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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and East Africa’s Regional Hub; Contrasts of Life


Kenya has long been a major hub city in East Africa. The city is also the regional financial and business capital. It is full of skyscrapers and numerous international hotels and malls. The recent post-election violence has, however, frightened away many tourists. I came across very few tourists here, compared to Kampala of Uganda, which normally plays second fiddle to Nairobi when it comes to tourism. Nairobi is also notorious for robberies and law and order issues. It is often nicknamed "Nairobbery" – so one does not walk on the streets at night. It is, however, ok during the day to walk around the city centre, which is full of busy office workers.
I visited Uhuru Gardens ("Freedom Gardens") in the suburbs. This was where independence was declared in 1963. A huge monument was built here in 1983 by then President Arap Moi to celebrate 20 years of independence. Across the road is the enormous Kibera Slum, Africa's second largest slum where 1.5 million people live in pathetically squalor conditions, all in spite of the promises freedom was supposed to bring. Next to Uhuru Gardens are a huge hypermart, the modern temple to middle-class consumerism; the Wilson Domestic Airport, where light private aircraft belonging to Kenya's rich and famous land and take off with a surprising frequency; and the Carnivore Restaurant, an enormous barbecue meat eat-all-you-can restaurant which is rated one of the world's 50 best restaurants. What an amazing contrast with the massive slum across the road.

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