The British empire was forged in the City of London. The city was also home for the Romans who ruled Britain for 400 years, a fact rarely discussed in public - it would probably dilute the myth of British invincibility and “greatness”.
London is like a giant museum with ancient buildings well preserved, beautiful parks and old churches. Few buildings are under construction. Apartments are rare - at least in the part I visited, Shephard’s Bush. I was told council regulations keep the city as original as possible.
What the city lacks in building diversity, she has made in human diversity. A visit to restaurants and walking around leaves no doubt this is a global city. You can eat Turkish shawarma or Thai rice. I am told Kenyan nyama choma is available. I ate very good salmon at a Somali restaurant.
Curiously the price of salmon and beef is the same. There is plenty of salmon from Norway and Scotland. Supply and demand at work.
Visiting malls such as Westfield shows the presence of the most popular brands, another sign it’s a global city. The prices reflect the demand of this global audience. A glass of sugarcane juice goes for about £5, about Sh750 compared to Sh120 in Nairobi.
It’s spring in London, with the cold winter ending. That does allow you to keep away your jacket. I am told the city rarely freezes, it’s now like Nairobi in July minus the clouds.
Brits still keep left unlike 75 per cent of the world. They still talk of miles and gallons. And it seems you can make a three-point turn or u-turn anywhere. It’s a quiet city, making Nairobi look chaotic. Luckily, we get used to that and love it.
Out of the city, it quickly becomes rural, just like Nairobi. You can see and smell centralisation in London, which seems to suck economic air from the countryside, again just like Nairobi. A drive to Manchester, 300 kilometres away, gave me a chance to see the English countryside. Memories of the Industrial Revolution were evident on the way, with a motor museum near Coventry. More later.
Unlike Nairobi, the city is not overcrowded, and there are enough walking spaces and buses to take you around. London is more Nairobi before redevelopment took place. If you want a piece of London, visit Kijabe Street, Kenyatta Avenue or Koinange street and it’s broadness with enough walking space for pedestrians.
London is quiet and civil, and one is left wondering privately where colonialism and its excesses came from. From the way they walk or talk with you, it’s hard to believe the same Britons once had an empire that ruled a quarter of the world.
What motivated them to be empire builders? We seem to have been so annoyed with colonialism that we forgot to ask what drove it.
Was colonialism not similar to our hunting and gathering? Only that Britons went hunting and gathering to all corners of the planet. Lots of wealth in London most likely came from the far-flung corners of the empire.
Is it possible that Britons learnt about colonialism from the Romans or was it from their neighbours, the Spanish and Portuguese?
I found by accident another driver of colonialism - the law of primogeniture, where the firstborn inherited all the wealth from the parents. Did this force other children to seek wealth in the empire? We had something similar in Kenya where sons inherited their fathers, while daughters did not. Now everyone can inherit. The consequences of that are still playing out. Will sons seek wealth elsewhere? Will sisters prefer not to marry?
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Back to London. The city’s growth is more than the seat of the empire but the ability to attract capital and brains. The multiplicity of races and nationalities means more brains and innovation, just like Nairobi which has resisted devolution. Noted the vehicles from other counties on the streets of Nairobi every day?
The Brits, by coincidence or providence, are still gathering from the empire or its remnants. Brexit has made that gathering more urgent. Noted the return of UK as a preferred education destination away from USA for Kenyan students? Noted their aggressive marketing in Kenya?
We may not be as conservative as London, but we can learn from its attractiveness for brains and innovations, particularly in financial services. A city should be known not for the height of skyscrapers or highways, but the brains it attracts and their creativity and innovation.
A few things left my head spinning after my exploratory visit to London. I did not see a toll road in London, except on the way to Manchester. Tolling seems a Chinese or American innovation.
Two, police are rare on the road. In fact, from London to Manchester, 300km and back, I did not see a single policeman on the road.
Three, there is free rescue if you get a mechanical problem on the highway, and many stopovers allow you to rest, go to the washroom and take a bite. Clearly, the highways have tourists in mind. The other day we were debating if highway builders should provide toilets.
Four, flying into London, one is taken aback by the amount of unbuilt land, in a city 2000 years old. That pattern continues into the countryside. Compare that with Kenya as you drive from East to West.
Lastly, the big number of high-end cars on the road such as Porsche left no doubt UK is a wealthy country or has wealthy people.