City Centre Life off to a slow start as curfew lifted


Ravelers enjoying at Sip It Lounge in Thika after the Government eased COVID-19 restrictions on bars to close at 11pm after lifting the dusk to dawn curfew. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

It is exactly 9.52pm on Friday night. We are in Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD), along Muindi Mbingu Street.

It is the third night of freedom. 

It is supposed to be a time for nocturnals, most of whom were electrified by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision on Wednesday to end the 19-month long curfew.

But the wail of a distant dog ripples through the heart of the city.

Ordinarily, such a distant howl would have been drowned out by the booming music from nightclubs or matatus or the incessant honking of cars by motorists rendezvousing.

Perhaps, those who are newly freed, having found the price of liberty, doubt that their captors can give them freedom so easily.

It might take long for them to venture out into the dark without fear.

Streets are not as deserted as they were during the curfew period but not busy as pre-pandemic time.

And rightly so. Just across the street, Mojos, a nightclub that was once the source of noise around Kimathi Street, buckled under the weight of the stringent Covid-19 measures.

Petrol stations, most of which usually closed during the curfew hours, are open to serve the few motorists.

Traffic is light as we ride along Ngong Road. At Clique Lounge, the parking bay is full.

Taxi drivers wait patiently, as loud music cuts through the stillness of the night.

“Today, there is hope that we will make some good money,” says a boda boda operator, who only introduces himself as John.

John says that he used to work past curfew hours, waiting for the young people who were out during the forbidden hours.  

At Jiweke Tavern, just off Ngong Road, the guard is excited, and so is the management that is optimistic of brighter days ahead.

“When the president lifted the curfew triggering a chorus of celebration, a lot of people came to the club that Wednesday,” says the manager of Jiweke.

However, on Thursday, the number went down. “But they have returned today,” he says.

Jiweke Tavern often operates until 11 pm on weekdays.

On weekends, they can be open up to 8am. Both clubs are full of patrons on this night.

At 11.20pm, we ride back to the city centre. There we find half-dressed ladies of the night on almost every street. 

“Nimekula ngumu hii town, pengine sai vitu zitakuwa poa (I have had it tough in this town, perhaps now things will be good),” says one of the women trying to catch the eye of a client.

She does not want her name revealed.

She is a mother of two, she says, and will have to be home in time to prepare breakfast for her children before they leave for school.

She has to maintain a roof over their heads and ensure they are always in class. 

When curfew was in place, she had difficulty paying her bills.

At 11.36pm, we are outside Santa Fe Fish and Chips along Tom Mboya street.

I get in and grab sausages and a packet of chips. There are only three people inside, sharing a meal.

At the entrance, an itinerant trader is selling toys and next to him, another one has boiled eggs and smokies. 

We take a turn and join Ronald Ngala Street, where several flashy matatus plying the Umoja route are parked, waiting for passengers.

Touts try to outshout each other as they scramble for passengers streaming into different waiting buses. There are a lot of people around here.

Others are standing on the kerb, talking. Some young men are perched on the railings on the median.

I get into a matatu, destination is Umoja estate in Eastlands. 

There used to be a popular restaurant which had never closed its doors for a decade, I am told. But the first time it did, it never got to open them again.

There are two more clubs in Umoja estate worth visiting.

At 12.30am, I find the two clubs still open, although one has closed down an entire floor while the other floor is half full. 

After a brief 15 minutes, I leave the club. It is time to call it a night. Of course, just about the whole town went to sleep early.

But the nocturnals couldn’t waste this opportunity.

So where did the people go?

Perhaps they have not been paid their salaries.

Perhaps they do not have jobs or their purchasing power went down.

Or just maybe they found new pastimes.

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