by Ed Yourdon
Nairobi – Capital of Kenya, East Africa
Nairobi, whose name means “cool river”, is the largest and fastest growin city in east Africa. Founded as a railway workers encampment, the city is now home to over 3 million people.
This city of millions has an impressive skyline incorporating several important buildings, including the striking Kenyatta Conference Centre. From the observation deck on its 28th floor, visitors look out on a marvellous panorama of city and countryside. Nairobi is the cultural, economic and communications centre of Kenya. The country’s most important institutions of higher learning are found here, and its tourist industry continues to grow.
The role of the railway. Kenya’s history is closely connected to Britain’s colonial railway projects in Africa. The site for the railway encampment that became Nairobi was carefully chosen. Nairobi lies at an altitude of 1,700 metres. This elevation keeps Nairobi’s average temperature too low for malarial mosquitoes to survive.
When workers were hired for the Uganda Railway project to connect Lake Victoria with the coastal port of Mombasa, they were housed in Nairobi, which grew in importance after the railway was completed in 1900. It is no surprise that there is a Railway Museum in Nairobi today. It includes a diverse collection of objects from the history of the railway, including wonderful old photographs.
An international city. The modern city of Nairobi is the economic linchpin of East Africa. International businesses and organizations base their operations here, among them UNO (United Nations Environment Program, UNEP) and UN HABITAT (United Nations Human Settlements Program). With so many international residents, it’s little wonder that the restaurants in Nairobi rival those in major European and American cities.
Rich and poor.
There are few places in the world where the contact and contrast between extreme wealth and extreme poverty is as glaring as in the Kenyan capital, though the severity of the situation is rivalled in South African Johannesburg. Cynical commentators call the city “Nairobbery” because of its high crime rate. Accordingly, tourists are well advised only to leave central Nairobi, where it is relatively safe to walk around, if they are going on an official safari tour or driving back to the airport.
The best of Nairobi.
The majority of tourists who visit Kenya see very little of Nairobi. They usually go straight from the airport to the countryside to set off on safari. In addition to stopping by the popular Railway Museum, those who are interested in getting acquainted with the city should definitely visit the National Museum. Everything worth knowing about Kenya is on display, from its abundant flora and fauna to the lifestyles and cultures of its native peoples, in particular the Massai. The museum also houses a delightful. exhibit of works by the artist Joy Adamson (1910-1980). Adamson is best known for her book Born Free about her rescue of the lioness Elsa. Her deep love for Africa is vividly expressed in the exhibit.
Moi Avenue begins not far from the Railway Museum and leads directly into the centre of Nairobi. The central business district is punctuated by two large green spaces, Uhuru Park and Central Park. Both invite people to rest and relax under their shady trees, sit on a bench or stroll along a gravel path. Uhuru Park even has a small artificial lake. Environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai saved Uhuru Park from development by organizing a series of locally and internationally supported protests in 1989.
At safari’s end. Anyone who returns to the Kenyan capital after a week or two of the hard life on safari will appreciate the amenities of Nairobi’s full service, Western-style hotels. Nairobi is ideally suited as a starting point for day trips and tours to the country’s spectacular national parks. Nairobi National Park, the nation’s first, is located only 8 km from Nairobi. Founded in 1946, it has an area of approximately 120 square kilometres.