High towered buildings, parks, geographical and historical attractions are some of the attributes that gave it its nickname, The City in the Sun. Alas, all the qualities remain but Nairobi is far from being a shining star. Nairobi is a metropolitan city and one of Africa’s busiest business centers. Maybe it is all these attributes that have increased the population of Nairobi to a whooping four million. Overpopulation has played a major role in making Nairobi what it is today.
Nairobians are very innovative always coming up with new trends. Sheng’ - a mixture of English, Swahili and other native dialects - has recently become a very important language to most Nairobians. Soon, it may have to be accepted as a national language. It is the language of choice for Nairobi’s youth, especially those of the lower classe. It is also the language of choice for matatu crews. Every area of Nairobi has its own sheng’ variations, though some phrases are common throughout the city. Outside Nairobi, every other major town has its own slang. This can be attributed to the fact that Nairobi sets the benchmark in the country with regards to social conformity.
The craziest things, however, about Nairobi are the matatus. There is a lot of talent and effort put in designing matatus. It employs numerous talented youth as a result, and competition is stiff. The big manyangas especially have very colorful artwork, reflecting the musicians and clothing trends of the day. A lot of effort goes into the sound systems, with several routes in Nairobi famous for the deafening bass lines. Large screens are a new entry into the matatu scene, with some so large they block out the passengers at the front. Who said street fashion was founded in China and only revolved around clothes?
Genge music is the only type of music in Kenya that is played and understood by Nairobi people. Unlike most other Kenyans, Nairobi artists use sheng’ and tell about the stories of living in hoods, something their audiences can easily relate to. Nairobians are always on the move and have no time to sit down and eat, hence the number of increasing fast food joints in the city. Nairobi is now a very busy place. In a way it has become like a miniature New York; the city that never sleeps.
There are darker aspects of the city, though. Commercial sex workers have made streets like Koinange well known destinations for those who want ‘sex for a fee’. Even Nairobi’s own high profile politicians have found themselves in the spotlight because of being seen at the wrong place at the wrong time. Koinange Street has also made the University of Nairobi infamous countrywide. Most of the sex workers found there are students of the university, which can only fuel speculations about moral standards and STD infections. Clubs and strip joints too have rapidly been increasing, something that was quite rare in Kenya. Most operate illegally and are not worthwhile writing about. In some situations also, underage girls are employed in these illegal work places.
Its dense population has made Nairobi home to Africa’s largest slum; Kibera. Unlike the stone-partitioned houses of the previous bigger slum in Soweto, Kibera is made mostly of shanties – iron-walled, one-roomed houses. Nairobi also houses most of Kenya’s slums; Kibera, Mathare and Korogocho are some examples. Most of these slums are lined strategically on the banks of the Nairobi River through out the city. Speaking of which, gone are its glory days. A murky, garbage filled stream is what has been left behind. The Masaai ancestors who named Nairobi, The Watering Hole, would be baffled if they were to see it now.
The crowded city is infamous for its long traffic jams due to the number of vehicles on the road. Hawkers and newspaper vendors see this as an opportunity to sell their wares. Street boys and petty thieves see this as an opportunity to conduct their ‘businesses’. Nairobi is the only city so far that one will steal a side mirror, head lights or other easily removable car parts and get away home free. Nobody does anything to help the other. These thieves are so sure of this fact that they do not bother to run after they break into somebody’s car in the midst of traffic. It says a lot about the city not being friendly. Even if you ask for directions nobody stops, it has gone as far as one could collapse on the street and all would pass by hurriedly without a look back. It has become a city of every man for him self and God for all.
Matatu drivers drive as if they were involved in a police chase. They drive at very high speeds with the music blaring out of the surround systems. They use up any available road to avoid traffic, this involves the pavements and pedestrian side walks. They also stop abruptly in the middle of the road to pick or drop passengers. Because of this, matatus can cause several accidents in a day. They rush so as to make the highest number of trips possible and earn more, never stopping to think of the passengers’ and their safety.
It’s quite amazing really how Nairobi criminals come up with the new ways and methods of conducting their businesses. Imagine walking in town, the next thing you know all your belongings are on the ground. Turn your bag over and you’ll see a big, sharp cut on the bottom and your most valuable possession gone. Some go far as to claim that their phones disappear from their bags without finding cuts or open zippers. You do not hear or see these people as they do this; it’s all a part of their trademark.
Parking cars in the city center is at your own risk. If they could vandalize your car whilst you are stuck in traffic, imagine what they will do if it is parked with no one to attend to it. Car parts are stolen and sometimes as you walk back to where you parked your car, shock on you, the car is long gone. Funny enough not only men or street children are associated with this, but also beggars and street women, most of whom have babies on their backs. When asked, they say that work sees no gender they have to survive; kazi ni kazi (work is work).
Petty theft and crime was the criminal trend in the old Nairobi. Now Nairobians have resorted to more forceful and dangerous methods of crime. The year 2009 has seen the most dangerous and alarming rates of crime and criminal trends. These include; armed robberies, fraud, carjacking and kidnapping for ransom. Carjackers have found many ways of making motorists stop on the road. They use nails on the road, broken down cars and have even moved on to smashing motorists wind screens so that they have no other option but to stop.
Kidnappers also find ways of taking people from the streets and extorting money from the victims’ families. The number of kidnapping cases has risen alarmingly this year. What is more shocking is the increasing violence that goes hand in hand with the two. It seems like it doesn’t matter if you give them what they need: they have to leave a mark on you. You can hand over your car keys but they opt to kill you anyway. Every Kenyan knows of the story of the six year old Sudanese boy who was abducted. And when he’s parents could not come up with the ransom they found the mutilated remains of their son outside their house.
To think that that is the worst Nairobians can come up with, you’ll be surprised. Recently it has come to be known that the city is now in demand for the organ business. Count yourself lucky if you’re contacted to pay ransom for a missing family member, if not contacted within a number of hours start worrying. They cut people open, get what they want and dump their bodies wherever. Survivors have sent out chain mails trying to inform and warn Kenyans of the emerging trend but what can one do, not walk on the streets?
Why? Who? These are some of the questions Nairobians ask. Sociologists and statistical analysis groups have said that these are works of organized groups or vigilantes. In desperate need to search for livelihood in this crowded city, Nairobi dwellers do what they know best; crime. Statistics show that majority of these criminals live in the slums. With no education and no job vacancies they go on to employ themselves in what they call ‘skillful trade’.
All these horror stories about day to day life in this beloved city serve to illustrate why the ‘City in the Sun’ has lost its title. If it is to ever reclaim this crown, a lot of work has to be put in. When asked, people will say that the government needs to put in more effort, what they seem to overlook is they themselves. They are the biggest obstacle. The moral decay, selfishness and tribalism that exists keeps the people apart and crime at an all-time high. Nairobians have to act fast or things will get worse before they get better for the City of Nairobi. They have to be the change the city needs to be able to return it to its former pristine glory; The City in the Sun.