Nairobi city's leading export will surprise the nation

Aerial view of a section of godowns in Embakasi, Nairobi, May 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Nairobi is a great city, even welcoming us back after the Christmas holidays. Seen the billboards? Once we get into the city, we don’t leave. After forty years, I am still trying to leave the city.

The city, whose location was well thought out, between the endless plains and well-watered highlands, has been there for more than a century.

Do you recall anyone celebrating the centenary in 1999?  Everyone was too busy and may be scared by the millennium bug. It could be age or just curiosity but I am getting obsessed with the city.

It is a huge parasite, depending on other counties for everything. The only thing that Nairobi has in plenty is prestige whose authenticity can be debated.  

The city imports food from neighbouring countries and abroad. The huge supply lowers the price of food. The city even prohibits us from growing food! The last time I tried chicken, kanjo came calling.

Check city by-laws. The only crop that used to do well was trees. Now the best-performing crop is concrete - best espoused by the expressway.

Nairobi imports labour, both in quantity and quality. The hardest jobs are not done by Nairobians, both manual and brain-wise. Like food, the large supply of labour keeps wages low. Young kids dream of coming to the city to live and work. They even visit while in school to whet their appetite.

Nairobi imports water. Nairobi River can’t quench your thirst. Crystal-clear water flushes toilets in the city!

Even capital is imported either through the stock exchange or hard cash as investors seek higher returns.

Bales of mitumba salvaged from a burning stall in Kamukinji, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

That has driven the price of assets up.  Nairobi even imports sleep! Without satellite towns like Githurai, Mlolongo, Kikuyu, Ruaka among others, Nairobians would go without sleep.

These small towns are Nairobi’s bedrooms. Let’s go to exports. The city exports manufactured goods to other counties and abroad. No wonder you can make big money in the city; more like a colonial system.

Nairobi imports cheap labour, cheap raw natural materials and capital, they are value-added and exported. Even services are pricier once you cross into Nairobi, from tea to rent or haircut. 

Nairobi has had another leading export, death. Every weekend, convoys snake out of the city for funerals in the countryside. Nairobi gets your youth and energy and then jettisons you after death.

Do you recall a huge debate on getting a new cemetery after Langata got full? Is that why we are preferring cremation?

Nairobi is also pampered with roads, rails, and other facilities.

It has more than one airport, other counties see planes from above. If I seat in the car and sleep, I can tell when I am out of the city. Potholes, rubbish or “chaos” emerge.  

Nairobi has another major export which prompted me to write this; its children. Did you hear the minister of education say that about a third of KCPE graduates can’t get space in city secondary schools?

They have to be exported to other counties. Yet few city students ever dream of going to the rural areas, even visiting it is hard for them.

Moi Avenue Primary School KPSEA candidates queue as they wait for the examinations in Nairobi on November 28, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Rural children love the city and learn its hard way later; all that glitters is not gold. I came to the city as a schoolboy and went through the learning curve.

Nairobi’s key export starts early with lots of Nairobi children exported to primary schools in the rural areas, and boarding schools. Parents consider Nairobi too disruptive for a good education.

After Form Four or six depending on the schooling system, more children are exported abroad to study in universities.

The city can’t offer the most basic need to its children, education. It comes out as a heatless city. We have seen rising skyscrapers and double-decker roads. But when did the city last build a primary school or secondary school? And without hiving a secondary school from a primary school?

Why do we buy land for highways, roads, and other facilities but not for schools? When are we getting megaprojects like the expressway for Nairobi but for schools?

Clearly, Nairobi is doing a lot of disservice to its children. The skyscrapers and high-rise apartments should be in tandem with other facilities like schools, parks, hospitals and playgrounds.

What leaves my head spinning is that despite Nairobi’s failure to take care of her most vulnerable members, the children and devolution entrenched in our constitution, the flow to Nairobi has never slowed. Does the city use imported juju?