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Nairobi’s elusive character

By Ferdinand Mwongela | February 18th 2016

Nairobi is a place that inspires a complicated love-hate relationship from its residents and visitors alike. The same things that make Nairobi a regional hub are sometimes the same things that make it a pain where it hurts. Sometimes it is the dogged determination of Nairobians to squeeze something out of the concrete city, or the fast pace that leaves a first-time visitor dizzy.

Growing up in a small town, the city was an awe-inspiring destination. Passing through Nairobi once on our way to Machakos for provincial schools music festival was the stuff of stories for months on end. Everyone making it to the big bad city to eke out a living was sent off with a dossier of dos and don’ts.

Those living outside Nairobi saw it as a den of iniquities where criminals roamed brazenly day and night. Probably because in smaller towns and villages the local itchy-fingered chaps are known to all, and everybody knew everyone else’s business. These are the same people who saw, maybe they still do, the city as the place they could be anything they wanted.

Nairobians themselves have mixed feelings about what it is like to live or work in the city. But away from these, there are investors for whom Nairobi, due to its position, is a vast market for goods and a rich vein of human resource.

At the end of the day, Nairobi’s character is elusive. A shape-shifting being whose pulse beats to different tunes. It all depends on whom you ask, and what their corner is in the heady din that is Kenya’s capital. NGOs have their corner, as do government types, businessmen and practically everyone else.

This could not be clearer than the reports and indices that come out in regularly, singling it out as the city to watch globally. This is especially so in matters relating to investment and technology. It is traditional to see media reports, even in this publication, proclaiming Nairobi’s prowess in this or that. That is why we are asking: Can the real Nairobi stand up?

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