Recently I’ve been reading The Granta Book of the African Short Story. When I travel, I like to read something connected with my destination, so this book went with me on a recent trip to Kenya to see the work of Farm Africa: a UK Charity who enable peasant farms in East Africa to adapt to climate change and other challenges.
Frankly, many of the short stories in the Granta collection are pretty depressing. A lot are about Africans living abroad, unhappy at the many problems of their original home and their new one. Two stories actually set in Kenya are equally sad: one about child prostitution in Kivera, the biggest slum in Nairobi, the other about tourists, guides, and all the pretence that can happen between them.
It’s good to know about the problems, and there are plenty of them. But this book helped me to look hard at the reality I saw around me: not only in Nairobi, but also three days of travelling deep into rural parts of western Kenya. What I saw is a society which is basically working, in many ways, for millions of people.
There are many things which could be better, in Kenya, as across Africa. But in the West, we don’t hear enough about what’s already good: all the people who are basically happy, fed, housed, and at peace.
Nor do we hear enough about the extensive development support which the UK, European Union, US and others provide in Kenya and elsewhere. Increasingly, this support is geared to helping the local economy work better, not to the relief aid that many in the west still think is happening.
Farm Africa were pioneers in this new approach, which is why I have been one of their donors since 2005.
Kenya has under-used fertile land, and low farm productivity, so there’s huge scope to improve the incomes of subsistence farmers, and help Kenya to feed itself. The Farm Africa projects I saw are clearly achieving this, and it would be great if they can be expanded to a larger scale.
So if you want to get a flavour for Africa, you may want to read the Granta collection, but do balance it with a trip around the Farm Africa website.