Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Kenyan in Cape Town


WYCLIFFE MUGA writes: There are no direct flights from Nairobi to Cape Town. You first have to fly to Johannesburg; and then take a ‘local flight’ to Cape Town. It was a huge relief to be able to use the ‘new international terminal ’at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as it compares favourably with the passenger terminals at both O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, and the Cape Town International Airport. On a previous visit to South Africa, when I got back to Kenya, I was embarrassed at how poorly our Nairobi airport compared to the South African airports, never mind JKIA is supposed to be a “major regional transport hub”.

In case any South African is reading this, let me tell you in case you do not know: the great Kenyan national obsession is to “catch up with South Africa”. We hear very often that economic development in Africa revolves around four main countries: Egypt to the north; Kenya in the east; South Africa; and finally Nigeria to the west.

And though both Egypt and Nigeria are much richer than Kenya (as is South Africa, of course) you will rarely hear a Kenyan say, “Why can’t we be more like Nigeria? Or more like Egypt?” It is South African roads, airports, sea ports, universities, and other marvelous public infrastructure which keep us awake at night, with the recurring question: Will we ever catch up with South Africa?

One other notable aspect of this trip: on the Johannesburg-Cape Town segment of the flight, there was a white South African man, making jokes and laughing very loudly with the stewardesses. I was seated right at the back, and just one row in front of him, so I heard (even though I did not understand) every word they were saying.

So, why did I not understand what was being said? Well, they were not speaking in English. Nor was it Afrikaans (which I would be able to make out, even if not comprehend). No, they were speaking in one of the “native languages” of South Africa. This white South African not only spoke the language (Zulu? Sotho?) fluently, but could even tell elaborate jokes in the language. He was only laughing moderately himself: but the all-black crew of stewardesses, plus the white lady he was sitting with (presumably his wife) were absolutely in stitches.

Kenya is considered to be a successfully multiracial country. We may have the most bitter tribal resentments but we have no inter-racial animosities to speak of. But I cannot imagine seeing that kind of thing on an internal flight (say, Nairobi to Mombasa) – a white Kenyan loudly making jokes with the cabin crew, in a local language (e.g. Kiswahili). Certainly I have flown between various Kenyan towns and cities for decades now, and not once seen anything like that.

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