Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kenya On My Mind

It is a rainy day in Pretoria. The first real rains of the season. The Jacaranda trees that line the streets of Pretoria are in full purple bloom. Quite a beautiful sight to see.

By the end of next week I will be in Nairobi and surrounds for 22 days and I can't hardly wait. I need to be outside of South Africa for a while.

Over the years I have noticed that extended periods of time in any one place makes me even grumpier than usual. ;0)

This morning I was listening to a talk station on my way to work and working up a tension sweat each time the presenter, or advertisements, lauded the role of "entrepreneurship" to take "South Africa (or a company) to the "next level".

Why is there is such a fixation on "entrepreneurship" in South Africa? And, what the hell is the "next level"?

Can anyone run out of "levels"? Or, is "entrepreneurship" a means of creating infinite "levels" to step up to?

On Monday I attended a forum held by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) or what was just the Department of Foreign Affairs not too long ago.

The forum was aimed at bringing academics and think tankers together to brainstorm about the "next level" in foreign policy.

The impressive conference room was filled with thinking folks you see on TV, usually the news. Important personalities that have "taken it to the next level" and now hover above mere mortal academics who are still trying to figure out how to cite and footnote properly.

A lot was said. A lot of pretense was postured. A lot of levels were pointed to.

At the end of the 8 hour deliberations it was concluded that South Africa needed a new drive, a new "entrepreneurship" in international relations, so that the country can "take it to the next level" to meet the "prospects and challenges" of a rearranged globe.

I was lost.

In the international relations theory I studied and taught there was/is no section on "entrepreneurship" and the "next level".

I am worried. Really worried.

What happened to all that emphasis on the politics of power and interests? Has Realpolitik been replaced by "entrepreneurship" and "the next level"?

Should I expect calls from former students, particularly the unemployed ones, who will  angrily blame me for not teaching them about "entrepreneurship" and the "next level" in international relations?

On my way out of the very impressive DIRCO building I looked around thinking that it looked more like The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. than a building housing a very small African power in global politics.

DIRCO had obviously stepped up to a "next level" but hardly anyone noticed, or even cared.

Nonetheless, the very shiny floors and over-trained personnel who were so un-South African in their demeanor and habit of helping you find your way around the large vacuous spaces was not lost on me.

As I walked to the elevator a former colleague from Village Hell University asked me if I had driven my old pick-up truck to DIRCO with a recurring smirk on his face.

I nodded yes and he shook his head disapprovingly. He obviously thought I needed a "next level" vehicle to park alongside the "entrepreneurship" cadres.

We stood in front of the elevators (lifts) momentarily as I tried to remember which floor I had parked on.

"I think I have to go down a level," I said.

"I have to go up a level," the colleague replied.

I nodded and took the stairs down to the basement.

I drove home quietly inside the noise of a 14 year old pick-up. Inside my head were random thoughts about learning what is meant by "entrepreneurship" so that maybe I could, you know, take it to the "next level".

Or maybe not.

I wonder if they have "entrepreneurship" and the "next level" in Kenya?

I will let you know in the coming weeks.



Dade said...

Beautifully-written post, Ridwan.

Entrepreneurship has the same ring to it as does the phrase "free-market capitalism" here in the USA.

If you can, post pics of Kenya! Safe travels.

Ridwan said...

Thank you ever so kindly Dade!

I worry about these empty phrases. It hides so much hey.

Another one thrown around a lot is the "national democratic revolution" ... ask what it means and you will be in for a long walk through mostly nothingness.

I will definitely post pictures from Kenya.

Trust you are well my brother. I am sure it is great to have Maty back home hey. Please pass my greetings.