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‘Reli’ at 100: An anatomy of the Kenyan dream

By XN Iraki | Jan 11th 2022 | 4 min read
By XN Iraki | January 11th 2022

Uhuru Park is one of the few open spaces in the capital. [Courtesy]

The designers of the city of Nairobi had an easy job; they simply copied the city of London.

The Nairobi River is the equivalent of River Thames, while Uhuru Park is what Hyde Park is to Londoners.

However, either by design or coincidence, the designers of the two cities seem to have thought ahead of their time, factoring in climate changes and the greenhouse effect.

They left green spaces, not just for beauty but also for climatic reasons.   

The trees and other vegetation in Nairobi absorb carbon dioxide and also give residents places to relax, thus acting as “emotional sinks”. The original purpose of Uhuru Park, for instance, was to create a place for Nairobians to relax.  

Curiously though, we stopped investing in open spaces despite the population rising rapidly over the years. Why can’t we have parks like Uhuru Park in other parts of the city and other towns? 

Why do we think cities are about high-rise buildings? How many parks does Kenya’s newest city, Nakuru, have? 

Uhuru Park is one of the few open spaces in the capital. Besides serving as a recreational park, it has a new use — a drop-off point for students from the countryside as the schools close. On a closing day, it’s a sea of yellow buses. 

There is another green area that defines the beauty of Nairobi — the Railway Golf Club or Reli as the place is popularly known. A railway line passes through the course with golfers hitting golf balls across the railway line or waiting for trains to pass.

The view of Nairobi’s skyline from various points in the golf course is breathtaking. If you are keen, you will enjoy the scenery of Nairobi more than a round of golf.  

The club is 100 years old, having survived two world wars, several presidents and governors. It now defines the Kenyan dream.

The designers of Nairobi knew work and no play makes Jack, or is it Kamau, a dull boy. They had a dream that the city would become our home.

They knew that beyond work, we needed time for leisure and a place to exhale. Have you noted how roundabouts and overpass bridges have become places to relax for Nairobians? Check that footbridge at Mlolongo or the roundabouts on the Thika Superhighway and Eastern bypass on weekends.

This is why setting golf courses, game reserves and leisure parks was a foresight. They espouse the Kenyan dream. If you want to see and feel the Kenya dream, stop at Reli’s hole number 3, which runs parallel to the upcoming Nairobi expressway.

As you tee off, construction workers are putting final touches on the road. Passengers in matatus, private cars, boda bodas, as well as pedestrians watch you as you tee off or make a putt on the green. 

Behind the tee lies a graveyard where the dead lie, some veterans of great wars. Where is the dream? I wonder what the passersby thinks of the golfers; and how many of these pedestrians, commuters, boda boda riders and ordinary hustlers will one day play golf and admire Nairobi’s changing skyline from the club awash with trees and greenery? 

Every Kenyan should have a chance to live their dream, ride on the expressway, play golf and even be buried in a decent cemetery.

Noted the well-manicured commonwealth war graves on Ngong Road and other locations? The road to upward mobility should be open to all. Hard work should be rewarded. We should transit from admiring golfers to playing golf ourselves.  

I have seen that happen in my lifetime. As we think about the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) or even a next president, let’s think about giving all Kenyans equal opportunities from birth to death.

That is the core of the Kenyan dream. Lots of Kenyans dream of immigrating to other countries or even becoming dual citizens to achieve their dreams. The majority will never leave this country. There is no place that epitomises the Kenyan dream better than the Railway Golf Club. After all, it’s on rails that the foundation of the Kenyan economy was laid and is being revised through the Standard Gauge Railway.  

I hope my progeny will play at Reli by around 2921 AD and celebrate the club’s 1,000 years. They will look back with pride and say; “those who came before us left this green space. We too must bequeath it to our grandchildren.” 

It’s time we stopped seeing green spaces like golf courses as a “waste,” thinking they are best suited for buildings. They spice up city life. Take a walk in Reli when angry or stressed and feel the difference. 

Finally, it was a pleasure to play golf at Reli with Nathan Njuguna, my former student and now the club’s captain.

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