May 24, 2006


Nairobi, late Tuesday night. The plane arrives after a stopover in Rwanda.

Nairobi is a crime capital of East Africa, although first hand reports are hard to find. We go to the Fairview Lodge, directly across the street from the Israeli Embassy, which is embalmed in barbed wire. The room has an overhead fan. Things are modern and careless.

Kenya presents an interesting comparison with Morocco. Roughly the same population, the same number of square miles, both on a highly commercial ocean, both colonies, both corrupt to the bedrock, both bombed by Islamic fundamentalists, both filled with roadblocks although the police here carry rifles and machine guns, unlike police in Morocco. Both countries present the appearance of democracy.... Yet the most glaring difference in that sense is that Kenya has a true civil society; Morocco, not. If only for The Nation, which compared to Le Matin, is a true newspaper, and filled to the brim with stories of wrongdoing and intrigue. As opposed to the press releases in Le Matin.

In addition, Morocco is above the equator, Kenya is on the equator and below.... All the stereotypes that go with north and south apply. And then culturally of course one is 99 percent Muslim, the other is brackish with various denominations of Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and animists.

One country is homogeneous, the other, heterogeneous. One is a monarchy, the other an oligarchy with old dictators in the wings.

Morocco seems dour by contrast, repressed, more careful, less docile more despairing, more seething. Kenya seems happy go lucky, almost frivolous in a way. The customs agents joke and play with me when I complain about paying $50 for a visa. Moroccan customs agents never laugh, and they would never hear criticism of the country’s parliament, that ‘political souk’ as appointments call it. I asked the Kenyan customs agents if the $50 is to help pay for the salaries of the new parliament which just voted itself an $81,000 annual salary, plus an equal amount in expense money. In addition, they’re given free cars and houses. The annual per capita income in Kenya is $463. “I would not want to venture an opinion,” said one of the agents, a woman, “Yes, but of course, its’ true. And why do we vote them in? That you have to ask yourself. But next year we will try again.”

And here’s one other difference: The swank neighborhoods of Kenya are filled with the signs of NGOs. Morocco, no. The associations, except for a few keep a low profile and perhaps play a different role. And there are fewer of them and fewer from the West. For a moment here you get that impression that everyone in the world has come to help Kenya, and no one more than W’s faith based institutions.

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