Mayhem in Unhappy Valley: Drastic poverty denies myths of a Kenyan paradise

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The Independent Online
THE KILLING of a British woman, Caron Winter, by burglars at her home in Nairobi last Sunday was particularly poignant, writes Richard Dowden. Winter, 30, was killed in front of her 14-month baby and her body was found by her husband Adam, a pilot who had been flying relief flights into Rwanda. He survived by feigning death.

Every time such a tragedy happens to a white in Kenya, nostalgic articles appear in the British press juxtaposing the latest brutal killing with Happy Valley, the Kenyan paradise that gave us Born Free, White Mischief and Out of Africa. This dream world belonged to a time when Kenya was pronounced Keenya, where whites tamed the wild and lived - or overlived - a life of sensual luxury, and where All of the Natives were Happy All of the Time.

Even if the reminiscences do recall the Mau Mau movement, the brutal Kikuyu rebellion of the early 1950s, they only include the 32 whites who died. The 13,000 Africans killed are usually forgotten.

Like most big African cities, Nairobi and its largely white suburbs have been dangerous places for many years. Most houses there, bungalows set in gardens, have high walls, fences, steel gates and fearsome dogs. Every house has a gateman and nightwatchman, usually a Samburu, Masai or Kamba, traditionally regarded as 'warrior' peoples, armed with a truncheon. But many Nairobi residents now have guns and alarms as well.

As homes have become more impregnable, attackers have taken to robbing cars at traffic lights in town.

Contrary to popular perception, the chief victims are not white Kenyans or the expatriate community of the Langata and Karen suburbs. Two or three times a week, Kenyan newspapers report the death of a nightwatchman. The main shantytown, Mathari Valley, is a sink of crime and violence, and police seldom bother to investigate a crime there. Violent robbery on buses or the streets of Nairobi is an hourly event. It is the poor who are robbed most often.

Ethnic conflicts have displaced more than 300,000 people in Kenya and many of them, particularly young men, come to the cities in search of work, but find none. For those who do, the average wage in Nairobi is about 3,000 shillings (pounds 32.50) a month, but for a breadwinner this barely covers the cost of ugali, the maize-meal porridge which is the Kenyan staple diet. Meat is too expensive for most families, and beer and cigarettes beyond their reach.

School fees, the most important investment every African makes - or tries to make - are now about 12,000 shillings a year. If families can afford consistent education for one child they are lucky, and there are thousands of children who have dropped out of school or failed to take up places because of lack of funds. Without education there is only one other way of getting rich, and that is theft.

At more than 4 per cent, Kenya has the highest population growth rate in Africa, but its economic growth rate is less than 1 per cent. Inflation is estimated at 57 per cent. Standards of living improved in Kenya in every decade since the Second World War, but this generation is facing a sharp decline. That collapse of expectation, particularly for young people who know they will never have a job or money, is a prime cause of the rise in crime in the last few years.

Nairobi, a city built for 1.5 million people that now has a population of more than 3 million, is close to collapse. Its roads are potholed, its water, electricity and telephone systems are occasional. If you are under attack in Nairobi and call the police, assuming the telephone works, they are likely to ask you to come and collect them, as they have no vehicles or no fuel. Only a few policemen will act without asking for a personal fee.

In Kenya corruption has spread from the top, and when Kenya's leaders lead the way in corruption why should the people not follow? One Kenyan businessman close to several leading politicians, Kamlesh Pattni, is being charged with attempting to embezzle 9.9bn shillings. An export scam he organised four years ago was approved by the Kenyan Vice-President and one of its richest men, George Saitoti, who was welcomed on a visit to London last week.

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