God’s Bathroom

Duncan Fogg, 2014 Kericho Fellow

The local people here call Kericho ‘god’s bathroom’. It’s said with a mixture of humour and pride, but its truth rings true every afternoon when the beaming sun gives way to a stonking downpour that can leave you in a spot of bother if you forget your anorak. However, this cycle of sun and rain makes Kericho the perfect environment for nature to thrive. The morning sun, moisture, and sweeping winds create conditions for the world’s best tea production within the endless fields of green fertile land. Growth here, just like the rain, seems unstoppable.

 

However, the cycle of growth in a development context has not been so straightforward for Kenya. Kenya has a rapidly growing population, with a vast majority migrating to urban areas. According to Malthus, this can rapidly reduce the standard of living, and it is now projected that around 55% of those living in urban areas live in poverty. As the population is set to rise, then this vicious cycle could continue, resulting in the frequently dubbed ‘poverty trap’.

 

It is not just population that is causing difficult conditions for growth in Kenya. Frequent droughts and flooding in various parts of the country have led to recurring food shortages, and there is still a residual scar left from the post election violence of 2007 that has reduced investment confidence. Just to add salt in the wound, the recent undercurrent of conflict on coastal areas has dramatically hit the tourism industry, one of Kenya’s most thriving sectors.

 

So how, with so much stacked against Kenya, does the country grow? Well, in reality, Kenya is not an amalgamation of facts of figures, nor a portrait of doom and gloom reported by the media, quantified and de-contextualized. On the ground, in a town like Kericho, growth is a completely different story.

 

There is an endless abundance of hope, positivity and pride from the people I have met in Kenya. Kericho itself is now a hustling and bustling ecosystem, complex and constantly adapting, and much like the surrounding fields, the promise of growth is everywhere.  Children are by far the highest demographic, making up nearly 50% of the population; all seem eager to learn, eager to succeed. Kericho seems to have developed an extremely influential middle class, well educated, ambitious and extremely resourceful. The local governments are organized and well informed, and there is a great collective effort to provide funding for new entrepreneurial and social initiatives.

 

Schumpeter argued that innovation was the only way to create sustainable growth; a way to enter new competitive products into the economy whilst also stimulating a new mindset amongst entrepreneurs, empowered by greater capability and drive. Schumpeter argues that innovation works in a cycle as new ideas compete existing ones out of the market. This cycle continues in a constantly overpowering wave; a term he called “creative destruction”. It is my belief that Kericho is currently a microcosm of creative destruction in practice, a functioning cog of endless growth that knows nothing of facts, figures, theory and models.

 

Here at Balloon Kenya we find ourselves right in the thick of it. If innovation is the brains behind Balloon Kenya, then empowerment is definitely its heart and soul. The last couple of weeks with my entrepreneurs has been an instrumental process of creating, failing and learning from both sides. In fact, whilst I’m here writing this, looking out beyond the tea fields towards the setting sun, I realize that growth is not just about Kericho, the real growth here is internal. It is personal. It is that of my own.

Advertisements