Over the past four months I’ve traveled through Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, evaluating each in terms of where I would like to live for the next few years building a business.
After spending three and a half months keeping my mind open to all options (that I felt were morally acceptable), in Zanzibar I began to crunch through everything that I had learned, and switched focus towards fleshing out a plan of action for what I was going to do.
This post is about how I came to the decision of picking Kenya as the place to base myself from (once I get a visa).
Head and heart
When confronted with a problem I have a bias towards analysis.
In coming down on where it was that I wanted to settle, I envisaged the final decision emerging after a series of reasoned pros and cons lists, lots of comparing and contrasting, and a final showdown to whittle out the winner.
As it happened, Kenya just “felt” right
I was walking along the white sands of Zanzibar after having done some work that morning and was mulling over some scenarios.
In all cases, it seemed that based on what I’d experienced over the previous three and a half months Kenya was the winner, and so rather than go through the process of formally reasoning it out, I decided to finish the trip there and just cracked on and booked my flight home from Nairobi.
Out of interest
A bit of me though was still interested in rationalising the decision, and so sat looking out upon a herd of camel on Sunday morning, I decided to embark on some post hoc analysis.
Below is how I explain the decision, both in words and numbers.
The decision: in words
Before coming to Kenya I’d heard that it was the hub of technology, but also that Nairobi was incredibly dangerous.
Reading back on the “Why I am moving to Africa” post, I didn’t even mention it in the shortlist of countries as it failed the “low chance of being killed by a terrorist/ armed robber” criterion.
Upon arriving in East Africa though I met people who said it wasn’t too bad and, as my tourist visa allowed it, I thought why not go and check it out.
Of course experiences differ, but the fact that I’ve not felt threatened in my time there and have been able to freely walk around during the day has removed this dealbreaker from the negotiation table.
With that out of the way, there are some fundamental reasons why I think Kenya is good, though I still acknowledge it isn’t without fault.
Big local market: what excited me about the region is the crest of businesses and consumers who are beginning to gain access to products and services that previously weren’t available to them. Kenya’s large and relatively prosperous population means that any product/ service that is started has a good chance of being used, rather than be too dependent on external (aid based) factors.
Coast: from my interpretation of development economics a huge accelerator of prosperity comes from exporting internationally competitive produce. Avoiding costly barriers that come from moving goods between countries means goods I’d look to work with would be just a cargo ship away from lucrative markets.
Language: this is two-fold. Firstly, the level of English in Kenya is to a standard where I can easily communicate with street sellers and Uber drivers (not always the case in Rwanda and Tanzania). This is a plus in terms of not being totally dependent on someone else for day to day interactions. Secondly, I hear Swahili is a very learnable language which, as someone who only really speaks English, is good news as it means I have a chance of learning it if I put my mind to it. I’ve found an increasing return on investment of each local phrase learned and so am keen to continue this trend and get closer to the local culture.
Expensive: I really notice the cost of things in Nairobi (~50% higher than Kampala) and it’ll also mean monthly outgoings will be higher, especially important when starting out.
Corruption: I’ve not witnessed it first hand, but enough people have spoken about it that makes me factor it in to my thoughts. Businesses are getting on, but I’ve been conscious to avoid considering industries particularly susceptible to this type of interference (e.g. infrastructure and logistics)
Elections: the presidential election is happening in August. It’s often less than peaceful and so the disruption could have repercussions for whatever work I do. I’m unsure how long term the effect will be.
The decision: in numbers
I find it interesting/ enjoyable to visually represent the story behind numbers.
Below is an interactive tool that displays how I feel about different countries across a range of criteria.
Essentially each country got a score against each of the criteria I felt were important in where to live and set up a business, roughly grouped into: Personal, Business, Political and Financial. Some factors are, to me, more important than others and so get a greater weighting.
If you’re on a desktop, you might find it easier to view in “Full Screen Mode” by clicking the two-way arrow in the bottom right
For those who just want the quick answer though, here are the aggregated scores for each country
And here is a graph of how each country did when the scores were totted up for each category
Interestingly Rwanda comes top (or nearly top) for everything except Business. This is probably because I’ve put the things in its control like Ease of setting up a business in the Political category and have marked them down for things more or less beyond their control (e.g. size of local market, proximity to the coast).
Nevertheless, it shows, by my reckoning, how despite its best efforts I’d be weary of building a business there. If I was doing any non-business activity in East Africa, it would be a no-brainer.
As you’ll notice from the parentheses however, the big caveat underlying all of this is the legal right to work in Kenya.
Grappling with the multitude of visa options and various flavours of red tape is, I’m finding, a bit of a headache and so can imagine that it won’t be as straightforward as one might hope. The fact that other people are able to manage it though is consolation and so fingers crossed won’t be a blocker.
I’ll be updating my progress towards reaching a decision in the following posts, and you can add your email below to receive updates:
Also, if you’re interested in the methodology behind how I came up with this analysis, or have any questions about it, feel free to send me a message