I first came to Kenya during the Christmas holiday season in 2008 to visit a friend. In the two weeks that I was here, much fun was had by both of us as her son and mine bonded and her family took me in like one of their own.
While here back then, I think I managed to capture the psyche of the people and places I had seen to write a short story that was set in Nairobi and would later go in an anthology.
I will admit to having been inspired by a few things I had observed in those two weeks and an odd brag I received from a then Member of Parliament that he “never travels east of the Ambassador”.
I would move to Kenya from South Africa three years later. When I decided to move to Nairobi, a lot of my Jo’burg friends were taken aback. Was I sure, would I be able to handle it? I laughed.
Of course I would. I am nomadic so it would not be hard to adapt. What I had not contended with was just how easy it would be to do so. And a major part of that is because of the similarities between Kenya and the country I grew up in, Zimbabwe.
There are the obvious political things of course. Like the independent parties of both countries having similar acronyms with the only difference being that their first letters are also those of the different countries so KANU becomes ZANU in Zimbabwe.
There is also the fact that the founding President of Kenya died while still governing and the possibility that the founding President of Zimbabwe looks set for something similar.
Or, alternatively, if ZANU somehow loses at the next elections in 2018, it would only have been one year short of KANU’s 39-year-rule.
Both countries had problematic elections which resulted in unity governments.
Both Kenyan and Zimbabwean political elites seek medical care out of the country and school their children out of the country, or if they must be in the country for education, then a good private school will do. This is very understandable.
It would not do to inconvenience politically connected people with the disruptions that unreasonable medical staff and teachers in government hospitals and schools cause when they go on strikes for untenable salary increases.
I digress. Both countries have governing and opposition parties whose parliamentarians almost always disagree on everything except for small stuff like salary and benefit increases. And of course, both countries have their superheroes.
Kenya has a senator who comes to the rescue whenever things go awry or to gift the national rugby team when it has won.
Zimbabwe has a young man called Sir Wicknell who comes to the rescue when all is not well for some member of community or to give performance bonuses to the national football team.
And talking of football, both countries have had their glory days under a certain late German coach called Reinhard Fabisch.
There are also some strong similarities socially beyond Fabisch.
In religion, both countries have an important African indigenous church. In the case of Kenya, it is the Akorino and in Zimbabwe, it is Mapostori, and both these churches discourage hospital visits because healing is through faith and prayer.
While traditional Christian churches have also had a major presence in both countries, they seem to be losing ground to new churches.
In the new gospel in both countries, the pastors guarantee that with purchased miracle water or oil, a worthy contribution and most of all, faith, one can get a job, a spouse or that house or car.
A final similarity? Two years after a similar hype in Kenya, many in Zimbabwe are going ga-ga and hoping to reap major and quick profits from raising and selling a miraculous high protein bird and its eggs known in Shona as chihuta.
In Kenya, we know it as a quail. I almost feel like charging Zimbabweans for a prophecy so I can tell them how it will all end.
So the next time you overhear a Kenyan saying, “If we continue on this trajectory, we will become another Zimbabwe”, or a Zimbabwean saying, “We will become another Kenya,” tell them it’s too late.