Category: Lifestyle

Creches as cash cows in Kenya

It used to be a common joke in Nairobi’s bars, salons and taxis: the fastest way to get rich in Kenya is to start your own church. Now the joke has matured – the surest way to make a quick buck (and dodge taxes) in Kenya today is to open your own creche.

Infant day care schools are springing up at such an alarming rate in Nairobi that they may soon outnumber bars and butcheries in some townships.

During colonial days and many years after Kenya’s independence, it was not common to find black African kids attending preschools in droves.  Africans – “natives” – were expected to jump straight into primary school with over-size uniform shorts, rusty brogues and peak caps. The expectation was for one to attain an education fit for the colonial economy (bricklayers, trolley pushers, coffee graders, veranda painters). Creche was a fancy foreign concept reserved for kids of local bankers, lawyers, European expatriates, diplomats and cushy industrialists who had a fond nostalgia of daycare centres back home in London, Berlin or Paris.

This is no more. With the tie-down of education standards and generally relaxed rules, anyone can now open a creche in Kenya without much financial investment. The most sensible requirement is to have to have kids nearby, lots of them. Hence, creches are flourishing in Kibera slum, farming settlements and cluster towns.

Kids play in a shipping container that's been turned into a creche in Nairobi. (Pic: David Gianti)
Kids play in a shipping container that’s been turned into a creche in Kibera slum, Nairobi. (Pic: David Gianti)

A proper classroom is far from being a requirement. Livestock sheds, ancient grinding rooms and derelict garages are being torn down in Nairobi to make way for new creches. Infant meals or proper desks are not necessary either. With stressed and short-on-time parents willing to cough up to 3066 Kenyan shillings ($US35) per child per month, there’s no shortage of cheeky entrepreneurs willing to “renovate” their homes into creches.

“Mine is a creche in the morning, paint room in the afternoon and a bar at night,” says Hakem, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who has 30 kids enrolled at his Thanks Tidings Day Centre in Kibera.

“I retire my furniture, sofas, television, table suites to a kitchen during the day to make way for kids attending creche in my house,” says Sofia Wanari, another creche owner. “At night it’s a proper home again when the kids are gone.” When pressed about how much of revenue she makes, she smiles. “The earnings are pretty juicy.  In a month where all parents pay fees I collect about 105 010 Kenyan shillings ( $1200).”

Unlike registered and affluent creches in leafy parts of Nairobi, many springing up in the townships have little regulation. Teachers are not trained or qualified – that’ll be expecting way too much. With steely will, a former kitchen maid, a tobacco clerk or a retired bus driver can turn into a creche school teacher anytime. Curriculums or timetables are neither designed nor followed. One only needs to spend the whole day yelling at infants, minding their general silly tantrums, enforcing sleep times, rehearsing Mau-Mau-era songs and chaperoning them when they stray close to a broken pool or busy road. Not that many parents care: urban Kenyans are tied down in booming factory jobs, office chores and green fruit market stalls, so anyone willing to take care of kids during the day readily finds willing parents.

It’s not entirely unsurprising to see a burger or pizza shop in the evening being dusted and scrubbed to make way for a creche in the morning.  An advert on the wall will read: “Sally’s pizza 5pm to 8pm;  infant preschool 8am to 3pm”.

A suitable, safe location is a not a priority for creche owners. It’s not unthinkable to see a creche opening up next to a strip bar, a gamblers’ saloon or a railway crossing. “Greedy entrepreneurs don’t necessarily care about kids’ safety.  It’s a mighty shame one way or another,” explained Michelle Gaziki, a special needs education facilitator with the Kenyan education ministry.

Of course these creche owners live with a permanent fear of authorities who often inspect creches for health facilities, licences and building safety. Like in any part of East Africa, an under-the-table ‘gift’ to a government inspector will help take care of any problems.

However, for entrepreneurs like Wanari this business is a win-win scenario. “No one wants to be saddled with a weeing infant during the day when there are jobs to chase in the economy. Those who say unlicensed creches are menacing are simply grumpy middle-class Kenyans used to seeing their children in gated preschools years before primary. It has changed.”

David Gianti is a Kenyan student studying towards a master’s degree in education at the University of Nairobi. Connect with him on Facebook.

The blacksmith who turns Liberia’s war arms into art

German blacksmith Manfred Zbrzezny and his apprentices hammer, file and weld in a steamy, dark workshop on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia, surrounded by parts for AK-47s, bazookas and other deadly arms.

In another lifetime, these weapons were the cause of untold misery in a nation scarred by ruinous back-to-back civil wars, but now they are being transformed into symbols of hope for Liberians.

Since 2007, Zbrzezny and his team at Fyrkuna Metalworks have been gathering parts of weapons decommissioned during the disarmament process after the conflict ended ten years ago to turn them into ornate flowerpots, lamps, furniture and sculptures.

Seahorse. (Pic: Fyrkuna Gallery)
Seahorse. (Pic: Fyrkuna Metalworks)

“It was strange from the beginning to work with weapons or instruments of destruction and suffering. The first two years I was working on this it remained very strange to me,” Zbrzezny said.

“When I had a piece in my hands I would think about what was happening now to the perpetrators who used these weapons, and what was happening to the victims, and I would put the piece down to go drink a cup of coffee because it was a little bit oppressive.”

Today, as he holds each weapon part, Zbrzezny is able to focus on its potential for bringing healing to the people of Liberia.

Mobile phone holders. (Pic: Fyrkuna Gallery)
Mobile phone holders. (Pic: Fyrkuna Metalworks)

“I do some thinking on how to transform it into something different, how to transform something that was destructive into something constructive, how to transform something negative into something positive,” he said.

Deep psychological and physical wounds remain in Liberia after two civil wars which ran from 1989 to 2003, leaving a quarter of a million people dead.

Numerous rebel factions raped, maimed and killed, some making use of drugged-up child soldiers, and deep ethnic rivalries and bitterness remain across the west African nation of four million people.

Zbrzezny, who had worked as a blacksmith in Italy and Germany, came to Liberia in 2005, two years after the end of the rebel siege of Monrovia that brought a fragile peace to the west African nation.

He failed initially to make money out of his trade until in 2007 he was approached by the owners of a riverside restaurant who asked if he could put his skills to transforming the parts of old weapons into a marine-themed banister.

The project was such a success that he began making other pieces for the restaurant with parts from rocket-propelled grenade launchers and sub-machinegun barrels — then still commonplace in Monrovia.

He began collecting weapons parts from a German charity involved in Liberia’s disarmament process and made a business out of transforming instruments of war into candle stands, bookends, bells and bottle openers.

“So it was by chance that I got into this. Now I employ five young Liberians who are learning the trade at the same time,” said Zbrzezny, who calls his work “Arms into Art”.

Table lamp. (Pic: Fyrkuna Gallery)
Table lamp. (Pic: Fyrkuna Metalworks)

One of Zbrzezny’s most ambitious projects was a “peace tree” fashioned in 2011 from weapons parts on Providence Island, an iconic part of Monrovia where freed slaves from the United States landed in the 19th century to found the new republic.

Momodu Paasawee, the caretaker for the area where the tree is exhibited, said it had become a symbol for reconciliation in post-war Liberia.

“Seeing this tree reminds Liberians that the war has ended and never should we return to war… Tourists and Liberian students come here to see the tree,” he said.

“Sometimes people come here believing that this is a real tree but I have to tell them that this is a peace tree made out of the barrels of guns.”

Zbrzezny, who is married to a Liberian woman who is expecting their second child, says most of his customers are expats, with few Liberians buying his wares.

Keen to expand his work, Zbrzezny has been trying to convince the United Nations mission in Liberia to donate its weapons scrap.

 Leaving the past behind
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to probe war crimes and rights abuses between 1979 and 2003, and particularly during the brutal conflicts that raged in 1989-96 and 1999-2003.

The commission said a war crimes court should be set up to prosecute eight ex-warlords for alleged crimes against humanity but the government is yet to implement the recommendations.

A decade after the war, no money has been made available and the only Liberian to face trial is Charles Taylor, and that was for his role in neighbouring Sierra Leone’s civil conflict, not that in his own country.

The former leader is appealing a 50-year prison sentence handed down in May last year for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for “blood diamonds” during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2001.

Meanwhile a generation of traumatised children who witnessed untold horrors in Liberia are now struggling to come to terms with their country’s violent past as adults.

Emmanuel Freeman (28), one of Zbrzezny’s apprentices, was a child during most of the conflict and saw both of his parents slain.

“They were killed by guns. These are the same guns I am transforming today into something else,” he said. “I am excited, happy and very pleased to do that.”

But “sometimes when I am holding the scraps it reminds me what I saw during the war”, he added.

Zoom Dosso for AFP

Who’s really broke and who’s not?

I have been on the lower end of the income scale for considerable periods of my life. I’ve been jobless, cashless, food-less and hopeless. I learned how to value money, which is totally different from being cheap. I shared a doma (fruit) with a friend as dinner, I am an expert at recycling old food and I am very good at making Al-Hamam Tar –  “the pigeon flew” – soup, which is basically boiling onions, salt and lemon. It looks, smells and supposedly tastes as if there was a pigeon in the soup.

I discovered something new: broke-ness is in the eye of the beholder. I developed some sort of desensitisation to broke-ness. I have lowered my living expenses and standards, I compare myself with people with worse standards. I look at genuinely poor people, stop for five seconds, scratch my head and then think, “I’m rich, Alhamdulillah” (Praise to God).

Broke-ness is relative. I have a friend from one of the Gulf countries who declares bankruptcy when he reaches a couple of thousands of pounds in his bank account. I abuse him for that. I usually consider myself still rich if I have more than 50 pounds in my pocket. So basically this out-of-money mental state depends on the person’s original financial status. A guy with a 10 000 pound-salary may think he is broke if he only has 100 pounds left, while another might consider himself quite rich if he has 10 pounds in his pocket by the end of the day.


So what is “broke”? How can we define someone as being financially broke? We can say broke is a state of not being rich, but this is just like defining black as not being white. And on the other hand, how rich is rich?

Broke-ness in my humble opinion is definitely not the lack of cash. It is rather a state of mind. It is a terrible fake feeling, but if the person thinks too much about it, he will eventually believe it. An individual may consider himself broke in the following situations:

1. If the person was in a better financial status previously. For example, last week he could have afforded to eat in Real Burger, while this week he can only afford to eat at A’awad Torash (a local restaurant). Such people should learn that they were not born kings –  if you can’t afford a smart phone, buy an Abu Lamba (“the one with the bulb”. This refers to the Nokia 100 handset, which has a built-in flashlight.)

2. When a person compares himself to richer people around him. They have “better”, or I have “less”. This mostly leads to jealousy. These people should learn to appreciate what they have.

3. Jobless people. Some people are actually jobless, but some are just proud. This is quite common among educated people. They feel shame in working in different, less financially rewarding fields. These people have no excuses whatsoever. If you want money, go and get it. I am a dentist; other than fixing bad teeth, I worked many jobs. I was a shopkeeper, I taught English, I coached basketball and I once sold cookies in public. I feel more proud and less broke than the proud non-working people.

What I’m saying is, being broke is relative rather than true. Unless you can’t afford to put food on your table, get over it, you’re not broke.

Yasir Elkhider for 500 Words Magazine, an independent online magazine about Sudan. It is an amalgamation of various thoughts and opinions on Sudanese society, culture and life, and provides a platform for discussion among Sudanese youth. Connect with 500 Words Magazine on Twitter and Facebook

Cashing in on the lure of super-pastor TB Joshua

In Africa’s largest metropolis, the district of Ikotun Egbe in Lagos has turned into a boomtown. The draw? Temitope Balogun Joshua, one of Nigeria’s richest “super-pastors”, whose church attracts 50 000 worshippers weekly – more than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.

TB Joshua. (Pic: EmmanuelTV)
TB Joshua. (Pic: EmmanuelTV)

Seeking promises of prosperity and life-changing spiritual experiences, visitors flock from around the globe. Enterprising Lagos residents – those not turfed out by landlords turning their properties into hotels – have transformed the rundown area into a hotbed of business.

On a Saturday afternoon, traffic swirls around the four-storey, giant-columned Synagogue Church of All Nations. Delegates are already pouring in before the following day’s service. “They should really build a branch in South Africa – it’s a long way to come and the hotels here are so-so,” said Mark, a sun-burnt businessman from Johannesburg, accompanied by two friends from Botswana.

As the church’s palm tree-lined entrance gives way to a maze of skinny, unpaved roads, knots of touts materialise. “In one year I made enough money to buy my first car,” said Chris, using a tattered hotel brochure to mop his brow. He is paid 100 naira (about 40 pence) for each client he brings in.

Sparkling new hotels rise incongruously among the shacks. At one, with a logo suspiciously similar to the Sheraton’s, a new chef has recently been employed. “He can cook food from Singapore, because we were having a lot of guests from there who struggle with Nigerian food,” said the manager, Ruky, at a reception desk framed by pictures of TB Joshua.

Tony Makinwa said most of his laundromat profits came from tourists. “God has favoured my business. People come here and fall in love with the place and overstay their visits,” he said.

Also doing a roaring trade are the international calling centres with foreign visitor discounts, the clothes shops offering outfits to celebrate miracles, and the plastic chair rentals that cater for church spillovers.

Isolo’s dirt streets are punctured by unfinished barn-like buildings as dozens of other churches offer all-day worship services. Almost as many mosques dot the area. Islam and Christianity are growing at blistering paces across Africa, with Nigeria home to the continent’s most populous mix of both faiths.

Money-changer Sidi Bah travelled thousands of miles from Mali to continue his trade here. “I came because I heard many people from many countries visit. In one day I can change six or seven different types of currency,” he said, adding: “There are more mosques here than in my village in [Muslim] Mali.”

Miracle-promising Pentecostal churches took root across the continent in the 1980s, as African economies were battered by falling world commodity prices. Migrant poured into slums in search of jobs and dreams.

Ruky has converted her cramped home into a 20-bed lodging where mainly rural workers stay for 800 naira a night. Mattresses are half-price. “If you are sick like me you have no job so you are used to sleeping on the floor anyhow,” said Andrew Olagbele whose spine was crushed by a car accident, lying on a mattress in a crammed room. “I pray the Lord will touch me tomorrow so I can walk again.”

As dusk sets in, cars continue streaming in. A man hanging from the open door of a car thundering gospel songs waves copies of homemade CDs for sale. Denis Kokou and his wife, a baby on her hip, look on with weary smiles. “This is our first time coming from [regional neighbour] Togo. We are so happy to be here with our daughter.”

Monica Mark for the Guardian

Music memos: Artists of the month

The face of music in Africa is changing. Musicians are seeking alternative routes to the shoddy label of ‘world music’, and finding unprecedented levels of success in the process. There is a growing amount of independent artists who, through their ability to combine global influences with localised flavours, have figured out how to capture a wide-ranging legion of followers.

For this month’s post, I’ve mined some treasure to present the second edition of African musicians to look out for. We chart territory ranging from pop music in South Africa to post-Fela beats in Nigeria. I also got in touch with Brooklyn-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador whose free-to-download offering entitled The Warm Up was released on Tuesday.

Beatenberg – Chelsea Blakemore

Beatenberg comprises three South African lads whose latest single Chelsea Blakemore harvests from their backgrounds in jazz and electronic music to add to their growing catalogue of hauntingly evocative songs. These, in drummer Robin Brink’s words, are aimed at “everyone ready for a fresh South African pop sound.” The lyrics are playfully gutsy – or painfully ironic depending on how receives them. This particular song is named after vocalist/guirarist Matthew Field’s ex-girlfriend. “We’re all tight friends” asserts Brink. Ross Dorkins’ touch of bass adds to the song’s smoothness, making it a potential favourite at the country’s festivals during the upcoming summer. Their full length album will be released by Universal Records in 2014.

Zone Fam – Translate

Zone Fam is a Zambia-based rap group who has done well in penetrating the consciousness of audiences across the continent since their break-away hit Shaka Zulu on em hit airwaves two years ago. With a new single circulating and a new album in the works, it’s exciting times for the quartet comprising Dope G, Jay Rox, Yung Verbal and Thugga. They’ve been nominated for the African Entertainment Awards – a ceremony aimed at honouring “the rich culture of african [sic] art and entertainment” – under the best group category. Their sophomore album is due for release later on in the year. They follow up their party-centric Lobola with this subdued homage to body language.

Burna Boy – Run My Race

The solid, gliding patterns of Afrobeats have ensured that Fela Kuti‘s legacy continues to exist in modern pop music. While bands elsewhere are taking the Afrobeat staple refined by Kuti, artists on the continent have resorted to panel-beating the danceable aspects of the genre into a new wave of sound referred to as Afrobeats, a sub-genre described by Olufemi Terry as “African pop about women, parties and success” in an article published by South Africa’s Rolling Stone magazine. Commenting on the Kuti/Afrobeats relationship, Terry pondered whether the legend would turn in his grave were he to hear the sound he was linked to this sound.

Burna Boy, the Nigerian-born artist who sang “They say I sound like a combination of Sizzla and Fela Kuti” on My Journey, has decided to embrace comparisons to the latter. He went to the Afrobeat legend’s shrine, the Kalakuta Republic, for the video of one of his latest works. Entitled Run My Race, the song is best experienced in sweaty clubs along West Africa, and increasingly across the continent.

Blitz the Ambassador

From Tahrir Square to Madison Square the streets are crammed, Revolution will not be televised or Instagrammed,” raps American-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador. He set aside time to chat about how his song Bisa (What [are] you asking?) got made. The result is a fierce socio-political manifesto featuring UK-based rapper TY and Nigerian vocalist Nneka.


“There were only two collaborations that were done in person.   One was Nneka. That literally happened accidentally I recorded with her [over the] Internet for the actual album, ” Blitz the Ambassador explained.

“We facilitated that through the internet, it’s a brilliant song! I got to Paris; she just happened to be in town as well and wanted to link up. So I told her I was working and she came through to hang and say hello. She heard Bisa; I’d just started crafting it, and she was like ‘This is amazing, I’d love to jump on.’ I said: ‘Take a shot.’ That’s how the song ended up being made.”