please do away with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung”

Big business and economic development in “pristine lands” is awful. Especially if you grew up with the comforts of indoor plumbing and general over-abundance of the purest hedonistic-capitalist kind. It is only when you have the choice to pop in and out of “tropical obscurity” that you would find the intellectual courage to defend a way of life that is just above that of man circa 1750 A.D. Suddenly you find yourself forgetting the basic fact that it is underdevelopment that makes infant mortality, HIV infection rates, gender inequality and a whole lot of other maladies most acute in your presumed tropical paradise.

I am beginning to read things to the effect that the development of a port in Lamu (Kenya) is bad – both for the environment and the local people and their culture. I don’t buy most of the stuff though. The likes of Gettleman want us to believe that people in places like Lamu are inherently anti-development. According to him the people of Lamu “say they are not especially well suited for the mechanized world.” Good for them. They would much rather live with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung” than have a modern port constructed in their district. This is total horse manure.

Firstly, the environmental costs of having a modern port in Lamu will surely be outweighed by the socio-economic benefits. Oil exports from Uganda and Southern Sudan, among other trading opportunities in the wider region will surely create jobs in the area. Secondly, why should we assume that exposure of Lamu culture to the wider (albeit still not completely apparent) Kenyan Culture is necessarily bad? Aren’t cultures supposed to change with time? Plus if Lamu culture cannot keep up after such an encounter it should be allowed to go the way of the dodo. That is why we build museums.

If it can be done – as it should – the construction of Kenya’s second port in Lamu should be a foregone conclusion. The Kenyan government should make this crystal clear to all the environmentalists and anthropologists concerned.

3 thoughts on “please do away with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung”

  1. you have to admit ken,it’s sought of a dilemma considering the negative consequences.That is not to say that it should not go on but………


  2. The port has been built…but for sake of argument, why is it okay to sit back and let “endangered species” be extinguished for the sake of development? It seems like uour argument is that development of the thing of the upmost importance–even if it means that places like Lamu will become extinct, museum relics. If you had a beloved rose garden being strangled by weeds, would you sit back and let the weeds kill your roses? Well maybe you would, but that’s how I see Lamu. Its like a rose in the midst of the ugly weed infestation of capistalism. And your argument is that underdevelopment results in things like HIV infection, etc. Is that really true? HIV infection in more highly developed areas of Kenya, such as Mombasa and Nairobi. Its about 6% in Lamu i.e. while its about 30% in Kisumu. I don’t have the statistics of infant mortality etc. so I can’t say anything about that. But I think us people in capitalist countries end up getting our priorities messed up. Development etc. at any cost. What is the next thing you will be proposing? Bulldoze 14th century Swahili houses to build McDonalds? My argument is, leave at least one corner of the world untouched by the Western capitalist world, please.


  3. Alex, excellent points you raise. Just a few points of clarification. Firslty, I did not mean to say that poverty increases HIV infection rates – the correlation is very strong between the two, though. What I meant to state is the fact that poorer, less educated, and generally underdeveloped places – on average – have higher infection rates (the mechanisms are obvious). That is just a fact. Secondly, I am all about conservation of culture, history and what not, BUT not at the expense of human lives (preserving Lamu so that wealthy Nairobians can be happy while locals languish in poverty is just plain wrong, in my opinion). And lastly, Capitalism is not essentially Western. The West may have “discovered” it but it is a human way of efficient socio-economic organization. The trick to success is not to shun capitalism but to embrace and tame it so that it services society and not the other way round. That is my eight cent say on this.


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