“When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” -Jomo Kenyatta
Many of the conversations where I start to learn more about life in Kenya happen at cafes. This is a bustling metropolis with no Starbucks, Peet’s or Philz. I was on a caffeine fast until this trip. The funny thing is, now that I’m drinking coffee again, I don’t feel the energy spikes or jitters I felt when drinking coffee at home.
As is the custom with most conversations, people ask me what I do for a living. For the first time, I’ve struggled with what to say. My trip to Nairobi coincided with my decision to step down as the CEO of Mission Bit. In January of 2019, I notified our Board of Directors I would be leaving the organization to pursue new opportunities. My last day was May 10th.
Mission Bit is in good hands. Our program manager Christina Ortega has taken the helm as Interim CEO. I will remain involved in an advisory capacity to close out the year. The Board of Directors will be considering Christina and a number of other candidates to come on as a permanent replacement. I couldn’t be more honored by the support we received while building this organization from scratch.
I left to visit Kenya on May 14th. It would be a bit much to call this trip a pilgrimage, but I would be lying if I didn’t say my reasons for coming didn’t feel spiritual. I had romantic notions of what it would be like to come here. I thought I would gain a perspective on my ancestry that I was cut off from because of my family’s history as the descendants of slaves in America. I was looking to feel connected, camaraderie and a sense of unity that at times feels lacking among black communities in the states.
That is not Africa. There is no welcome home parade. There is no Lion King movie scene where you are revealed at the top of Pride Rock and the guy sings that famous African song in the opening of the movie. I would say that everybody, especially black people, should visit this place before they die, but come here with your eyes wide open.
There are people doing well, but many are struggling. The unemployment rate is recorded at 7.4%, but most believe the real number is around 60%. Minimum wage is about $150 a month. The overwhelming majority of the people I’ve met are friendly and helpful. There is a great sense of national pride. People tell me Obama was a Kenyan that got elected president, not a black man. In the midst of all the pleasantries, there is also this underlying sense of desperation in my conversations.
Despite the massive poverty, there is not a homelessness crisis like we have in San Francisco. I’ve yet to see any human feces or needles on the streets. Not many people own firearms so they don’t have neighborhood warzones, mass shootings or streets filled with people struggling with mental health and drug addictions. They have tightened security due to terrorist attacks. Just a few months ago, a car bomb killed 17 people not too far from where I’m staying in Westlands.
I came to Kenya as the black man without an African country to call home. And a man without the steady income that comes with a 9 to 5. That said, I’ve never been a man who hasn’t gone out to make something happen. I’ve started a consulting practice that is growing. My role as President of the Board of Education is demanding and rewarding. And I get to start this new chapter, or finish the last one, making this pilgrimage to Africa. I do miss my girlfriend, that part about being here sucks. She’s doing well, by the way. I’m not entirely sure what the next chapter of my life will consist of, but I will take it on having seen more of the world. That is one of the necessary prerequisites to change it.
Film Recommendation: Poetic Justice
Music Recommendation: Divine Feminine