Joanna Moorhead, Cafod's press officer, was asked on the eve of her recent trip to Kenya — `but is it a third world country? She answers such doubts.
"BUT is Kenya a Third world country?" people asked 'doubtfully when I told them I was off there on a CAFOD visit.
I told them I believed it was although actually I wasn't too sure either. Like them I'd read holiday brochures about a land of sun-kissed beaches and rolling hills, fun-filled safaris and luxurious game lodges, the land of Karen Blixen and Joy Adamson, of "Out of Africa" and "Born Free".
To some extent that image is easy to understand. Kenya has some rich countryside: fields of red, fertile soil and acres of coffee and tea. There are areas of great beauty.
Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is East Africa's major city and department stores and plush hotels line the leafy boulevards. Yet from the elegant, airconditioned lounge of the Hilton it is only a ten-minute drive to the Third world, The Mathare Valley, home to 169,000 slum dwellers, is just down the road.
Like most slums, the Mathare Valley is all the worse for being so close to the heart of luxury. Suddenly the safe, cosy, western-style high-rise buildings
'are left behind and you are faced with the picture of poverty most of us only ever see staring out at us from charity advertisements in newspapers. Only here you can't turn the page.
The day I visited the valley it had rained and there was thick, black, ankle-deep mud everywhere. The mud filled the narrow alleyways between the wooden shacks. Small children played in it and goats lay in it.
The mud carpeted the floors of the dark, windowless shacks, too. Ragged cloths separated the outer rooms, where the families cooked on open fires and sat, and the inner rooms where they slept.
Each shack resembled the kind of filthy den a western teenager might make to play in. The idea of a young family living in one was unimagenable. But this was poverty. This unbearable stench in the air and this airless, black, cramped room was poverty.
And this was the Third World, and this was Kenya.
Nairobi has not always had slums like these — certainly not on this scale, anyway. These urban poor were once rural poor, lured from their villages by the hope that in the city they would find work and food. Instead they found they had swapped one kind of poverty for another kind, of poverty for kind was filthier, more cramped and more precarious than the sort they left behind. But most had sold all they had to reach Nairobi: by the time they realised they should have stayed at home, they had no money left to get back.
It is hard, though, to call the people they left behind more fortunate. How can you tell a woman who walks 130 miles a week just for water that she is well-off? How can you tell a couple who lost their child because the hospital was too far away that they would have it worse in the city?
Such are the rural dwellers. Inhabitants of the northern area of Marsabit, for example, are still recovering from the 1984 famine which hit them less publicly than their Ethiopian neighbours, but almost as badly.
There, the lack of water is still the greatest problem. In the dry season rivers and wells dry up and the communities which used them have to look elsewhere for their water. And those who suffer most are the women, whose raison d'etre in these parched areas seem just to be walking water-carriers.
The lack of water is not only a sap on the strength of the rural poor. It is also the cause of much of the disease and illhealth suffered in their communities. Laisamis in northern Kenya has had no rain for the last eight months. "How can we begin to tell people about cleanliness when they don't even have water to drink?" asked Sister Josephina, an Italian nun working on a CAFOD health care programme there.
Sometimes the problems of underdevelopment, the water shortages, inadequate health care, poor communications and the rest, seem overwhelming. (And this is Kenya, the country we didn't think was in the Third World at all...) Yet there are always lights in the darkness. Sometimes the darkness is vast and the light is tiny but it is always there. In the Mathare Valley, women have set up a needlework group so they can make and sell wall hangings and generate some income for themselves. In the arid north the women who spend their lives walking for water have formed groups to give each other help and support and to look forward to the day when someone decides to give them a well.
Since my return people have asked again whether Kenya is a Third World country. I tell them it might be more accurate to ask whether there is a Third World country in Kenya — Yes.