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When you could be mauled by a lion in Nairobi and Africans didn't count

By Amos Kareithi | Jan 6th 2022 | 2 min read
By Amos Kareithi | January 6th 2022
A report by the Local Government Commission of 1927 paints a picture of a Nairobi which very few people alive today would recognise if they were to travel back in time. [File, Standard]

There was a time when one could walk around Nairobi without fear of stepping on hawkers’ tomatoes or mitumba heels.

The fear of most people allowed by colonial law to set foot on the capital 96 years ago was being mauled by lions and leopards which occasionally visited the city causing panic among horse riders and rickshaw pullers. Cars were few, remember?

These were the days the residents of Muthaiga were violently opposed to the inclusion of the leafy suburb as part of the Nairobi Municipal council.

A report by the Local Government Commission of 1927 paints a picture of a Nairobi which very few people alive today would recognise if they were to travel back in time.

At the time, Nairobi was an island encircled by small separate and purely residential suburban areas whose residents loathed being under municipal authority.

One of the key reasons the settlers opposed the inclusion of their estates into the municipal was fear that this would allow other races, mostly Asians, to own land and become their neighbours.

Despite the opposition, the local government recommended the inclusion of 15,107 acres, out of which 5,900 was to be used for developing buildings.

The number of people to be affected by this expansion of the town was 900 Europeans, 311 Indians, six Arabs and 64 others bring the total to 1,281.

The population of Nairobi municipality was then 11,864 whose breakdown was 2,665 Europeans, 7,741 Indians, 76 Arabs and 1,382 others. Interestingly, Africans were treated as people of insignificant value and were therefore not factored in the population.

To cater for the new areas, it was recommended that Muthaiga, Kilimani and Westlands be represented by one European each, while Eastleigh was to elect an Indian.

For a voter to qualify to vote in the municipal elections, one had to own property worth £100 or have an income of £36 if one was a European, £12 for an Indian.

Africans were automatically disenfranchised. Aliens could be allowed to vote but could not contest any of the seats on offer because candidates had to be British nationals who could speak and write English

A century later, Nairobi is the biggest city in East Africa with a population of 4.4 million of which half (2.25) are eligible to vote.

Still, after all these years, Muthaiga has resisted change and still remains the only original suburb whose skyline has not been desecrated by high rise apartments which block the sun.

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