For those of you who aren’t aware, there was a mass shooting and hostage situation at a mall here in Nairobi this afternoon. There is a lot of speculation about who the gunmen were, some reports have stated they were allegedly Somali, and why this area was targeted. Many here have suggested the mall was targeted because it was an upscale shopping area which is typically frequented by expats, westerners, diplomats and upper class Kenyans.I have no desire to conjecture about the reason behind the target selected. But in the past two days that I’ve spent here I can imagine there could be a significant class issue at work. Kenya does not have a middle class. If you are Kenyan you are either rich or poor, there is no in between. And I’ve seen this paradox first hand.
Today I went to one of the outdoor markets in the center of Nairobi. I told the concierge at my hotel I wanted to visit a place where the locals shop. She gave me directions and some pointers on how to negotiate, avoid too much harassment and stay safe. The first thing I noticed around the market was the sheer number of kids and adults with polio. According to the CDC, the U.S. has been polio-free since 1979. However, the Horn of Africa (Kenya and Somalia) have recorded 200 cases since the beginning of this year.Being out on the town among the “regular folk” reminds me a little bit of my time in China. There are tons of people, lots of chaos, more traffic than you can imagine, and the pollution from the traffic is tear-inducing. This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but here is an idea of the traffic and the lack of attention paid to the lights:
Again, I don’t think this properly conveys the feeling, but here you can see the throng of people crossing the busy streets with traffic behind them as far as the eye can see:
This is my favorite picture I took today of capitalism at its best. My former and current grad students who teach Marketing could use this as a case study of how to overwhelm and confuse your customer to the point where she decides not to buy anything:
These images I took today show how the majority of Kenyans, i.e. the lower class, exists on a day to day basis. The opposite end of the spectrum is represented by the Kenyan men and women I see at my hotel gym. My hotel has a nice gym, along with a sauna, steam room, spa, salon and three swimming pools. In addition to being open to hotel guests, locals can purchase a membership for about $2183 per year. I have never paid that much for a gym membership in the U.S. and I never would! This price is more than the average annual income in Kenya which is a staggering $1,700. Thus, those individuals who belong to the gym are definitely categorized as upper class.The upper class clientele at the gym was pretty evident to me from the start as the women arrived wearing tailored suits, carrying Louis Vuitton (the real deal) bags, with diamonds adorning their hands, necks and ears. I should also mention the gym has its own valet parking so that no one has to walk any further than necessary from the door of their Lexus or Jaguar before traipsing to the treadmill.
While I certainly do not claim to be an expert on Kenya after only 48 hours here, I will say that it appears the distance between the haves and the have-nots is extraordinary. Regardless of whether this was the motivation behind today’s attack, I hope this is not one of several upcoming bouts of violence while I am here and that this will be over swiftly.