Kenya - They came, they saw, they stayed!
June 27, 2012
Forty-one years ago, Leslie Duckworth, an American student, visited Kenya. She loved what she saw, and would return many times later. "I first came to Kenya in 1971 as a university student. We travelled the length of the coast on an ancient ex-police Triumph motorbike and ended up in Lamu," Duckworth recalls. "We returned to Lamu many times, married there in 1980, and later bought our first property in Shela." For the last 33 years Duckworth has made Kenya her home.
Tom Wolf, another American, came to Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer late in the 1960s. The love-affair with the East African nation was instantaneous. "Many of those who came, like me, had no initial long-term intentions, but Kenya has so much to offer beyond the professional challenges," says Wolf. "There is cultural and geographic diversity with an incredible natural beauty and climate, especially in the higher elevations. There are mostly wonderful, friendly people without racial or religious bias and hang-ups."
Like Wolf, Karen Rothmyer also came to Kenya as a Peace Corps teacher in the 1960s. After a colourful career as a reporter on Wall Street and as the managing editor of The Nation in the US, she returned to Kenya in 2007 and has lived in Nairobi since then, working as the public editor of The Star.
Andrew McGhie was an author in London when he made his trip to the northernmost tip of Kenya`s coastal island resort town of Lamu in the 1990s. Today McGhie is a realtor running Lamu Island Property, a real estate firm. He has been doing the job since 2002. He too fell for the charms of Kenya.
It is the same story with German economist Wolfgang Fengler, the World Bank`s lead economist for Kenya. “When I first came to Kenya in August 1990,” he reveals, “I was a backpacker on a shoestring budget. At midcourse between Cape Town and Cairo, I got accommodation at the New Kenya Lodge in River Road for $2.50. After spending two nights there, I continued my journey to Garissa and Liboi towns, heading to Somalia.”
Fengler fell in love with Kenya and returned with his wife four years later. “In 1994, I returned with my wife and in downtown Nairobi, urban chaos and poverty struck her so much that she was reluctant to come back 15 years later when I was offered a job [by the World Bank`s office in Nairobi]. Today I enjoy the full beauty of Kenya with my family and we all agree that this is one of the most beautiful countries in the world,” Fengler says.
Like him, Michael Joseph also came to Kenya to head the mobile phone operator, Safaricom, just over a decade ago. Today Joseph has not only become a Kenyan but bought a home in Laikipia.
Kuki Gallmann was born in Venice, Italy in 1943 and moved to Kenya with her late husband in the 1970s. She authored the world best-selling autobiography, “I Dreamt of Africa”, which was later made into a film of the same title.
Even though she tragically lost both her husband and son in Kenya, she never left. In 1984 she created the Gallmann Memorial Foundation and The Gallmann Africa Conservancy in memory of her husband and son, and dedicated her 100,000-acre ranch in the Laikipia ridges to wildlife conservation.
To understand why these seven “expatriates” (elsewhere in the world they would be called “immigrants”) with totally different inclinations, ages, and world views would gladly leave their homes and settle in Kenya speaks volumes about this East African nation. The seven, enthralled by the charms of Kenya, are part of a trend that has been taking place for over a century now and is not going to end any time soon.
In fact, the “Kenyan bug” started biting Europeans centuries ago. Way back in the 1200s, the Kenyan coastal towns of Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa were flourishing seaports connecting maritime trade routes to the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, India and the Far East. Barter trade in timber, turtle shells, rhino horns, and ivory in exchange for clothes and spices burgeoned and inter-marriages flourished, giving birth to the Swahili language. Omani Arabs, Portuguese, Chinese, Indians, Germans, and the British have all had their trade presence felt on the Kenyan coast.
This commercial interaction then triggered the coming of European Christian missionaries and full-scale settlement of European colonialists in the Kenyan hinterland. The construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway paved the way for more Europeans and Indians to settle in the country.
Just what is it that attracts them to this East African nation? “One of Kenya`s attractions is its cosmopolitan society,” Duckworth says. Fengler agrees, and adds: “If you created an index of natural beauty per square kilometre, Kenya would probably come at the top of the list.”
The pioneering European who set the pace in settling in Kenya and made it a fad was the British aristocrat, Lord Delamere, who first stepped in Kenya in 1887 after trekking for 1,000 miles from Somalia. He fell in love with Kenya`s Laikipia ranges and decided to settle in 1903.
Indeed compared to the other Commonwealth nations, Kenya attracted more aristocrats per square kilometre. Delamere`s decision to stay served as a clarion call for a mass settlement of the privileged classes of Britain. Many more European bohemians followed suit. Interestingly, this mass settlement by privileged Britons helped elevate such locales as Laikipia, Mombasa, Nyeri, Tigoni, Kiambu, Naivasha, Malindi, Lamu, Shela, Nairobi, Nanyuki, Kericho, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Eldama Ravine, and Eldoret as real estate bastions. Palatial homes in these vicinities sprang up, and continue to spring up, as a rising number of expatriates found (and find) their way to Kenya.
While global real estate sectors have tumbled time and again, all through history the Kenyan real estate sector has never known hard times. To this day, Kenya`s real estate sector still retains the same fascination it had in the past, and in the last 10 years has experienced a boom. In 2001, the value of Kenya`s approved building plans stood at $48m. In 2012, it stands at $2.4bn.
By courtesy of this interaction with Europeans, the Kenyan real estate sector has been a vibrant economic lever, and even when the global property market experiences difficulties, Kenya`s has remained attractive to investors.
“Lamu and Laikipia attract expatriates,” Duckworth says. “Both offer a perfect holiday venue, which makes the property highly rentable. Laikipia, with its friendly communities, wonderful climate, good communications and public services, is attractive to pensioners, families, and self-employed, young professionals alike.”
Duckworth, who has a home in Shela and has developed the illustrious locale of Mukima Ridge in Laikipia, knows too well what it means to pursue gut feeling. It is what made her develop the high-end, alluring Mukima Ridge manor.
“While restoring Mukima House from a virtual ruin, we noticed that the adjoining ridge was unable to sustain smallholder farming,” she says. “The soil was very friable and the vegetation had been completely destroyed through overgrazing. The views from the Ridge are panoramic and we had grown to love the area. If we felt so strongly about it, we were sure there would be others, so instead of building one house for ourselves, we built 10. Six are now sold and the buyers are very happy with their new lives. Four are still available.”
The lucrative housing bazaar is not just confined to Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Naivasha and Laikipia. The contagion has spread and splendid homes in far-flung places like Malindi, Manda and Lamu Island compete with similar opulence in upmarket suburbs in Nairobi, with prices ranging from $1m to $7m.
Prince Ernst of Hanover and Princess Caroline of Monaco all have homes in Shela on Lamu Island. President Barack Obama has spent a holiday on this island on Kenya`s coastal tourism circuit. “Lamu is a popular luxury holiday venue, with high rental value,” Duckworth says.
Besides Lamu, another coastal town that has seen intense interest by Europeans is Malindi. And it is not simply because of the Italian San Marco Space Centre. The glamour of this coastal town to the Italian community has given Milindi the moniker of “Little Milano” or “Milan in the Tropics”. The famous Italian business magnate and Formula One supremo, Flavio Briatore, owns the exclusive “Lion in The Sun” retreat for the wealthy situated a few minutes` drive from Malindi town. Briatore`s resort is just one of over 30 Italian-owned beach hotels in Milindi. Add to this hundreds of homes and business premises owned by Italians, and the reason for Kenya`s magnetism materialises. The Italian population in Malindi is currently estimated at 4,000, with close to 50,000 Italian tourists visiting annually.
This Italian influence has made the Italian embassy post a consul to the coastal town to cater for the needs of the Italians there who, among other things, run Italian restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and even barber shops, beauty spas, and salons.
Malindi has in the recent past taken on a cosmopolitan look, with the locals adding the Italian language to their day-to-day lexicon, thanks to a myriad of Italian signposts all over the town.
It is now an undisputed fact that the Swahili-speaking Kenya has had an intense influence on many “expatriates”, with its stunning beaches and picturesque countryside acting as charms.
A long history of a hard-to-define love affair by Britons with Kenya continues to this day. The famous paleontologist, conservationist and celebrity families of the Leakeys, Sheldricks, Macmillans, and Blixens, among others, have all left their mark on Kenya and have, consequently, helped attract more visitors and settlers.
Kenya`s lure, which has seen it hosting Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Gates, and Naomi Campbell, among many others, still lives on. It is with this in mind that one understands why major embassies, and the United Nations have Nairobi as their base. Global brands like Google, Coca Cola, Nestlé, Mastercard, Standard Chartered Bank, Airtel, Microsoft, General Electric, and other research entities like to base their African headquarters in Kenya.
Even those foreigners who tend to criticise Kenya while in office, such as hard-nosed diplomats, tend to stay after their tour of duty. “You will never want to leave this country. I want to settle here” - these are the words of one of Kenya`s harshest critics, Michael Ranneberger, the recent US ambassador to Kenya.
After a five-year stint as Washington`s main man in Nairobi, Ranneberger, who made a sport of criticising the Kenyan government while in office, not only came to appreciate the country but fell in love with a Maasai woman, Ruth Konchellah, whom he married at a civil ceremony at the attorney general`s chambers in mid-December 2011. On more than one occasion as ambassador, Ranneberger had run-ins with the Kenyan government on corruption issues and he had a love-hate relationship with Kenyan legislators. It was while attending to some of his ambassadorial duties that Ranneberger met Ruth. “While attending a women`s rights event in the small village of Enossen in Trans Mara, I was impressed by the way Ruth talked on behalf of women. I took notice.”
U.S. ambassador to Kenya Michael E. Ranneberger and Wilson Kimeli Nayiomah, a Maasai man who five years ago organised a cattle donation to the U.S., shake hands in Enoosaen village September 10, 2006.
Currently back in the US on official duties under a new title, Career Minister, Ranneberger has stated candidly that, “at some point in the future, as I have always said in the past, I would be coming back [to Kenya]. I obviously have both professional and personal roots in Kenya.” He is spoilt for choice as to where to eventually settle, given Kenya`s numerous exotic locales. “I have travelled to almost every place in this country,” he says. “I have always been mesmerised by how beautiful these places are. Kenya has a lot to offer and it is difficult to choose where one can live. I don`t want to speculate.
While Ranneberger is candid about his future in the country, many other diplomats who have bought houses and retired in Kenya, especially from the UK and other European nations, are reluctant to be interviewed. However, with Kenya`s new constitution paving the way for dual citizenship, the path for expatriates settling in Kenya has now been made smoother. According to the immigration ministry, more than 600 expatriates have already applied to settle in Kenya permanently.
Currently, there are over 30,000 expatriates working in Kenya. It is a common occurrence for diplomats ending their tours of duty in Kenya to refuse to leave. The “diplomatic capital” of Gigiri, on the fringes of Nairobi`s western parts, is where most embassies are based. The country is just too enticing to let go.
Away from the din and political hubbub Kenya is well known for, there is the romantic side only known to a few who have come here. This yearning never leaves them. When I met Andrew McGhie at the makuti-thatched Bush Gardens restaurant at Lamu`s seafront, he regaled me with how he came to Lamu on holiday and eventually stayed forever. “Like many people, I came on holiday to Lamu - and found it a really fascinating place,” McGhie says. He used to work in the publishing industry in the UK. “I began reading and researching about the island`s history and architecture with the intention of writing a book,” McGhie continues, “but then I found an old and nearly ruined 18th-century Lamu house and started to renovate it - and building and restoration has kept me busy since.”
Amidst soft drinks in the restaurant overlooking the Indian Ocean, I enquire why Lamu has become an important international address for the famous. “Pure escapism and a complete contrast from modern life in Europe in terms of culture, character, climate, way of life, pace of life, and almost everything else,” McGhie says matter-of-factly - and hastens to clarify that Lamu is not exclusively for the wealthy and famous.
“Lamu has a reputation as being just for the rich and famous but that`s not the case, you can spend $5 a night or $500 a night on accommodation in Lamu, and this makes for such an interesting and eclectic mix of visitors,” McGhie explains, a bit defensively. “Lamu still has something of a mystical `hippy trail` reputation - but most of the hippies are old and wealthier these days,” he says with a grin. I met McGhie a day after three regional leaders - President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and South Sudan`s President General Salva Kiir - had travelled to Lamu for the groundbreaking ceremony of the $24.7bn project named the Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET).
I asked McGhie what impact the locals expected from the coming port project. “It`s going to change things and I think it`s going to increase the appeal of owning property here,” he said. “But it will be a pity if new developments are built without reference to the region`s unique architecture, culture and ecology. It`s good that the preservation of Lamu`s heritage is seen as important - but it will be sad if Lamu ends up more as a museum or tourist attraction rather than a living town and island.”
McGhie continued: “For expatriates and overseas buyers, acquiring a property in Lamu has usually been a romantic, creative decision rather than a purely financial one. I imagine this will change with the arrival of the port.”If you created an index of natural beauty per square kilometre, Kenya would probably come top of the list” - Wolfgang Fendler, the World Bank`s lead economist for Kenya” Even those foreigners who tend to criticise Kenya while in office, such as hard-nosed diplomats, tend to stay after their tour of duty.”
© Copyright IC Publications 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Gates` secret hideout revealed
Australian Financial Review
February 09, 2011
Bill Gates` favourite holiday location was revealed as Lamu near Somalia yesterday. “It`s totally uncommercial - there are no cars,” Jennifer Opondo, director of marketing for the Kenya Tourist Board, said yesterday at the Wildfire restaurant. And if the area wasn`t tempting enough, Kisumu Airport - Barack Obama`s father was born in Kisumu - was recently upgraded, while Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton in northern Kenya.
© Copyright 2011 Media Monitors Australia Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved
Incommunicado in the Indian Ocean
Travel Trade Gazette UK
July 31, 2000
The Indian Ocean is known for its island escapes in the Seychelles, Maldives and on Mauritius but lesser-known spots can be found near the African coast.
The region lends itself to two-centre combinations, possibly with safaris, with the emphasis on relaxation.
Prices are often higher because of the flights and four-or five-star properties.
Such islands tend to appeal to honeymooners and travellers wanting a complete break with high standards.
Retreat options include:
Lamu, off the north coast of Kenya, is totally undeveloped and transport is mainly by ox or donkey. Similar to Zanzibar, it has an Arabic flavour.
Felicite, in the Seychelles near La Digue, can be rented in its entirety by eight people. A Somak Holidays option for six people to share for a week on an all-inclusive basis costs about #4,500 per person.
Mnemba Island, near Zanzibar, is owned by Conservation Corporation Africa and is marketed as a luxurious rustic escape. Five nights start at #2,295 with Cox & Kings. Microsoft boss Bill Gates rented the island.
Benguerra Island is off the Bazaruto Archipelago on the Mozambique coast. Cox & Kings offers two properties - the Benguerra Lodge and the Marlin Lodge, with emphasis on relaxation and good food. Prices for five nights` full-board start at #1,415.
Nosy Be, a collection of islands off Madagascar known for diving, are said to have been the setting for Joanna Lumley`s Castaway television documentary.
© Copyright Miller Freeman 2000
A Muslim man prays on a beach along the Indian Ocean town of Mombasa September 11, 2009, on the third Friday of the holy month of Ramadan. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga