The Plight of Tourists in Kenya!

Kenyan Elephants at Amboseli

This is Kenya for you! I am convinced that 2012 will be an eye opener for me. Every other day, there is a new opportunity to be able to understand my country Kenya and my fellow countrymen-Kenyans, and of course my continent, Africa.

Kenyan beautiful species.

For the past one month, I have had Norwegian visitors and I have made interactions with foreigners from other countries. I will tell you for sure, this has been an adventure. I have learnt so much about my own country from a different perspective a foreigners perspective.

“My country needs me more, I have to go back home,” I told all my colleagues and friends as I packed to return home after my stay abroad. This huge conviction was as a result of the many stereotypes I felt I needed to break as far as my country and continent image was concerned.

Zebra grazing at the Park

It sickened me hearing so many negative things being said about Kenyans and about Africans. “Come and visit me in Kenya and lets see if what you say is true.  As long as you are have not experienced Kenya, please let’s not make assumptions about my country.” I will defend my country.

Now, the visitors have been many and guess I will have visitors all year round. Yes, they miss me so much, so they will come and visit me in Kenya, very good for my ego. At the same time, I am determined to prove to them that Kenya is different from the perceptions that they hold about us and about Kenyans.

Tourists with the Maasai at the Manyattas

Though they reckon that we are the most friendly people on planet earth, which we are anyway, many tourists come to Kenya with preconceived mindset -(be careful, you will be robbed if not, you will be conned in Nairobi. Do not walk at night alone. Do not talk to strangers who stop you in town. You will be overcharged, *(mzungu prices). Kenyans are dishonesty people, be careful when dealing with them. These and many more, are some of the things people know about us out there.)

How true is this? To some extent, these are true perceptions. We have taken ourselves there and branded a name for us. It’s a shame my fellow Kenyans. We have a tainted image which we need to wake up and restore.

Norwegians at Amboseli.

Interacting with these foreigners has taught me many lessons. I realize I have been very naïve of so many things and at times, I really don’t get words to defend my country. Having done some courses in Diplomacy, at times I feel the need to be very diplomatic in defending my country, but it gets to a point I say, “Ok, I have no idea why we operate like this, I will find out from other people and give you feedback.”

A quick overview of things  that I don’t seem to  understand. “Why do we have mzungu prices in Kenya?” Why? Where did this notion come from? How and why? For me, this is an exploitation and this kind of exploitation is everywhere in Kenya. It steams from the policy makers and goes down to the boda-boda cyclists. This is all because we imagine these white people have more money than we do. So we look for every opportunity to exploit them. Take note of the word exploit, because this is what we do. We are very good at this, very shameful.

Monkey games at Amboseli

While at Norway, I visited Polland, Germany, Sweden and  Denmark. All the time, I was a tourist in these countries. I toured their parks, historic sites and did many other things tourists will do. I bought many soveigners, as a reminder that I had toured these countries.

Never at one point did I get special treatment as a foreigner, in Kenya we use the word (NON-CITIZEN)! I never paid special prices because I was a non-citizen. If I needed to pay, then I paid the same price just like my friends. Now, my friends have been visiting and we have toured the Amboseli National Park, The Maasai Mara, Fort Jesus (just to mention a few) and it’s incredible that we have these NON-CITIZEN prices all over.

A tourist holds a Kenyan Tortoise

At the curio shops, the vendors are quick to point out “Wewe nunua, tutakupa bei ya Mkenya, lakini wao, ni bei ya Mzungu”.  (“We will give you a Kenyan price, but your friends will pay Mzungu price,”) which is extremely exaggerated.

And guess what do these tourists do? They talk about it immediately and make all sort of remarks. “Only third world countries do this. You will find this kind of mentality in Tanzania, Nepal, Uganda and the like.” Remarked a friend from Germany.

At the Fort Jesus in Mombasa, I asked the gate-keeper to explain to me like a 3-year-old, why do I pay Ksh. 100 to access the fortress, and my foreigner friend pays Ksh.800. This is 7 times more! Why the disparity? It puzzled me. We experienced the same tendency on the Safaris at  the National Parks. As a Kenyan, I paid Kshs. 1000, Non Resident Adults (18+) – US$ 70 and above.

“You know we do this to encourage local tourism, Kenyans will not come to the park if the fees are higher than this. The foreigners are able to afford this, and many do not complain about the prices,” said one of the receptionists at the park.

Norwegian ladies at the park

Funny. What don’t we know? These tourists do not complain at the reception, they pay and immediately make huge debate about it right there. “ Oh, I find this concept extremely stupid. How does a government come up with such policies? This is all because Kenyans still imagine we are very rich people. Pass the message, we are not, we just want to visit and see your country. We sacrifice so much to make it to Africa, and of course we are not happy when we see such things.” Remarked a journalist.

A Norwegian friend saw it from a different perspective, “It’s ok Patience, we come from Norway and as you know, its one of the richest country in the world, we can afford it just to see your country,but …….., it is very segregating. This wouldn’t happen in Norway, especially when the difference is 7 or even 8 times higher than the local price.”

Kenyan Elephants

I feel their pain and I totally understand them. Travelling is a huge expense, we seem to forget this, accommodation too is a huge expense, no one seems to remember this. “Patience, Kenya is a third world country, your country needs our hard-earned cash, we will pay, just to support you to get to where we are, hope one day you will,” said a  Norwegian.

Ok, as a Kenyan, what do you think this makes me feel when such remarks are made on my face??


11 thoughts on “The Plight of Tourists in Kenya!

  1. Patience I totally agree with you,its crazy that people in Kenya believe that every mzungu has a lot of money, which I dont want to argue about. But even if they have, why exploit them??? This is a shame to our Nation.Its even good you shared this story here,I was with you Betsy and Lisa when the taxi man wanted to overchange us because we had some muzungus.I think its high time we change our perception on this.

    1. Gonsag, Yes, its time we changed perceptions. Having been there, I will tell you for sure many people in Kenya are more richer than these so called white people. But we have concepts deep rooted in us and its extremely hard to imagine that we can be better than them in many ways. Nothing happens overnight, slowly by slowly we will change perceptions.

  2. Hi Patience,
    Very interesting article, although i agree with some points, I am always a bit critical to the way we look at our home countries once we’ve spent some time abroad. I am not sure how this mzungu prices work in Kenya but in South Africa, we have something similar. For instance, if you want to visit our national parks, we have 3 different fees for entry, Local, SADC and International and I had a friend from Chile visiting me complain about this price but I explained to her that if they us all the same prices, South africans wouldnt be able to afford it so why should it be open to tourists and the locals cant even enjoy it…and in a way, she understood. We also have something similar with university fees where South Africans and SADC students pay the same fees whilst internationals pay more and I believe in the EU and the UK, they do exactly the same thing.

    So from my perspective, as much as i dont like the way the concept of Mzungu is used in the Kenyan context, I think what is being done sounds similar to the visa fees we pay when we try to travel to Europe and the US….and they normally dont pay a cent to visit us, so we should make our money somehow…

    I think its very interesting that you would like to change the perceptions of the Kenyan people, All of africa needs to change in many ways…at the same time, it would be good to see instances in Kenya where the Mzungu is favoured and whether your friends complain or feel the same way as when they are segregated.

    Great blog and Interesting topics. I esp enjoyed the one on women in politics…I am a Researcher with a strong focus feminism and Africa so I thought that was cool. Keep them coming:)


    1. Hey Gaby,

      Very good to read from you and to read your reflections on my article. Just like you, many people are always very critical of people who have spent sometime abroad. The truth is, for me I was there as a journalist, an explorer and basically spent most of my time trying to observe the similarities and differences between us and them. How do we view things, why do we reason the way we do? What perceptions do we have about other people? I am very concerned and careful about perpetuating stereotypes.

      Having done my research from all the parks I visited, it is evident that we have the price disparity in-order to encourage domestic tourism. If that is the case, then I think we should have the parks free of charge. That way, it will make some sense to me. But when a foreigner pays 8 or even 10 times what a local citizen pays, thats pure exploitation. Do we think these foreigners make 8 to 10 times what we make in Kenya? Absolutely no. And if they do, their living standards are quite high. We only need sometime away to be able to understand this simple logic.

      Then I need to inform you that, the foreigners too pay for Visa as they come to our countries. My friends have all paid for a 90 days Visa at the airport that cost them USD 50. This is normally paid in cash. Visit various websites with information on tourist visits, you will find all this information clearly stipulated.

      I am making a follow-up on this topic, with different opinions from Kenyans themselves, so be sure to read more about this.

      Thank you Gaby, looking forward to hearing from you again.

  3. Hi Patience,
    The visa thing is news to me..I guess Kenya is very different..In South Africa, they dont have to pay to enter…and i have travelled to a number of asian countries(Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong) who have exemption agreements with SA and I’ve never paid once to enter any of them and neither have they so I assumed it was the same for Kenya. I do apologise for that assumption.

    I think if you have the prices differences to encourage domestic tourism, then you are right…they shud be free…what i do know from South africa is that the national parks are subsidised by the government so whenever our tax money is used, we pay less which is the same with university fees…

    Like i said, i am not familiar with the Kenyan context but i dont think the mzungu prices are the problem..just the consequence of the problem..since you are interested in changing perceptions through your power as the media(which is powerful), you should read some postcolonial theorists(if you havent done so ofcourse) so you can understand what exactly you are dealing with…bcos there is more to it than the mzungu prices..and it plagues all of Africa…and in order to really challenge the way ppl think, i think postcolonial theorist give you another perspective which will add to ur articles as they have some really good points.


    1. Gaby,

      Thank you for your reflections on this particular blog post. Very interesting remarks. Find out more reflections concerning this subject in my current blog post!

  4. I think alot of countries do this but i have never been outside the US so i wouldn’t know beyond what i know in this country. I have seen people here do such things but they usually do it for everyone, the priceing stuff. Which means even americans pay the high price lol.

    But your right that alot of people here do not have alot of money, i think it was over 50% of people here don’t make over $15,000 a year, which in the US it barely gets you buy on everything you don’t really have a choice on paying. Bills and so on. Seriously i would like to help less fortunate countries but right now its becoming hard to live in my own. I realize that we take things for granted though. Like the internet i am using at this moment, and everything i use without thought everyday. If i am to understand correctly people in less fortunate countries have a hard time keeping food in some places, they aren’t worried about thier internet. Which makes me feel kinda selfish when i get upset when my internet isn’t working.

    Honestly i hope your country never gets like this one. We have created so much stuff people have to do to actually live here that we have to work jobs we hate just to live our own lives, and those jobs take up more than half of our own lives doing them. Which is very sad thinking about it.

  5. The whole concept of cost and price differentiation is based on nationality and not race.and so a nigerian, haitian and norwegian will both pay same fee to acces amboseli.the rationale being that a country is exporting its beauty n vista to the touring foreigner just like iran or nigeria exports its oil, which is domesticaly cheaper compared to when it lands in a foreign country.its a concept borowed from the west. Eu members , norwey included have same policies, they charge high fee to non members like russia, switzerland, for same quality services.

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