Let’s Pray for a Bungalow

Every one aspires to own some real estate in Kenya.  Some trouble makers may want to know who said so; well now you’re hearing it from me (tweet please). We are such that if you keep acting busy all the time with some sort of job, the only success we want to see is a kaplot either developed or not.

The irony is that some people have built hundreds of flats, bungalows, townhouses, bungalows, castles and other types of houses while others struggle to pay rent for a multi-functional 10 feet by 10 feet single room. I was thinking it would just be easy if banks gave out loans to these poor chaps and have them build a decent place for the many kids they tend to have.

However, and very unfortunately, lending money to the poor folks contravenes the Kenyan Banking Act number one of firsts section 101 – only lend money to people who don’t need it at all. People who need money tend to not to pay it back. This is not necessarily due to inability but because they needed it in the first place – who wants to give away something they need? I think Imperial bank must have broken this rule when they fell for a butchery owner’s tale and did an unthinkable 10billion loan for him – Keroche Industries could only qualify for half of that from a different bank according to recent reports.  It’s not really clear what the lucky butcher must have said but the rest of the bankers took a longer look at imperial bank after the unusual gesture and closed them down.

That explains why an ordinary person isn’t doing very well in the real estate realm. Landing the kind of money that buys land and builds a nice house remains a dream to many. In fact, for some, it has been on the list of New Year resolutions for too long that it has understandably been scrapped for the last few years.  It is now a matter of luck, winning some lottery some day. Even that has a complication – the winnings these days are too little to cover land expenses and the family and friends excitement that come with them.

SACCOs are making a killing promising people easy huge loans. But even for those, they are pegged on one’s income and savings, a factor that is not going so well for random folks.  Yet people are building all over. Nice houses left and centre. You pass them each day, praying, fasting (sometimes not so willingly) and hoping that someday, in an inexplicable way, you will be the proud owner of a bungalow or whatever those  big houses are called. You will be a proud resident of a place that’s arguably not a slum.  My prayers are with you.

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Trump the Winner

I’m not really sure if the the Trump family had the “trump card” phrase when they were coming up with the name. But “The Donald” or as he’s officially known, Donald J. Trump, seems to really love his name a little too much. He feels  like his name is the “best” brand there is and has no problem putting it on everything he builds.

Trump is perhaps the biggest self promoter around – which is also his biggest strength. He has managed to paint the picture of success so much that the people who matter have had no choice but to believe it. This kind of trust coming from billionaire investors is priceless to a real estate developer. This explains why his Trump Organization is one of the world’s largest real estate companies.

Trump does really love success just as he is very successful at what he does. He talks success and distances himself from failure as much as possible. He is also not very good at keeping secrets such as his apparent no-so-much respect for Senator McCain as a US war veteran and as a presidential candidate. Trump likes “the number one show”, “the best building in Manhattan” and generally, “success”. This list doesn’t look like “the war hero who got captured” or even worse the “the loser of presidential elections”. It will be interesting to see whether some of the interesting things he has been very bold enough to say will come back at him.

Pay me Train Me

The prospect of an income is a very important motivator to many people the world over. It is even more so when you’re living from hand to mouth and every day absolutely counts. Every morning is a vicious struggle to make ends meet or at least avoid this or that tragedy.  Such is the life of most poor people in the sub Saharan Africa.

One such typical area full of the poor is coastal Kenya. The coastal region of Kenya has a range of socio-political and economic problems that have undermined development for a very long time. They include widespread poverty, combined with a very high degree of inequity; Extensive alienation of land that makes it difficult or even impossible for considerable parts of the local population to gain access to land; and a persistent feeling of being politically marginalized in post-independence Kenya.

Development actors have been excited by the many development issues and mostly, the incessant demands for such by the people.  As a result, many have initiated a variety of interventions over time all geared towards alleviation of poverty, boosting security, removing hunger from this and that place, education promotion and the list goes on.

One important aspect of conducting a development project in coast is that it sometimes does not make sense. You have to pay people to attend your training sessions for instance. You both pay them and reimburse their fare or they won’t show up next time. That speaks a lot about how much the people value your training. It is also a wonder whether the same people asked for the training.

Yet it is true, they ask for the training and even evidently need it. But they can’t afford to attend if you don’t give them something small at the end of the talk. You just have to pray that that is not all that brought them.

What if your project is meant to better your would-be beneficiaries’ own businesses? In this case, perhaps they can just count the two or three hours as their own working hours. They can evaluate them based on whether their Return on Investment (RoI) is good enough. I believe such a project would do well to crunch numbers for the would-be beneficiaries like an investment advisor would. This should clearly explain why investing three hours to attend training is a sound and economically viable decision.

If this is accorded as much seriousness and emphasis as it should be, most development actions, especially those “whole value chain model” types, will go a long way in actually transforming the lives of the poor and having a lasting impact.

The Beggar is the Best Customer

The church is a great business idea. The founder is usually a person that requires help from God and perhaps genuinely heeds to “a divine call”. He has to bear with the doubts and difficulties that come with all start ups. For starters, nobody might believe the cock and bull story that the poor guy has to craft. Thankfully, his loyal spouse and submissive children usually don’t have a choice.

Nonetheless, he has to work hard and win the trust of some few other family members and friends to put up a funny structure and buy drums and other equally loud musical instruments. I’m sure you will agree that some of the loudest noises that come from churches are made by congregations that hardly exceed ten individuals that look somewhat inebriated.

But the many doubters (or more fashionably, haters) are soon put to shame as the passionate pastor now buys better suits and mobilizes more flock. The church is now big and within no time a sleek car starts to be a reality for the pastor.

But to sustain the dream, the pastor shifts from focussing on the service of God to what the congregation can give to God – which some “haters” mistake for himself. The preaching Sunday after Sunday is aimed at coercing the congregation to respond to the needs of the church and by extension the “man of God” as a means of meeting their own. Promises of prosperity now form the bulk of summons and the condition is invariably giving to the church’s projects.

This is the trend in most churches where pastors are reduced to poets keeping their congregations hopeful amid deepening misery in their own lives. The pastors nonetheless prosper – making themselves richer and richer. Politicians are not any different but that’s material for another day.

There is one thing a struggling person can learn from this common trend, desperation fosters creativity and is the best opportunity for business and success. Many people are born desperate, in families that kill morale. Your dad probably looks happy herding goats and your mother is contented with selling illicit brews save for the few times the cops have to carry her on their less than elegant pick-ups. Your brother could have died of starvation and your sister couldn’t make more than just a starving prostitute. You see failure and suffering all around you. Everyone is comfortable and resigned to this less-than-perfect conditions – but what makes you feel special is that it bothers you.

If you can relate to this I have some good news.

The obscure truth is that the best business ideas start and thrive on widespread desperation. The best businesses promising jobs to thousands of jobless lads waiting for that elusive splash of opportunity and actually delivering a decent fraction of their song and dance were started by jobless people. The best teachers are failed practitioners trying to run away from their own mediocrity. The sellers of hope were once hopeless and with problems worse than any of the people they have had an opportunity to preach hope to. All the same, they made themselves millionaires by looking around and seeing how they can meet the needs of the majority average. They have looked at their experiences and managed to view the desperation and the failure as their main opportunity – and they are never wrong.

An average pastor has a car, an average officer of the poverty NGO makes more money than a car salesman. The person advertising jobs for the jobless is self employed. And the list is longer than you can imagine.

Please, kindly send me an email so I can forward you the invoice: the guy that is always begging you for coins has enough money to be your customer. All you have to do is find a way to make his existence a blessing.