They Came They Saw They Stayed!

By Kabukuru, Wanjohi | New African, June 2012 | Go to article overview

They Came They Saw They Stayed!


Kabukuru, Wanjohi, New African


Kenya has attracted European and other "expatriates" for centuries. They come, they like it and stay - even to the extent that some of the harshest critics of Kenya, who happen to be European and American diplomats refuse to go home when their tour of duty ends. Some stay for good, and some even take on Kenyan nationality. What is it about Kenya that they like so much? We asked our correspondent, Wanjohi Kabukuru, to find out.

FORTY-ONE YEARS AGO, LESLIE DUCKWORTH, AN American student, visited Kenya. She loved what she saw, and would return many times later. "I first came to Kenya in 1971 as a university student. We travelled the length of the coast on an ancient ex-police Triumph motorbike and ended up in Lamu," Duckworth recalls. "We returned to Lamu many times, married there in 1980, and later bought our first property in Shela." For the last 33 years Duckworth has made Kenya her home.

Tom Wolf, another American, came to Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer late in the 196os. The love-affair with the East African nation was instantaneous. "Many of those who came, like me, had no initial long-term intentions, but Kenya has so much to offer beyond the professional challenges," says Wolf. "There is cultural and geographic diversity with an incredible natural beauty and climate, especially in the higher elevations. There are mostly wonderful, friendly people without racial or religious bias and hang-ups."

Like Wolf, Karen Rothmyer also came to Kenya as a Peace Corps teacher in the 196os. After a colourful career as a reporter on Wall Street and as the managing editor of The Nation in the US, she returned to Kenya in 2007 and has lived in Nairobi since then, working as the public editor of The Star.

Andrew McGhie was an author in London when he made his trip to the northernmost tip of Kenya's coastal island resort town of Lamu in the 1990s. Today McGhie is a realtor running Lamu Island Property, a real estate firm. He has been doing the job since 2002. He too fell for the charms of Kenya.

It is the same story with German economist Wolfgang Fengler, the World Bank's lead economist for Kenya. "When I first came to Kenya in August 199o," he reveals, "I was a back-packer on a shoestring budget. At midcourse between Cape Town and Cairo, I got accommodation at the New Kenya Lodge in River Road for $2.5o. After spending two nights there, I continued my journey to Garissa and Liboi towns, heading to Somalia."

Fengler fell in love with Kenya and returned with his wife four years later. "In 1994, I returned with my wife and in downtown Nairobi, urban chaos and poverty struck her so much that she was reluctant to come back is years later when I was offered a job [by the World Bank's office in Nairobi]. Today I enjoy the full beauty of Kenya with my family and we all agree that this is one of the most beautiful countries in the world," Fengler says.

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Like him, Michael Joseph also came to Kenya to head the mobile phone operator, Safaricom, just over a decade ago. Today Joseph has not only become a Kenyan but bought a home in Laikipia.

Kuki Gallmann was born in Venice, Italy in 1943 and moved to Kenya with her late husband in the 1970s. She authored the world best-selling autobiography, "I Dreamt of Africa", which was later made into a film of the same title.

Even though she tragically lost both her husband and son in Kenya, she never left. In 1984 she created the Gallmann Memorial Foundation and The Gallmann Africa Conservancy in memory of her husband and son, and dedicated her 100,000-acre ranch in the Laikipia ridges to wildlife conservation.

To understand why these seven "expatriates" (elsewhere in the world they would be called "immigrants") with totally different inclinations, ages, and world views would gladly leave their homes and settle in Kenya speaks volumes about this East African nation.

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