Σάββατο, 30 Ιουλίου 2016

The Jesus Prayer: A Blood-bond


Photo from here

"...At the end of the Divine Liturgy, happy to see him again, we asked Panayiotis where he had been for such a long time. ‘I went to the east of the island to find work’, he replied. (...). At that point he removed from his pocket a 200 knot komboskoini that was in shreds. ‘I say the Jesus prayer every day – and I pray for your too’, he said. ‘My komboskoini is in a very bad condition because I use it every day. I need a new one now’..." (From the post Serving the people in Madagascar - Poverty, animism, bandits & Panayiotis, a boy who «ceased coming to church»...)
I just started reading “On the Prayer of Jesus” by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov.  I got hooked on the work of this 19th century bishop after reading “The Arena” during Great Lent.  Aside from his wise instruction to monastics which are applicable to us in the regular world, Brianchaninov frequently referred back to several African fathers including Macarius, Moses the Black, and Pachomius.  His work was an influence on Fr. Seraphim Rose, whom I greatly admire.  Even as an inquirer into Orthodoxy, I made it a point to avoid the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) as it seemed to be a cliché among people interested in the Church.  Since I began making the prayer a part of my personal rule, I do feel myself growing spiritually and have been able to set aside distracting thoughts more quickly. I figure if I am going to use the prayer, I need to get some wise instruction on it.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

No sooner than I hit the second chapter of the book than this Russian schooled me on a spiritual history that African American Christians have not been exposed to and need to know.  A Roman soldier who was a native of Carthage, Neokorus served in Jerusalem during the same time as the passion and resurrection of Christ.  After hearing the Gospel, he was baptized and shared his faith with is family.  Among those who accepted Christianity was his grandson, Callistratus, who would also serve in the Roman army.  His pagan colleagues noted how he refused to worship idols but spied on him as he prayed repeating the name of the Lord Jesus.  For this, he was martyred.
Of course, this story is not in the Bible.  Therefore, Western Christians of all races would not have known it nor would consider it very important.  This is a shame.  The Jesus Prayer is one of  the most beloved prayers of the Orthodox faith.  It is the means in which monastics and non-monastics fulfill St. Paul’s call for believers to pray without ceasing.  There are few words in this simple sentence.  It is based on the Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the Publican to show how humble repentance justifies a man more than a clerical office and obeying laws.  And here is a story of an African who continually prayed on the name of the Lord and refusing the name of any other god and dying for his faith.  Such a story should fit into any black American church.

A Greek icon of St. Callistratus

This is especially true as some of our ancestors embraced the suffering Savior who died to this world and was resurrected giving the promise of new life to those who would serve him.  There are stories of slaves who were beaten because they held prayer services or prayed on their own without “permission” from their masters.  There is no doubt that the first prayer our ancestors cried out was, “Oh Lord, have mercy.”  The Jesus Prayer is very relevant to the African-American as we share the historical bond that was made in the blood of St. Callistratus in an army garrison and “Cletus” on a whipping post.


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner

This bond was and is for all humanity.  Christians of all races faced persecution and death for the first 300 years of the Church.  First the Copts and Antiochians, then the Greeks and Serbs were brutalized by the Turks as Byzantium fell.  Ethiopians as well as Russians were oppressed in our modern era by godless communist.  But the simple prayer to our Lord for mercy and confession of our sinfulness helped to carry us through these historic horrors.  All have sinned, all have suffered, all can make the same appeal to the God who conquered death by His death and grants great mercy to all who call on him.  Let us share this blood-bond prayer with all peoples and nations.


Video from www.agiazoni.gr

Click:

“Prayer, the raising of the spirit towards God” (from the Orthodox Church of Zimbabwe)
African-American Orthodoxy — Eight principal areas of convergence between African spirituality and Ancient Christianity 
SONGS OF FREEDOM: The Rastafari Road to Orthodoxy
Native Americans & Orthodoxy  

We are Going to Live in Paradise: Orthodoxy in Congo

Orthodox Monasticism 
LIVE, BEYOND THE LIMITS!

Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
Travelers on the Way to the Light
The ancient Christian Church - About Orthodox Church in the West World...
The Way - An introduction to the Orthodox Faith
 

Παρασκευή, 29 Ιουλίου 2016

Serving the Least of the Brethren: the Missionary Work of "Orthodox Africa"!

A Conversation with Fr. Silouan (Brown) on Putting Matthew 25 into Action
 
Photo from here
    
Jesse Dominick spoke with Fr. Silouan (Brown) Pravoslavie.ru
 
Fr. Silouan (Brown) USMC, is an American monk currently visiting Russia on pilgrimage for his second time, as part of a three-month long trip that is taking him to at least four different countries. He just recently returned from a trip to England to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, founded by Elder Sophrony (Sakharov), is soon heading for Kharkov and Kiev, and finally in a few weeks Fr. Silouan heads to Africa to as a missionary.
Fr. Silouan was born in 1983 in Denver, Colorado and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was stationed as a Military Policeman in Okinawa, Japan with Combat Logistics Regiment 37 3rd Marine Logistics Group, assigned to the Provost Marshalls Office on Camp Kinser (Okinawa).
He then received orders to report to Combat Logistics Battalion 4 onboard Camp Foster for deployment to the Al Anbar Province of Iraq where he participated in over two hundred combat logistics patrols including direct enemy confrontations during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Fr. Silouan became a monk in 2011 and is residing in Florida where he has developed a passion for helping others—especially veterans who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) both of which are illnesses that he has personal knowledge of as a result of his combat experiences. Father Silouan is presently a full-time student working towards a MSW degree (Master of Social Work) and a LISW (Licensed Independent Social Worker) so as to professionally and clinically counsel, help and guide veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI, addictions and homelessness.
Fr. Silouan currently serves as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) District and post Chaplain with over 3200 veterans enrolled in his district.
In addition, Father helped put together a team of like-minded Orthodox who had a vision for Orthodox missions around the world and together they started orthodoxafrica.org as a way for the global Orthodox community to be able to participate in the furtherance of God’s kingdom by providing a means for the average layman who may not be able to travel to faraway lands, to participate in global missionary work.
Fr. Silouan has also served on different occasions at Project Mexico which is both an orphanage and a center for building simple yet sturdy homes for genuinely needy homeless families outside of Tijuana, Mexico.
I have become acquainted with Fr. Silouan through a mutual friend, so when I heard he was back in Moscow I made sure to catch up with him and talk with him a bit about his inspiring mission work.
 
* * *
 
—You’re going to Kenya in a few weeks. What is the purpose of your trip?
 
—Presvytera Alice Mwangi has been messaging me for years about the orphanage that she and her husband operate, and I was always very suspicious of African missions, period, because of fraud. Your page ran an article from one missionary who went there, so I was glad to see that it was legitimate. I then contacted those who went, and through talking to them I realized that I’m in a unique position, having computers and internet access, to facilitate these missions telling their stories and letting the world know about the mission work going on in Africa, which is difficult for them to do themselves sometimes. 
 
 
—And how are you doing that?
 
—I started Orthodox Africa and assembled a team of nine people working on the project. We edit articles, broadcast the message, and make posts— mostly working via Facebook. We do special appeals to raise funds for various things.
 
—How long has Orthodox Africa been up and running? I’ve just recently seen it.
 
—It’s been just under a year or so. I was able to vet one missionary, Timothy Farrell, and there are three missions—St. Barnabas, St. Tabitha, and the Mwangis' orphanage, that I’ve been able to verify as legitimately doing what they claim to be doing, so they’ve been featured on the website, and people can go there to find out the specifics of each mission. There’s a PayPal button there if they want to donate. There’s no middle man, which is something I definitely wanted for Orthodox Africa. I didn’t want money getting lost in overhead or with some middleman. Go to Orthodox Africa and read about a mission and if it touches your heart and you donate, it goes directly to them.
 
—So if I, for example, donate to the Mwangis’ orphanage, it’s basically going directly into Presvytera Alice’s bank account?
 
—Right. There’s nobody outside of that that’s touching any of the money. There are disadvantages from an American standpoint because we’re not a 501c3, so donations aren’t a tax write-off, but on the other hand I don’t have a 501c3 set up that needs money, eating up part of your donation.
 
—That seems like a good trade-off to me.
 
—I’ll be going there and we’ll have about twenty-three baptisms while I’m there. I’ll also be meeting with Bishops Athanasios and Neofitos of Kenya. Part of meeting with the bishops is that there’s a huge temptation for African missions to become dependent upon the rich Americans and the rich Greeks, so I’m pushing them really hard to develop some kind of business plan to become self-sufficient. I made it clear that I don’t want Orthodox Africa to exist in twenty years. I want these business plans in place. I want to help them raise funds to get to the point of being self-sustaining, and then basically cut them off.
 

The three hierarchs of Kenya's African Orthodox Church: Makarios Tillyrides, Neofitos Kongai and Athanasius Akunda (from here)
 
—Have you proposed any business plans, or just told them to think of something that’s viable in their area?

—That’s part of why I’m going there. I know a girl that’s worked with OCMC for two years who wants to start a Church supply business in Kenya, but I don’t think there’s going to be a big enough market. I’m trying to assess what they can produce locally that’s needed locally. Why ship internationally? Let’s figure out what is the local market. That’s part of what I’ll be talking to them about.
Also, I get dozens of emails all the time from missions wanting to work with me, so I’ll be doing some inspections and making sure people are legitimate. I don’t know why, but people trust Americans more than Africans sometimes. So when I can vouch for a mission it puts people’s minds at ease and they start really working for them. 
 
—How many missions or parishes are you planning to see besides the Mwangis' orphanage?
 
—I’m starting at St. Barnabas and there are two priests in that area that I’ll interview, and I’ll see Bishop Neofitos, about ninety kilometers from Nairobi.
The St. Barnabas Mission helps over three hundred children suffering from spiritual, economic, social, and physical poverty. The program tries to pair able people with these suffering children to help them become responsible and self-sustaining. Some of the children lived with terminally ill parents and elderly guardians who are sometimes physically and sexually abusive. There are many heart-breaking stories.
The mission also includes an education center started by Fr. Methodios JM Kariuki and his wife Papadhia Everlyn Mwangi who both graduated from seminary in Africa.
I’ll also go to the St. Tabitha Community Center where Fr. Agapios currently cares for eighteen orphans. There are many more that need care, but there simply is no space at the time. They try to provide food, clothing, shelter, clean water, a quality education, and empowerment to become productive members of society.
St. Tabitha’s is located in Kibera slums — the biggest slum in Africa. There’s over a million people with no running water or sanitation. 
 
    
—How do you feel about going there? Worried?
 
—I’ve been worse places. I’m a vet. I was in Fallujah and Baghdad. 
 
—So you’ve been around.
 
—I’ve had bigger guys than most of those Africans try to kill me before. 
 
—God has kept you protected.
 
—Thank God. So that will be interesting. Part of why I’m meeting with the bishops is to get more of a synergy built up between the missions so that they won’t be duplicating labor so much and trying to raise funds for so much duplicated work. For example, in Kibera it’s really expensive to try to rent and start an orphanage, but out in the villages it’s not too bad. So why don’t we have a priest serving Liturgy every day and run the orphanage outside of Kibera, and we can raise money to build something out there, and we can keep another priest inside Kibera, rescuing people, vetting, making sure he gets the worst of the worst, and other temporary services. And he can concentrate on that instead of constantly worrying about raising money, paying rent, getting caretakers and what not.
Some of the missions are just off doing their own thing to some degree. Why can’t we all work together and specialize? 
 
—So there just hasn’t been much communication between the different institutions and missions?
 
—Right. 
 
—Why do you think that is? Is that a mentality there, a lack of internet or … ?
 
—I don’t know yet. I’m hoping to find out. I can’t do much for anyone if they’re just not willing to work together, so we’ll see. And Orthodox Africa can give a more legitimate face to these missions, so they don’t have to just be relying on donations garnered from messaging people on Facebook or something like that. 
 
—We’ve also posted several articles from a group called the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity which does a lot of work in Africa. We like to give people an idea of what’s going on around the world—not just in America and the Orthodox countries.
 
—That’s part of our goal with Orthodox Africa too. The Church is growing and there’s missions going on all over the place that people wouldn’t know about otherwise. 
 
—So you’re helping to give people a more global, catholic sense of the Church.
 
—That’s one of the big things we want to accomplish in Africa. I’ll be doing some catechism classes, and they tell me that one of their consistent challenges is that Protestant missionaries are always trying to convince the people that Orthodoxy is just some new-fangled sect. So we’re trying to give people an idea of the catholicity of the Church. 
 
—How are the Protestants able to accomplish this? They just have more people, more money, better organized?
 
—They’ve got more everything, unfortunately.
There’s a female monastery in Congo that does some mission work, and Bishop Neofitos wants to start a male monastery. 
 
—What do you plan to talk about in catechism? Will it be pretty basic stuff, or have they learned that already?
 
A lot of it will be to the orphan children, so it will be pretty basic. Honestly, I haven’t done this much and I’m somewhat scared about it! When I’ve talked to people they do seem to have a basic understanding. As a monastic I’m in tune with the life of prayer and monastic practice, but getting back to the ABC’s of Orthodoxy could be challenging. I hope God speaks through this ass! And I don’t have that much experience with kids either. 
 
 
—Of course they like to play. I’ve been to the orphanage in Guatemala twice, and I like to play with them, but I’m older too, and I need to take a break. But they don’t want to take a break!
 
—The mission in Guatemala has been part of my inspiration. I’ve been talking with Presvytera Alexandra who’s teaching the locals how to sew vestments to support their mission. They have a site for Mayan artisans, and the locals are selling vestments with locally-produced fabrics. That’s one of the business ideas I have in mind, and I’m pushing them to become self-sustaining, although I don’t know yet how we’ll get there.
I think that will play well with the bishops, because I think that’s ultimately what they would like to see as well. They don’t want to have to be dependent. 
 
—How long will you be there?
 
—Twenty-five days. 
 
—Are there already plans to go back after that, or you’ll see how it goes?
 
—It’s undecided. We make plans, and God laughs. 
We have a Russian woman working with us on translations, so we’re hoping to have the site up and running for Russians to be able to learn about it and get involved. There are special pleas for the different missions on the website that have basic details.
The Kingdom is taken by violence and force. That implies to me in a lot of ways that we can’t sit on the sidelines as passive observers. We have to engage. You can’t sit by and wait for somebody else to do it. That’s what Orthodox Africa is for me—I saw a gap where there was a need and I asked myself what I could do, and Orthodox Africa is what I can do, so I went out and did it, and it’s developed from there with other people getting interested and joining in. It’s an invitation to everyone out there to get off their couches, and even if they can’t personally go travel and be a missionary, here’s one way they can be involved. Everyone has to be involved in some way in the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Produce some good fruit. Think of the parables of the Widow’s Mite and of the Good Steward. Be a good steward with what you’ve been given, even if it’s just something like internet access. I have internet access and a lot of these missions don’t—so what can I do with this? 
 
—And with the internet we can go all around the world and make any kind of connections we want.
 
—Right, so really we’re just inviting people to help. On the site we have Matthew 25 scattered all over it. Did you clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison? Did you, did you, did you? Here’s your chance—do it. It’s small, but everything makes a difference.
Orthodox Africa isn’t me. It’s everybody on the team and we’re all equal. I’m the guy that pushes the people, and holds their hands to the fire, and it’s an invitation to the Orthodox world, especially North America to get involved in any way you can. I’m vetting all these people for you, so if you have worries about legitimate Orthodox missions and you want to help but you’re worried about scams, here’s all the information you could possibly want. 
 

—That’s very good because I used to get almost daily messages from random people in Africa asking for money. One man, when I told him I was already helping some other people, immediately turned on me and cursed me and told me I’m a terrible human being and that I have no love for humanity. This is what people are worried about.
 
—Exactly. And I’d like to reiterate that the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force, and we should all get involved and not be just passive observers. 
 
—You’re making it so easy for us to get involved, that if we don’t, we’re just total bums.
 
—That’s exactly the idea. It really is. It’s missions for dummies. There’s so much we can do. On a personal level, obviously I’m pushing Africa, but I don’t really care. If this pricks your conscience and you go figure out what you can do for Guatemala or Thailand or anywhere else then that’s great. This is about building up the Church. I just had to pick an avenue so I went with Africa. 
 
—And I hope that your work and this interview can do just that—inspire people to support Orthodox Africa and even find their own ways to help however and wherever they can. Thank you for your time, Father.
 
—And thank you. Please pray for me as I travel to and throughout Africa! 
 

Learn more about the work of Orthodox Africa on its main page and also on Facebook.
To read more about the specific needs of each mission and to donate, see here.

See also:

About Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, a strange black market where the American dollar trades against itself 


“The dollar has an exchange rate against the dollar. How is that possible? I think it’s another Zimbabwean first”

The old Zim 500 billion notes that were abandoned in 2009 after inflation hit 500,000,000,000% - some fear the new plan for "bond notes" could send the economy back to that nightmarish past. (Photo/Bloomberg).
IN Zimbabwe—the country that once suffered 500 billion percent inflation—one dollar may now cost you as much as $1.07.
A shortage of banknotes is resulting in a new black market more than seven years after Zimbabwe abolished its own money, the Zimbabwean dollar, and adopted the greenback and other foreign currencies to avoid exactly that sort of unofficial trading. The shortage of cash has intensified in recent weeks, according to central bank Governor John Mangudya, forcing banks to limit withdrawals and shut down some ATMs.
Zimbabwe implemented a multi-currency system in 2009 after its economy collapsed in the wake of a campaign to seize white-owned commercial farms and hand them over to black subsistence farmers, triggering a near decade-long recession as exports from tobacco to roses slumped.
 As well as the dollar, the country allows the use of a range of currencies including the South African rand, the Chinese yuan, the pound and the euro. While that tamed inflation—said by the International Monetary Fund to have reached 500 billion percent in 2008—it also left the government short of cash to pay civil servants and buy essential imports.
In desperation, Zimbabwe’s central bank said last month it will introduce legal tender it calls “bond notes,” pegged to the U.S. currency, a plan that has drawn scorn from critics who say it will simply force importers and remittance-senders to the black market. It also means dealers are effectively trading the dollar against itself.
“The black or parallel market will worsen when bond notes begin to circulate,” said Kipson Gundani, chief economist with the National Chamber of Commerce in Harare, the capital. “Why? Because Zimbabwe is a net importer and bond notes can’t be used to settle invoices abroad. With no cash in the banks, importers will be forced to look for greenbacks on the black market.”
With about 3 million citizens out of a population of 14 million living abroad, according to the United Nations, Zimbabweans have devised inventive ways of sending remittances to family members at home. 

Money transfers

Patson Gureva, a manager with a South African bank, tries to send $1,500 a month to his mother in rural Zimbabwe. Gureva has a friend in Harare who imports vehicle parts from South Africa, so Gureva pays his friend’s supplier in Johannesburg in rand and Gureva’s friend hands the equivalent in dollars over to his mother.
The system worked well, and sidelined money transfer businesses like Western Union, Moneygram and Mukuru. But then last month, Gureva’s friend in Harare deducted 5%. The rand equivalent of $1,500 became $1,425—a big difference in a country where as many as 70% of people live on less than $2 a day, according to the U.N.
Trading the dollar against itself could lead to inflation, according to Harare-based independent economist John Robertson.
“We already have people trading the dollar at a premium,” he said. “We don’t know where the money has gone, but there’s a probability that government used the bulk of it in trying to settle its International Monetary Fund loans, then there’s the huge civil-service wage packet,” which accounts for 80% of government spending, he said. 

Raised prices

Gureva isn’t the only one paying a premium for hard cash. Samuel Chiweshe, who manufactures garden furniture and relies on imported raw materials, had a similar experience.
“That 5% rate is lucky,” Chiweshe said. “I just paid $1.07 per dollar for a $2,000 transaction, because my steel supplier is now accepting only hard cash and has already warned me that they won’t accept bond notes. So, now I’ve raised my prices 7%, but will I be able to sell? I’m doubtful.”
Capital flight, money laundering and rising imports have forced the central bank to double its purchases of dollars to $40 million a month, Governor Mangudya told a conference in Harare last month. The government is delaying, and staggering, civil-servant salary payments to alleviate the cash crunch. 

Little difference

One solution would be for the country to use the South African rand as its primary currency, Charity Jinya, president of the Bankers’ Association of Zimbabwe, told lawmakers in Zimbabwe’s capital Monday. Currently the U.S. dollar accounts for about 95% of trade, she said. South Africa is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner, according to the central bank, accounting for 22% of imports. 
For now, that makes little difference to people like Chiweshe and Gureva.
“It’s strange, really strange,” Gureva said. “The dollar has an exchange rate against the dollar. How is that possible? I think it’s another Zimbabwean first.”

-Bloomberg
 
See also

Zimbabwe Stock Exchange cuts jobs after revenues fall by more than 50% 
 
Lone voice speak out, sets off surprise viral 'ThisFlag' campaign in Zimbabwe as Mugabe clings on
 
Mugabe wobbles, as Zimbabwe scraps plan to convert 50% of its dollar earnings to rand, euros 
 
New `zombie money, made from nothing’ printed by Zimbabwe draws scorn from critics 
 
Zimbabwe’s stark choice—and how most of Africa could soon stare down the same barrel
 
Fight over Zimbabwe economic policy turns in favour of Finance minister Chinamasa
 
After biggest anti-Mugabe protest in years, party defends veteran 92-year-old Zimbabwe leader
 
Tinokugamuchirai Kunzira akakomborerwa Zimbabwe / Welcome to the blessed Zimbabwe !
 

Silicon Savannah: We wish to benefit the people of Africa from this effort!...



Photo from here

Note of our blog: The economic development of each African country is something very positive, IF the benefit from this development come back to the African people and not to the multinationals, to the neocolonialists and to the capitalists at the expense of the people.
We wish from our heart, to benefit the people of Kenya & all the Africa from this effort.

re:publica

The narrative on Africa has long been led and dominated by stories of war, minerals and safaris. While most recently the narrative has shifted into a manhunt for bloodthirsty rebel leaders, a story not too distant from that of tyrannical and oppressive African leadership. Africa, you could say, has an image problem.
The African people, however, with their indomitable spirit, their tenacity and their make-do attitude continue to be part of a new chapter in history through innovation, ingenuity and information technology. Welcome to Silicon Savannah.



They call it 'Silicon Savannah': What an East African nation teaches about innovation

Contractors pull the fiber-optic East African Marine Cable outside the Portuguese built Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya. There are at least five such cables in Kenya.( Photo/AFP/File).

Mail & Guardian Africa


KENYA’s giant mobile phone company Safaricom recently made a move that, if other technology firms in Africa follow, could have revolutionary effects. It launched a Shillings 50 million ($500,000) innovation fund.

Being in Kenya, it can fully expect that the money will be gobbled up by innovators because there are many takers in Nairobi. The way the story is told, the Kenyan capital’s meteoric rise to a global start up and innovation hub seems to have happened almost overnight. The country has in recent years got worldwide attention for churning out global innovations such as M-Pesa, the world’s most successful mobile payment system.

How did it happen though? How did a country that less than 20 years ago was struggling from the downside structural programmes, a high risk profile and weak infrastructure transform into an ideas hub and earn itself the moniker “Silicon Savannah”?

The end of the Daniel arap Moi era in 2002 and the ushering in of former President Kibaki’s government was about more than just a change of guard.

The entire platform of the newly elected coalition was economic reform. A huge part of this was large investments in infrastructure. Better roads, stable electricity and faster internet. The first internet fibre cable landed in Mombasa in July 2009 and helped lower the cost of internet in Kenya.

Four other cables have been installed since then and now it is possible to get an at home internet connection with television services for as low as $50 a month.

Kenya’s best known innovation is M-Pesa a mobile money transfer service that allows users to send and receive money on their mobile phones, in effect turning their phones into banks. The quick adoption of this technology and how easily the government was willing to listen and explore unchartered territory was a great signal to business.

Build it and we will work together so they can come.

The “trick”


 
Photo from here

Speaking at the recent Kenya Trade and Investment Summit in Johannesburg, the CEO of  Kenya’s giant mobile phone company Safaricom, Bob Collymore, said Kenya’s success is because the country has a tradition of “allowing innovation to run ahead of regulation”.

Thus by the time even the Central Bank of Kenya moved in to regulate M-Pesa, it had been up and running for more than a year. Kenya also opened Africa’s first open data portal, without any elaborate legislation. Because laws and regulations are written around innovators have already done, it does not hobble them or limit their imagination.

This approach came about partly by accident. President Kibaki was reputed to be a hands-off leader, and became marked by that approach - he didn’t meddle until it was critical to do so.

The result is that the disruption caused by the service led to further innovations in the banking industry. It was a wakeup call for a lot of banks, which began to focus on segments of the population they previously ignored.

They made it easier for small business owners to access loans. It is now possible to move money from most bank accounts to your mobile money account. The biggest bank by customer numbers in the country, Equity bank is rolling out a similar product, Equitel that is said to threaten Safaricom’s dominance.

Darwinism


That is the thing about Kenya. Business here is about Darwinism. Adapt or die. It is a study in competitive advantage and how it can be snatched from right under you.

But the innovations are not just in the financial and mobile technology arenas. Only 32% of Kenya’s population has access to electricity making off grid solutions necessary.

For a time, solar lanterns that allowed you to charge your phone and light your house were a big deal. Innovative payment models were designed to allow you to pay for these lamps in instalments.

Now, a new company, Strauss Energy is offering integrated solar panels as a roofing solution. Instead of using traditional roofing tiles and adding solar panels later, they developed a solution, produced in Kenya that integrates a panel into the roofing tile.

Strauss Energy was incubated at the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre, one of the many hubs in the city that offer working space and financial support to entrepreneurs.

These hubs are some of the best places to meet aspiring businesses. KCIC provides an often overlooked funding segment for green businesses; money to show ‘proof of concept’. After showing demand and willingness of customers to pay, businesses can then reach out to other funding sources and look to scale.

That zeal for innovation is attracting money from  many corners of the world. Multiple funds are looking to invest in Kenya. One such fund is Nest VC, a venture capital firm out of Hong Kong that is expanding to Africa and using Kenya as its base. Aaron Fu, Nest’s Managing Partner for Africa says

Appealing recipe


‘We are setting up in Nairobi to participate in the city’s vibrant start up ecosystem driven by a number of factors, key to which is talent. The pace of growth of Nairobi’s quickly increasing tech talent base, driven by communities like the iHub and developer training centres like Moringa, combined with an increasingly larger population of energetic entrepreneurs, with strong experience gained from years of working with large corporates and NGOs that are headquartered in the country, present a very appealing recipe for startups that are both well engineered and have a developed understanding of the business environment.’

Nothing quite exemplifies this vibrancy more than Creative Fish, a group of young students who won the pitch competition at Nairobi Startup Weekend a few months ago. They are using Raspberry Pi, a credit card sized computer to provide educational curriculum to off grid customers with no access to an internet connection. More than just an idea, they produced a working prototype. Part of their prize will be working with Nest VC for 3 months.

But it takes more than just a good idea to run a business. The manpower required to scale ventures is very important. Due to Kenya’s relative advantages in the region; a good education system, a regional headquarter for multinationals and a very well educated returnee population with international experience, it is possible to get access to great teams. Strauss Energy for example was founded by Tony Nyagah, who previously worked at the World Bank and IBM.

Kenya has all the ingredients for the innovation secret sauce. The East African Community provides a huge customer base should local businesses look to expand. The skilled manpower exists in droves and now perhaps most importantly, the investors are starting to pay attention.



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