Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Team Kenya in Kisumu talks cell phones and tourism

Dec. 14, Kisumu, Kenya

Today we finally started our interviews. First stop was the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC). This group is tasked with conserving Lake Victoria and the surrounding basin. The commission is based in Kisumu, Kenya, but has five member nations: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. The commission is in charge of many different projects concerning the lake and its conservation. One problem the lake has is that there are many boating accidents, particularly involving fishermen. So one solution to the problem is to extend cell phone coverage over the whole lake, since it currently only covers areas close to the shore. Once cell phone coverage extends over the lake, boaters in trouble will be able to call for help. Furthermore, boaters can communicate to each other about areas with rocks that can damage boats and also when weather in certain parts of the lake is bad. It was a wonderful first interview and the people we interviewed were so hospitable and welcoming. This really set the tone for us and got us really excited for the upcoming interviews.

The next interview was with a man, Laban Mburu, who works for KenInvest. This is a government mandated organization that is tasked with marketing Kenya as a place to do business. The group focuses on attracting international investors, as well as domestic, into the country. They help companies meet all the requirements of businesses to start in Kenya, which is a very complicated and lengthy process.

This is meant to help cut through the complicated bureaucracy and stimulate Kenya’s economy and job market. The gentleman shared some invaluable knowledge with us and also showed us some very interesting projects they have worked on in the past and some that they are currently working on for the future.

Following lunch we departed our hotel and met with a local journalist from Kisumu. This interview was very interesting because we ended up focusing primarily on the government and the political situation in Kenya. The press here is very free in relative terms to other countries in the region. Actually many journalists are comfortable with writing and reporting stories that criticize and contradict government. The journalist we spoke with is also part of a consortium group of journalists in Kenya who search for and cover stories related to health and the environment in the country. So this group exposes problems with the environment and such and they try to make the people aware of these problems so that something can be done to stop the problems.

The most interesting fact that we learned with the journalist, is that although the press is free and not oppressed by government, the main stream media is not able to be completely open and honest about big businesses in Kenya. Large companies in the country, like the cell phone service giant Safaricom, pay for the majority of the media’s advertisements which is the main revenue of the media outlets. So journalists only write good stories about the large corporations to protect their advertising money. Interestingly though there are some outlets on the web for journalists to express themselves freely concerning big business, although these internet news sites are not widely accessible by the public.

We came back to our hotel and on a whim decided we should try and see if we could speak to the manager of our hotel. Luckily he was available and we met in his office. This was an interesting resource because we discovered a possible market that could thrive in Kisumu.

The hotel manager expressed that the city does not have enough hotels and does not have enough marketing for tourism. He explained that building a hotel will not only be a successful business to the owner but it will help the local community as well. Hotels employ many people and will create a lot of new jobs in the city. Furthermore, the hotel will bring more people to the city, which in turn will bring more money to the surrounding businesses. One of the major things that he theorized will create such a demand for hotels is a new international airport being planned and built in Kisumu. The airport is scheduled to open in August of 2010 and will bring much economic growth with it. Needless to say we were very pleased that we thought to speak to him and now some of us are seriously considering coming back here and opening a hotel!

After the long day we decided to have a relaxing evening and went to a local Chinese restaurant that was quite good. Then we sat and did some work in our rooms while watching some local television. We came across a very weird British show called “Can Fat Teens Hunt?” The premise is taking obese teens from the UK and sending them to Borneo to live with indigenous people and live off the land to lose weight. The show was quite ridiculous although quite entertaining. After that we retired to bed.

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