It is hard to imagine that here, in the heart of Kilimani, Señor Pete is pumping out California-quality burritos. But it’s true. The small Mexican café gets started early. As customers line up for their morning chai ya maziwa (the local milk tea), Pete’s staff is busy making tortilla dough and smashing farm fresh avocados into a tangy guacamole. Located on the ground floor of the iHub, Pete’s is just one of many strange juxtapositions I have come to know during my first few days in Kenya. While an authentic Mexican restaurant in Nairobi indeed seems odd, at further examination Pete’s success actually makes sense. The café is truly representative of Kenya’s unique blend of east and west—and underscores the country’s multicultural vibe and grand global ambitions.
Beyond burritos, this global outlook is apparent throughout Bishop Magua Center—the office block where both Pete’s and Ushahidi (my employer for the summer) are located. Several years ago Ushahidi launched the iHub, a tech workspace and innovation hub aimed at empowering Africa’s next generation of technocrats. Following iHub’s lead, many other organizations set up shop at Bishop Magua including the Praekelt Foundation (an incubator for mobile technology which improves the health and well-being of people living in poverty), FrontlineSMS (a text-based software provider), and a branch of GSMA (an alliance of mobile network operators). Besides these big names, smaller start-ups are making noise. M-Farm, farmforce, Savannah Fund, and many other micro-entrepreneurs building mobile apps and games are located right here in Kiliamani.
Clearly, the iHub and others have sparked a bit of a revolution here in East Africa. Not a day goes by without a new article proclaiming Kenya’s emerging tech sector and promise of growth. Nairobi’s been called Silicon Savannah with high hopes of transforming Kenya into an economic powerhouse. With this growth comes the possibility of high-paying jobs and strong opportunities for professional advancement. It is indeed exciting—and I feel privileged to play a very small part this summer through my fellowship at Ushahidi.
So next time you bite into your Chipotle burrito, think about its brother being consumed at Pete’s, working to fuel the talented, innovative young minds at Bishop Magua Center. Call it growth by guacamole or burrito diplomacy, either way economic advancement and additional foreign investment is certainly in Kenya’s future. You can read more about my summer in Nairobi here at my Tumblr: http://nairobridge.tumblr.com