman called Evelyn, offers me her help. She told me she knew a hostel not far from her home. I relied on her and her little son John.

After a few minutes drive we arrive to the hostel. It was not as cheap as I expected, but it is 10 am, I am exhausted and the last thing I want to do is wandering in an African city of  3,5 million habitants. I go straight  to bed.

The day after everything is the first time for me.

My first bedroom

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.59.16

Mi first sight of Accra

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.59.30

My first bathroom

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.58.50

My first coconut

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 21.05.36

My first meal

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.59.42

My first defeat.

I realize Ghana lost in penalties. It is in that moment when I remind they almost are the first African country in reaching Worldcup semifinals. An Uruguayan player´s hand  and the latter missed penalty of a Ghanian player impeded it.

Bad luck in football continues for me. In El Salvador I attended with Fundación Campo Microfinance the qualifying game between Costa Rica and El Salvador. Of course, they lost.

But this event do not remove the smiles from them. They know what is suffering in the field and out of it. This is why they give thanks for reaching so far and they will try again harder than ever next year.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 21.06.38

The day after the defeat, some supporter demonstraiting their devotion for the national team.

14 February 2013 at 09:00

Kiva One: Faces that Impacted the Lives of Kiva Fellows

By Kiva Fellows | KF19 | All Over the World

With January 2013 coming to an end, KF19 fellows are either continuing on with KF20 or returning home to various responsibilities and careers. Regardless of the next adventure or destination, one thing is common among all: KF19 fellows have been permanently changed by their placements.

What began as a joint blog post about any person, place, or event during the course of the fellowship that affected our lives, of itself turned into simply the one person who left the most impact. Afterall, Kiva’s mission is to alleviate poverty through connecting people. The fellows of KF19 have witnessed this connection over the course of the last three to four months, and nothing could have prepared us for meeting the people who would touch our lives in various ways.

KF19 presents to you Kiva One, a small collection of stories about human connections, hope, and inspiration.

(more…)

31 January 2013 at 08:00

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