Terry Leahy; Management in 10 Words
I never realised just how emotive of an issue supermarkets are in this country. I sat in the audience, waiting to hear Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tescos, talk about his new book, and eavesdropping on the audience behind, which is almost the juiciest part of Festivals. The slide show in front showed all the various Hay festivals around the world, and the lady behind me commented that she hoped that sessions were relevent to the country of the Festival. At that moment, I thought to myself, I could never imagine a session such as this one taking place in Nairobi. But, by the end of the session, I think, perhaps this really is a conversation we need to be having back home.
The session started with Terry Leahy talking about his background, and his new book ‘Management in 10 Words’, but I could sense a stirring from the audience, and about halfway through, they couldn’t contain themselves, and one lady yelled out from the crowd about needing to ask a question. It became clear as Terry fielded questions about the agressive nature of big supermarkets, that a lot of the audience felt fiercely protective about their towns and the small independent shops. This is probably not news in the UK, but what was really interesting to me, is that Kenya is the absolute direct opposite of that.
The country welcomes with open arms, almost anybody who wants to come in and do business, without a thought of the longer term consequence of new players in industries. Don’t even get me started with our new road network, which I am convinced has been designed by the three blind mice. It’s not so much that which worries me, but the fact that we as a Kenyan public, and most likely the government too, do it without questioning, and without any challenge to the intentions of these players…all in the name of development. I am going to go ahead and say it, but I think it is a cultural thing. Audiences here at Hay seem to be very comfortable with asking difficult questions, challenging and enquiring, in a way that almost feels like heckling to my always-need-to-be-polite
conservative Kenyan self – and isn’t that ironic, Kenyans seem to have become more British than the British themselves! That for is why festivals like this are so important, and that is why having a festival in Nairobi is just so darn important – it encourages a culture of enquiry and healthy debate about what is happening in our societies; something that is not just nice to have, but is absolutely essential in a country that is attracting much international investment attention these days. So, perhaps this year at the Storymoja Hay Festival, we need to discuss what is it about our society that for the most part, makes us meekly accept whatever comes our way, and not get up and heckle from the crowd.
By Aleya Kassam