A picture of high-rise residential houses in Pipeline Estate, Embakasi in a picture taken on March 21, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

An old friend is affluent by any standard but has refused to leave Nairobi’s Eastlands for the leafy suburbs. Any economist would be curious why someone would be disinterested in moving to a higher indifference curve or utility curve as espoused by new residence. 

Don’t we all dream of shifting to the leafy suburbs? Quiet, green and spiced up with monkeys? Don’t we all dream of moving to suburbs that say “umefika“? 

A number of reasons have kept him in Eastlands. One is that friends are plenty there and he would have to seek new friends if he shifted to the leafy suburbs.

Two, there is no guarantee that he would be accepted in the leafy suburbs. Money is not the only reason one gets accepted into a higher socio-economic group. 

Three, there is no life in the leafy suburbs. There are lots of trees, monkeys and other lives. But social life is limited. Neighbours are far apart and rarely interact and after nightfall, the streets are empty. 

Compared with Eastlands where streets are full even at midnight with people chatting, walking and being relaxed. Shops and kiosks streets are open even at midnight. In the leafy suburbs, you have to drive to shop even for sukuma wiki. In Eastlands, everything is within reach. 

My friend’s reasons might appear outdated, but is happiness and satisfaction not what we are after? Whether we live in leafy or unleafy suburbs? Why not get satisfaction or happiness the cheap way? In Eastlands?

This reasoning might seem against the ethos of capitalism – the thinking that material things lead to happiness. Time has proved this is a grand illusion, few capitalists want to admit that, rest they be deflated. 

When foreigners from developed countries visit a country like Kenya, they are surprised by the state of happiness and relaxation despite “poverty.” I wonder why we think rural folks are poor. They own their land, pay no rent, are well fed and have time to relax. That is what the urban capitalists are looking for and may never get it in their lifetime. 

Think deeply, this observation that my friend is disinterested in leaving Eastlands for leafy suburbs (name them) means that we need to redefine what’s affluence.

Are economists willing to do that? Where do you live? Are you satisfied? Would you leave your current residence?  Do you think you will be happier elsewhere? Talk to us.