Nairobi, popularly referred to as the green city in the sun, is the capital of Kenya and the largest city in east and central Africa. The city was founded in 1899 by the British colonial masters. The name Nairobi was derived from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nairobi which literally means a place of cool waters. This was in relation to the infamous Nairobi river which passes through the city. The city was officially declared the capital of Kenya after independence in 1963.
Population of Nairobi
According to the 2019 census, Nairobi’s population is a little over 4 million people. However, this figure does not include people living in the outskirts of the city, commonly known as the greater Nairobi metropolitan area. The area comprises 5 counties namely; Kiambu County, Machakos County, Kajiado County, Muranga County, and Nairobi County. The population of the greater Nairobi area stands at 10,411,220.
First inhabitants of Nairobi
The first inhabitants of Nairobi were the Maasai and the Kikuyu people. The Maasai were pastoralists while the Kikuyu were agriculturists. Both tribes were displaced from Nairobi by the British when the railway complex was built.
Urbanization of Nairobi
The first building in Nairobi was the railway complex built as a depot for the Uganda railway. The complex was soon declared as the headquarters of the railway and as a result a town grew around it.
The original layout of the town consisted of only 2 streets, Victoria and Station streets. In the 1900s, the town was rebuilt as a result of the plague and the burning down of the original town. Nevertheless, the town continued to grow and attracted white settlers who chose Nairobi as a stopping point. The city was eventually declared a municipality in 1919.
The commonly used mode of transport in Nairobi is the Matatu. Prior to the introduction of the Matatus, there was the little known Kenya bus company which was started in 1934 by the London based Overseas Transport Company. They started with about 13 buses plying 12 routes within the city.
In 1973, President Jomo Kenyatta, through a directive declared the Matatu as a legal form of transport. This led to an increase in the number of Matatus which would pick and drop passengers wherever they wanted.
Today, the Matatus are still the most common form of transport for ordinary citizens. The government has tried to regulate the industry to no avail.
Modernisation of the Transport Systems in Nairobi
Since independence, very little was done to improve the infrastructure. That changed when President Kibaki took power in 2003. His first major infrastructure project was undoubtedly the Thika super highway, a 6 lane highway connecting the city to the counties of Kiambu and Muranga. The project was hailed as a major step forward in the urbanization of Nairobi.
Other projects initiated by the government include the Ngong Road expansion project, the Standard Gauge Railway from Mombasa to Nairobi, the Lamu port and many others.
The earliest estates in Nairobi include the famous Buruburu estate which was a middle class estate built in the 80s. Other estates include Ofafa Jericho which was built in the 1950s, Makadara, and Parklands.
As the population of Nairobi grew, more estates started popping up all around the city. This inevitably led to informal settlements, one of which is the largest slum in Kenya.
Lately, the housing boom has led to rapid development in areas surrounding the City. In Ruaka for instance, a plot for sale 10 years ago was being sold for a few hundred thousands but today the value has skyrocketed to about 10 million for the same plot.
Expectedly, the cost of renting a 2 bedroom house within the city has skyrocketed from a mere Ksh.5000 in the early 2000s to an average of 30,000 in the middle income neighborhoods.
Challenges Facing Nairobi
Like many other African nations that struggled for independence from colonial empires throughout the 20th century, Nairobi has faced its fair share of challenges and conflicts.
Crime rates in the slum areas have raised concern over the years due to urban poverty and unemployment. Organizations such as the [organization] have made progress in some form assisting the individuals in the slums gain access to resources that have gradually begun to improve the conditions in these areas. However, like most systemic change, this process takes time to implement and deploy as there are many organizations and government officials involved.
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) is headquartered close to Kibera, and has attempted to implement some rehousing projects over the last few decades to redevelop the slums.
Political conflicts have also plagued the history of Nairobi, and rapid growth in many of the metropolitan areas has caused concerns between governments and residents. This rapid growth put pressure on the city’s infrastructure systems and demanded government attention in order to accommodate the thriving hub that the city had become.
Modern amenities are readily available in Nairobi, especially near the central business district and largely developed regions. These amenities offer a range of entertainment, education, health care, retail, and essential services.
Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) is the oldest hospital in Kenya, as well as the largest. It is a public hospital and the teaching hospital of the University of Nairobi College of Health Sciences. Other private hospitals, such as the [one private hospital], offer various modernized medical services for Nairobi’s communities.
The University of Nairobi is the oldest and largest university in Kenya. It has been operating as an educational institution since 1956 as the University of East Africa, but became an independent university in 1970. Since its independence, it has expanded to include six different college branches.
Private and public schools are both plentiful in Nairobi and follow either the Kenyan Curriculum or the British Curriculum. There are a handful of international schools as well, including the International School of Kenya, Rosslyn Academy, a Swedish school in Ngong, and a German school in Gigiri.
Other notable institutions and amenities include the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC), the Moi International Sports Centre, the Ngong Racecourse, and many golf courses. Places of worship from a variety of religions include Christian churches and Muslim mosques.
Key Attractions in Nairobi
Despite its status as a metropolitan gem, Nairobi is not lost in its connection to the natural environment surrounding its skyscrapers, malls, and casinos. African safaris offer up close adventures with wildlife, while museums offer visitors a glimpse of the area’s cultural past.
Nairobi National Park: Just 7 kilometres from the city center, one of the city’s biggest tourist destinations offers an in-depth look at Africa’s wildlife. Kenya’s first national park, Nairobi National Park, is a wildlife sanctuary home to a variety of animals, such as lions, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, buffalos, and over 400 species of birds. Visitors can spot animals on foot with the Nairobi Safari Walk, explore the Hippo Pools, or
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: Located just outside of the main gates to Nairobi National Park, this sanctuary attracts animal lovers from all over the world. Named after a former warden of Tsavo East National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust cares for orphaned baby elephants and rhinos until they are ready to be released back into the wild.
Giraffe Centre: Also located just outside of Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Centre is a giraffe sanctuary that focuses on animal education and conservation efforts. Visitors can meet endangered Rothschild giraffes, get a chance to feed them, and then visit the luxurious guesthouse, Giraffe Manor.
Karen Blixen Museum: At the foot of the scenic Ngong Hills sits the Karen Blixen Museum, which was home to the famous Danish author of Out of Africa. Guests can get a look inside the history of Kenya’s colonial past as they see the structures of the coffee plantation Blixen operated in the early 20th century, the farmhouse, and some of her remaining furniture and possessions.
The Maasai Market: This well-known open-air marketplace is a hub of African culture, with merchants selling goods such as jewellery, beads, crafts, sandals, scarves, souvenirs, and other handmade items. It’s a popular and vibrant place to take in some of the local culture.
Nairobi National Museum: At the Nairobi National Museum, visitors can spend the day looking at collections of historic artifacts from Kenya’s lands, including fossils, stuffed animal species, tribal items from Kenyan tribes, animal bones, and volcano plates. The Snake Park features various snakes and reptiles that are native to the area.
The Bomas of Kenya: On the outskirts of the city, the Bomas of Kenya are situated in a historic village where each boma (homestead) represents the culture and traditions of Kenya’s ethnic groups. Visitors can walk through this interactive museum-like experience and learn about the colourful tribes that encompass Kenya’s cultural heritage.
Nairobi is also home to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a leading global authority on environmental conservation and sustainability. This branch is responsible for leading and coordinating the United Nations environmental division and overseeing sustainable development through the organization.
Nairobi has a bustling restaurant scene, inspired by the many cultures and visitors that arrive in town. Kenya’s famous Kibandas are prominent in Nairobi, serving street food delicacies and traditional foods from the city’s ethnic heritage. A common traditional food is nyama choma (barbecued meat), which is available at a variety of markets, restaurants, and merchants throughout the city.
Some of Nairobi’s most popular restaurants include, but are not limited to:
- Carnivore Restaurant: A favourite for both locals and tourists alike, this landmark restaurant is known for its huge barbecue pit, serving up a variety of meats near Nairobi National Park. Until 2004, they were famous for serving up a variety of exotic meats, but government laws put an end to this practice.
- Tamarind Nairobi Restaurant: Located in the serene Karen Blixen Gardens, this restaurant is one of the more well-known and loved seafood restaurants in Nairobi.
- Al-Yusra Restaurant: This hotspot sits in the heart of the central business district, serving up signature Somali dishes such as coconut rice, roast camel, fried goat, and Ethiopian injera bread.
- Olepolos Country Club: It’s a bit of a drive to get here, but it’s worth it when you sit back and enjoy your Kenyan style meal with the exceptional view of the Rift Valley.
- J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen: A hotspot in Karen, this international venue serves a variety of dishes from various cultures, including risotto, fish and chips, burgers, and more. On some nights there is also live music to enjoy.
As Nairobi is a prominent metropolis in Kenya, there are also many high end restaurants that serve business people, government officials, tourists, and wealthy residents. Some of these high end restaurants include:
- Talisman Restaurant: Touting itself as “an elegant restaurant with an eclectic twist,” Talisman Restaurant is located in the Karen Shopping Centre and serves a range of international dishes.
- Sikia Fine Dining Restaurant: Among the commercial buildings in Upper Hill sits Sikia, serving up international and European inspired dishes with a classy twist.
The Lord Erroll: At this gourmet restaurant, you can enjoy fusion dishes with an elegant ambiance as you sit on the peaceful garden terrace.
Nairobi’s Housing Market
In Nairobi, the housing market varies depending on the estates and neighbourhoods. There are some ideal locations with affordable options for both buying and renting with lower income brackets, such as Umoja, Kariokor, Dandora, Kariobangi, Kayole, Embakasi, and Huruma. Each of these areas is located in the far eastern part of the city.
Recent real estate surveys indicate that Kitengela is the least expensive area to live in Nairobi. It’s a plain located south of the city centre, and has been pointed as an up and coming area to live as many Nairobi residents have relocated here due to the lower cost of living. In recent years, many commercial and residential real estate developments have increased in this area, proving to be a promising location for families.
Ruaka is another upcoming neighbourhood with promising real estate opportunities for buyers and renters in Nairobi. Known as one of the fastest growing towns in Nairobi, this area has also undergone commercial and residential development in recent years with both posh estates and middle-class homes available.
The most expensive area to live in Nairobi is Gigiri, located north of the Parklands. This residential area neighbours the United Nations complex and is home to a large expat community. Gigiri features some of the most expensive houses in the city, with some homes selling for an average of 119.3 million Kenyan shillings ($1,110,039.50 USD).
Nyari is the second most expensive estate to buy or rent in Nairobi, followed by Runda, Karen, and Kitisuru.
The eastlands are also undergoing significant development. In 2019, the Nairobi government revealed a development plan, the Eastlands Urban Renewal Plan, that would invest millions of dollars into building new homes to replace the older, outdated homes that currently exist there. The plan includes the creation of detached bungalows, recreational facilities, flats, and municipal buildings.
With more renewal plans like this one in place for other estates within Nairobi, there are many opportunities to make worthwhile real estate investments that will increase in value in the years to come.