Cradled between Mount Kilimanjaro to the southwest and Mount Kenya to the north, is Nairobi. Formerly a railway supply depot, Kenya’s capital rises from the swamps mid-way between Kampala and Mombasa.
Straddling Massai and Kikuyu land, the city has been subject to historic struggles, notably the Mau Mau uprising that led to Kenya’s independence. These days, the city’s major struggle is with maintaining its ageing infrastructure, overstressed by a burgeoning population.
The city is prone to frequent blackouts. In a bid to diversify energy sources, local electricity providers have recently begun investing in wind turbines. This shift toward renewable energy complements the city’s green moniker “Green City in the Sun.”
Sitting beneath a leafy carapace, Nairobi is liberally endowed with parks and green spaces. Notably, its central business district is linked to the Upper Hill neighbourhood by Nairobi’s famous Uhuru Park, while the Nairobi national park is a world-famous safari destination.
Big game is a major draw for tourists, who in turn, are often a target for muggings. Crime here is prolific, albeit petty, earning the Nairobi the unfortunate nickname “Nairobbery.” The level of crime is symptomatic of Nairobi’s social fabric; some 60% of the city’s population lives in the Kibura and Mathare slums, which are among the biggest in the world.
These provide a stark contrast with the gated compounds and spacious villas in the northern suburbs of Hill View, Lake View and Rosslyn Ridge, where you’ll find the majority of Nairobi’s expats.
Finding accommodation near to your workplace is strongly advised. In 2012, traffic jams in Nairobi cost the economy over 50 million Kenyan shillings ($600,000) per day in lost productivity, fuel consumption and pollution, according to official figures. Projects such as a major ring road, coupled with the UN’s sustainable transport solutions program, promise to ease Nairobi’s traffic problems. Meanwhile, the proliferation of glittering shopping centres indicates that the Kenyan capital’s economy is finally picking up.
What is special or unique about your city?
Nairobi literally means "the place of cool waters," but the city is also called "Green City in the Sun," because of its climate and pollution-free, green environment. It has many parks and open green spaces throughout and enjoys a lovely climate. Its altitude makes for some chilly evenings. The warmest time of the year is from December to March, when temperatures average in the mid-20s. Nairobi is now one of the most prominent cities in Africa, politically and financially.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Nairobi is a huge city and it can be quite overwhelming when you first arrive. One striking feature is the strong British presence that it has maintained, evident in the names of some suburbs, such as Hurlingham and Parklands. The city might at first appear quite unsafe, but crime is actually decreasing in Nairobi because of special police efforts.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Yes. Because most expats do not live in the city centre, but rather in the greener suburbs like Runda, Westland, etc., you will find it less intimidating than on initial arrival. In the suburbs, you are not really subjected to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
What is the local language?
Kiswahili and English are the languages spoken. Most Kenyans are fluent in Kiswahili as well as their own tribal dialect, and those living in the cities and towns also often speak English.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
You can easily live in Nairobi when you speak English, as most people speak English there.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
- Basic politeness goes a long way in Kenya, and an effort to learn even a few words of Kiswahili will always meet with great appreciation.
- Kenyans appreciate being addressed by their title, particularly if they have a position in government.
- People are often addressed simply by their surname, which is personal rather than disrespectful. It is also common for married Kenyans to be addressed as the mother or father of their eldest child, e.g., “Mama Stephen” or “Baba Zac.” Many people have both an ethnic and a Christian name, and it is good to ask what someone wishes to be called, particularly if you will be entering into a lengthy working relationship.
- Although punctuality is not strictly adhered to in the countryside, you will be expected to be prompt for appointments in Nairobi.
- Written invitations to formal functions usually require a written or telephone reply, and when visiting someone in their home a gift, such as food or flowers, is highly appreciated.
- As an employee in Nairobi, it is also likely that you will be asked at some time to contribute to the funeral expenses of a colleague’s relative. A donation towards such an occasion – usually for a family who cannot afford it – will always be gratefully received. In the spirit of “Harambee” (“pulling together”), volunteers in communities across Kenya build schools, churches and medical clinics, or collect funds to send their most promising students abroad for further studies. It is common for visitors to be invited to “Harambee” functions, and donations are always received with much gratitude.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Temperatures are consistent throughout the year, ranging from 20 degrees to a low 30 degrees Celsius. The sun is out an average of seven hours a day, so days may seem short.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Not at this time.