In the aftermath of the 1998 Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, a fierce debate ensued among our government leaders. On the one hand, some argued in favor of diminishing our presence on this continent, and especially in the volatile Horn of Africa, to reduce the risk to our diplomatic and development corps. Others countered that to withdraw in the face of terrorist attacks was the wrong response. They argued in favor of increasing our footprint abroad while making security upgrades to lower the threat profile of our embassies. This view ultimately carried the day, and not only did the State Department build a massive new embassy in Nairobi, but the Mission also began to grow by leaps and bounds.
Those, like our Chargé, who have served in Kenya before, tend to be surprised at how much the Mission has grown in the last 5-10 years. With over 1500 employees, Nairobi is now the State Department’s largest post in sub-Saharan Africa, and it keeps growing, driven by its status as the hub of East Africa and a long history of friendly relations between the United States and Kenya. All this expansion brings with it growing pains and major headaches for the Management staff, who have to figure out how to fit an ever-increasing number of employees into the existing office space. Despite the fact that the chancery building is brand-new, it seems to be constantly undergoing internal modification, as offices get sub-divided and reconfigured. Just recently, for example, D’s floor lost its kitchen, which was converted into more cubicles.
Even though the CDC offices are located cross-town on the campus of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, CDC and KEMRI/CDC staff has also expanded exponentially over the years and space comes at a premium. In the ten months that S has worked there, she has had five different desks. She was even told to move across the parking lot to a smaller annex building, but skirted this sixth relocation. She has moved desks so often that the routine has taken on the scripted feel of a scene from Office Space. Each time, her boss comes to her desk and asks if she has a minute; he then walks her to another office or wing in the building and informs her of her new location. Since S travels to and from work each day with her work laptop and most important papers, there’s really only the name placard, a box of tea, and one pile of files to move. All she needs to complete the resemblance to Milton Waddams is a red Swingline stapler.