Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

On the Great North Road into forgotten Kenya

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kenya_northernroad_resized.jpgMARSABIT, Kenya – We are in two Land Rover Defenders, headed north to Ethiopia through one of Kenya’s remotest and harshest areas.

Our route is along the Great North Road, the famed Cape Town-to-Cairo highway on what is said to be the only untarmacked stretch on the whole continent – roughly 550 kilometres from where the highway ends at Isiolo town north to Moyale on the Ethiopian border.  It has all the wildlife and stunning scenery Kenya is world-famous for, but few tourists ever see it.

This is part of the old Northern Frontier District, the arid top half of Kenya which was closed to visitors by the British colonial government because of its inaccessibility, harsh conditions and endless banditry.  Little has changed since independence in 1963.

 To call the wide track of dirt, ruts and rocks a road is an insult to other roads. It demands a four-wheel drive vehicle, and punishes any that comes with an endless succession of shuddering bumps, heat and fine dust that penetrates every corner. It has taken us two days to reach Marsabit, a mere 600 km from Nairobi. But out here, trips are measured by time, not by distance.kenya_northernroad_group_resized.jpg

Is Kenya’s economy back on track?

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kenya_safaricom_buyers.jpgOnly a few months ago, it seemed all doom and gloom for the Kenyan economy as post-election violence threatened to wipe out gains and stymy growth.
 
Tourists were cancelling safari and beach holidays in their droves. Gangs were rampaging around the agricultural heartlands. And few would dare to journey on roads full of boulders, burning tyres and knife-wielding youths.
 
Yet even back then, some analysts argued that East Africa’s strongest economy should be able to withstand the electoral crisis, provided it was brought to a rapid halt.

And stop it did, after President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga buried their differences over who won the Dec. 27 vote in a coalition government formed in April.
 
Now foreign and local investors have given a resounding thumbs-up to Kenya’s economy via the largest InItial Public Offering in the region’s history. The offer for mobile operator Safaricom was over-subscribed by 532 percent, shares leapt 50 percent in the first hours of trading and 860,000 people bought shares via the IPO. 
kenya_safaricom_kibaki2.jpgSo is Safaricom indicative of Kenya’s recovery, or is there still a long way to go?
 
Have investors got over the shock they received earlier this year?
 
How does Kenya compare to other sub-Saharan African nations — neighbours Uganda and Tanzania; or heavyweights South Africa and Nigeria — as an investment destination? Which are the sectors to put money in?
 
And can the shaky coalition hold?
 

What would Obama do for Africa?

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obama-in-kenya.jpgWin or not in November, U.S. Senator Barack Obama has already become a hero to Africans.

He is a household name, putting a smile on everybody’s lips and spreading pride across the continent.

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