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For Further Study

Nairobi, Kenya, Africa

Founded: 1899; Incorporated: 1903
Location: 500 km (300 mi) west of the Indian Ocean in Kenya's Central Highlands
Flag: Field divided into yellow and green quarters, with center circle featuring blue and white waves.
Motto: City in the Sun
Flower: Glorisa Superba (Kenya)
Time Zone: 3:00 pm Universal Coordinated Time (UCT-3) = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Ethnic Composition: Kenyan African groupsKikuyu, Luo, Luhyia, Kalenjin, Kisii, and Kamba; Asians (people who trace their origins to India and Pakistan), Europeans, and Somalis
Elevation: 1,680 meters (5,512 feet)
Latitude and Longitude: 1 ° 16'S, 36 ° 48'E
Climate: Tropical highland with sunny days, mild daily temperatures, and cool nights
Annual Mean Temperature: September to April maximum average daytime temperature 24 ° C (75 ° F) and minimum average nighttime temperature 13 ° C (55.4 ° F); May to August maximum average daytime temperature 21 ° C (70 ° F) and minimum average nighttime temperature 11 ° C (51.8 ° F)
Seasonal Average Rain: Heavy rains March to May; lighter rains November to December
Government: Mayor-council
Weights and Measures: Metric system
Monetary Units: Kenyan Shilling
Telephone Area Codes : 254 (Kenya country code); 2 (Nairobi city code)

1. Introduction

Nairobi is the main commercial and cultural center for East Africa. It is the largest city between Cairo, Egypt, in north Africa, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Located on the edge of the rich agricultural region of the Central Highlands, Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya, the most developed country in East Africa. As one of Africa ' s leading cities, it hosts important international conferences and is the home for many embassies, international organizations, and businesses. The city has a cosmopolitan flair that combines African, Asian, European, and Middle Eastern cultures. Although it is a relatively new city (founded in 1899), it has played an important role in the region. It was at the epicenter of the nationalist movement, which eventually led to Kenya ' s independence from Great Britain in 1963. Since independence, the city has grown at a tremendous rate. The city reflects the stark contrasts of wealth that characterize Kenyan society. In the shadows of the skyscrapers in the prosperous and efficient central business district lives an army of up to 100,000 homeless. Side by side with beautiful upscale neighborhoods, like Karen and Westlands, are desolate slum areas, such as Mathare Valley and Kibera. The grinding poverty of some of the city ' s residents, coupled with the world-class wealth of others, has contributed to one of the Nairobi ' s most serious problems: crime. Muggings, car jackings, and robberies are common. However, for many residents the " City in the Sun " remains a dynamic and bustling place in which to live, work, and go to school.

2. Getting There

Nairobi is located in south-central Kenya, 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of the equator. It is well served by international airlines, and a regional road network links it to other major East African urban centers. Railways link Nairobi to Mombasa, Kenya ' s second largest city, on the Indian Ocean and Kisumu, the third largest city, on the shores of Lake Victoria.


Nairobi is connected by paved roads to Kenya ' s other major urban centers, such as Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Kisii, and Kericho. A paved road also links Nairobi to northern Tanzania ' s major tourist, agricultural, and commercial center, Arusha. Traffic jams are common leading into the city during the morning rush hour and leading out of the city after work hours.

Nairobi Population Profile

Population: 2,320,000
Area: 689 sq km (266 sq mi)
Ethnic composition: Kenyan African groupsKikuyu, Luo, Luhyia, Kalenjin, Kisii, and Kamba; Asians (people who trace their origins to India and Pakistan), Europeans, and Somalis
World population rank 1: 133
Percentage of national population 2: 7.7%
Average yearly growth rate: 5.0%
Nicknames: City in the Sun; Nairobbery

  1. The Nairobi metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Kenya's total population living in the Nairobi metropolitan area.

Bus and Railroad Service

There are a large number of long-distance bus companies in Nairobi that provide transportation to most areas of the country. Long-distance buses also provide service to major cities in Uganda and Tanzania. In addition to long-distance buses, there are mini-buses with regular service to Mombasa and shared taxis to nearby urban centers including the Kenya-Tanzania border. Shared taxis are Peugeot station wagons that usually carry seven passengers. Often the minibuses and shared taxis leave when they are full and therefore do not follow fixed schedules. While the large buses often follow a schedule, at times they operate along lines similar to those of shared taxis and leave when full. Road transport can be dangerous. Many of the long-distance buses travel at night and, in addition to transporting passengers, carry cargo. There have been a number of horrific accidents in which large numbers of passengers have been killed or injured.

Nairobi railway station serves as the main point of departure for trains to and from Mombasa and Kisumu. There is also a direct Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda, train once a week.


The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, about 13 kilometers (eight miles) southeast of the town center via the Mombasa Highway, is the main airport in East Africa. It offers flights to many destinations in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as internal flights to Kisumu on Lake Victoria and Malindi and Mombasa on the coast. In addition to Kenyan airlines, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is serviced by a large number of international airlines. Major airlines that fly into Kenyatta include Air France, Air India, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, El-Al, and Pakistan International Airlines. African airlines that service Nairobi include Ethiopia Airlines, Air Tanzania, South African Airways, Air Madagascar, Air Malawi, Air Mauritius, Air Rwanda, Air Zimbabwe, Cameroon Airlines, Egypt Air, and Royal Swazi.

Wilson is Nairobi ' s other main airport. Located close to the Nairobi National Park, this airport caters primarily to smaller planes and charter flights. In terms of the number of flights, it is said to be busier than Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Many charter flights to Kenya ' s game parks or coastal resorts fly out of Wilson.

3. Getting Around

Downtown Nairobi is in the shape of a triangle. Most of the skyscrapers and major government offices are centered inside of three borders: Uhuru Highway to the west, what used to be the old United States Embassy building to the south, and the Nairobi River to the northeast. In general, the discount shops, hotels, and poorer neighborhoods are located east of the central business district; to the west are the more affluent areas. The streets in the central business district are laid out in a grid pattern. Major roads lead out of the central business district to the residential areas that encircle it.

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Mass transit in Nairobi is made up of buses and minibuses. These can be a cheap, if not adventurous, way of getting around Nairobi. They are usually packed during the morning rush hours as people head to work and in the evening as Nairobians return home. However, at other times and on weekends the congestion is not bad. Commuters are not the only people who make use of mass transit: passengers need to be wary of pick-pockets. Kenya Bus Service (KBS) operates a large fleet of commuter buses that serve the city. However, the most important means of mass transit are matatus. Matatus are privately owned minibuses. Many are outrageously decorated (Minnesota Timberwolves, Dennis Rodman, Scud Missile), encouraged by competitions for most original design. Other characteristics of matatus include loud music blaring from the sound-systems and drivers who seldom obey traffic regulations. Although matatus are often jam-packed with people, the drivers always believe there is space for one more.

Taxi and Shared Taxi

Taxis are a more expensive but more reliable mode of transportation than the matatus. They come in all shapes and conditions, including some London-style cabs. Usually, they are not metered and, like most other things in Nairobi, their fares are negotiable. Shared taxis, Peugeot station wagons packed with people, operate on some routes and also take passengers to nearby towns.


Because traffic congestion is a major problem in downtown Nairobi, walking is the best way to get around the city center. The distances are short, and the streets are well marked.

City Fact Comparison
Population of urban area12,320,00010,772,0002,688,00012,033,000
Date the city was founded1899AD 969753 BC723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$130$193$172$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$52$56$59$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$13$14$15$16
Total daily costs$195$173$246$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city9132011
Largest newspaperDaily NationAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarLa RepubblicaRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper813,3001,159,339754,9303,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established1838194419761948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.


Nairobi is home to many tour operators and travel agents. Excursions can be arranged to all parts of Kenya and to visit Tanzania ' s impressive northern game parks. Most tour companies and travel agents can organize tours of Nairobi. Tours of central Nairobi will normally include visits to the Parliament Building, the City Market, and the National Museum. Trips to Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Center, and the Karen Blixen Museum can also be easily arranged.

4. People

Nairobi is a culturally diverse city. All the major Kenyan ethnic groups are represented in the city, and these include the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhyia, Kalenjin, Kisii, and Kamba. While it is difficult to know the exact percentages of the ethnic makeup of Nairobi, there are probably more Kikuyu living in the city than any other group. The Kikuyu make up around 20 percent of the Kenyan population, and their home area borders Nairobi. In addition to the Kenyan African ethnic groups, there is a sizeable population of Asians (people who trace their origins to India and Pakistan), Europeans, and Somalis. Nairobi is also home to a sizeable expatriate (people who have left their homeland) community as numerous embassies and international organizations have offices in the city.

5. Neighborhoods

Nairobi ' s neighborhoods have been influenced by the colonial-era segregation of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when living space was divided into European, Asian, and African areas. In general, western Nairobi was reserved for Europeans and wealthy Asians. The east was for Africans and poor Asians.

One of Nairobi ' s largest neighborhoods is Eastleigh. It was originally an Asian and African area, but since independence, it has become a large, overcrowded, primarily African residential estate. Across Juja road from Eastleigh is Mathare, a large slum. On the west side of town are former white-only areas that now house the wealthy from all of Nairobi ' s ethnic groups. Karen, Langata, Lavington, and Westlands are some of Nairobi ' s posh residential addresses. These neighborhoods are home to high-quality schools, mini-shopping malls, and restaurants. There are a number of housing estates, like South C and Buru Buru, that have been built to accommodate the city ' s growing middle class.

Ngong Hills, situated west of Nairobi, along with Limuru to the north were sites where many white settlers set up farms and built their houses in early colonial days.

6. History

The country known today as Kenya was created by European colonialism in Africa, which lasted from the mid-1800s to the 1960s. Kenya was a British protectorate from 1895 to 1920 and a colony from 1920 to 1963.

Prior to 1870 the peoples of what is now Kenya were independent of European control; they governed themselves through councils of elders. However, in 1884 the Sultan of Zanzibar, Seyyid Bargash, allowed a trading concession to the British East Africa Company; thus, British interest in East Africa was sparked by private enterprise.

In addition to the British East Africa Company, pioneer missionaries also came to East Africa to spread Christianity and to help abolish the slave trade. An 1886 Anglo-German treaty partitioned East Africa between the two powers, placing the future Kenya in the British sphere and the future Tanzania in the German sphere. In 1888 the British East Africa Company was granted a Royal Charter and renamed the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA). The company was given exclusive rights to commercially exploit the British sphere. In 1895 the territory lying between Mombasa and the eastern edge of the Rift Valley (the future Kenya) was declared the East African Protectorate. In 1902, the eastern province of Uganda was added to the East African Protectorate. In 1920 the Protectorate was declared a Crown Colony and renamed Kenya. The name Kenya appears to have come from the Kamba word Kinyaa, meaning "ostrich."

The word "Nairobi" came from the Masai word enairobe, which literally means " stream of cold water. " Nairobi was founded in 1899. It grew up around a railway line constructed by the British colonial officials from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to Uganda. The present site of Nairobi was selected as a stores depot, shunting yard (place where trains are shifted from one track to another), and camping ground for the thousands of Indian laborers (also British colonials, who came to Kenya seeking work) employed by the British to work on the line.

From this point Nairobi developed slowly, unplanned, and unexpectedly. The outbreak of plague and the burning down of the original compound necessitated the town ' s rebuilding. By 1907, Nairobi was firmly established and the colonizers decided to make it the capital of the newly formed British East Africa.

European settlers were encouraged to settle in the country, and Nairobi was their natural choice due to its cool climate and fertile soils. British authorities hoped these settlers would develop a modern economic sector that would enable the railway to pay for itself. Until that happened, the railway scheme seemed a useless venture that would consume more money than was called for in the initial plans. White settlement in the early years of the twentieth century was led by Lord Delamere, a pugnacious farmer from Cheshire, England. The lord and many other pioneer farmers suffered a lot in their farming ventures as little was known of the kind of crops to grow there. By trial and error they established plantations of coffee, tea, sisal (a plant yielding a strong fiber used to make rope), and pyrethrum (a perennial plant yielding flowers used to make insecticide). Cattle rearing also proved to be a profitable undertaking, spurring the establishment of huge ranches. The development of the settler economy allowed the railway venture to reverse its deficits.

Due to high demand for laborers in the established plantations, a system was designed to force Africans to work for Europeans. Until the early twentieth century, most Kenyans were subsistence farmers, growing only enough food to meet their needs. In 1920 the colonial state began to confiscate African land; Africans were taxed, and a cash economy was created, forcing many Africans to give up peasant farming to search for cash incomes by working on the European plantations. The Indians who remained behind after the completion of the railway took up trade as their major occupation.

In the early 1950s, the Mau Mau launched one of the most severe internal wars in Kenya, aimed at removing the British from the country. Although the war was mainly fought in the countryside and mountains surrounding Nairobi, the British launched sweeps of the city to make mass arrests. Africans were the main target of the sweepsin particular Kikuyu Africans, a somewhat militant interest group focused on such issues as land scarcity, labor passes, regressive taxation, and inadequate educational and employment opportunities. The Mau Mau were defeated only after troops were sent from Britain to Kenya. By 1954 the British enacted Operation "Anvil," an effort to rid Nairobi of Mau Mau supporters. More than 30,000 arrests were made, most of them Kikuyu; of these, 16,000 were detained as active Mau Mau supporters. In 1956, Dedan Kimathi, recognized as the leader of the Mau Mau, was captured, tried, and found guilty; in 1957, he was executed by the British in a Nairobi prison.

Also in 1957, the first elections of African members of the Legislative Council were held. Eight African members were elected and chose not to cooperate with the colonial administration by advocating free and direct elections without preference given to any racial group. In 1958, the eight African council members boycotted council proceedings in a protest against the Lennox-Boyd Constitution, which emphasized a multiracial Legislative Council. They also called for the release of Jomo Kenyatta, who had been arrested as a Mau Mau leader and sentenced to seven years of hard labor in 1952.

In 1960 both the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) were formed. In February 1961 primary and general elections were held under the Lancaster House Constitution. KANU won 19 seats and KADU 11. Although still detained, Jomo Kenyatta was named as president of KANU. By October, Kenyatta was released and assumed the presidency.

Between February and April 1962, the second Lancaster House Conference was held in London. A self-government "framework" constitution was agreed upon and drawn to include representation from both political parties. By 1963 Kenya achieved internal self-government with Kenyatta as the first prime minister. The third Lancaster House Conference was held to finalize the constitution for the granting of independence; the conference also declared Kenya a dominion. On December 12, 1963, Kenya finally became an independent state.

President Kenyatta died in 1978 and was succeeded by his vice president, Daniel arap Moi. Moi became both the second president and head of KANU. Sworn in for a five-year term, he ruled as a dictator, and his government was marked by human rights abuses, corruption, ethnic clashes, economic deterioration, and inept governance.

In January 1993, Moi was sworn in for his fourth five-year term in office. By July public rallies were being held to protest Moi's human rights abuses and to demand constitutional reforms. For the first time in Kenya, the police entered All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi and beat the demonstrators seeking sanctuary there.

One of the most shocking single-day events in Nairobi ' s history was the U.S. Embassy bombing on August 7, 1998. Nairobians were stunned by the tragedy, in particular because the terrorist attack had nothing to do with their country. In simultaneous attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 227 people were killed, including 12 Americans, and over 5,000 injured. The bulk of those injured and killed were Kenyans as the U.S. Embassy was located at a busy intersection near the railway station. A neighboring four-story building collapsed during the mid-morning work-day attack. The attacks were apparently orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian who has dedicated his life to attacking American interests. In the aftermath of the bombing, Kenyan and other governments worked closely to rescue survivors, find victims, and apprehend suspects.

7. Government

Nairobi is the main administrative center for the national government. The mayor and the city commission are responsible for management of the city. Nevertheless, the central government is very strong, leaving the Nairobi local government with little power.

8. Public Safety

Crime is a growing problem. The "City in the Sun" has earned itself the dubious unofficial nickname of "Nairobbery." Petty crime is rife and serious crimes are becoming more frequent. The chief causes for rising crime rates are the breakdown of the traditional social values, a tense political situation, and high unemployment. In 1998, two vehicles a day were stolen in Kenya. Due to the high incidence of car theft and car jackings, the insurance companies have for years been threatening to discontinue auto insurance because too many claims have made the business unprofitable. Auto insurance premiums are currently ten percent of the value of the vehicles per year (that is, if an auto costs $20,000, the owner pays $2,000 per year in insurance).

Ironically, public safety has been weakened by the state, the institution entrusted to provide domestic security. Violent political conflicts between various political and ethnic groups accompanied Kenya's transition to multi-party politics. These conflicts followed threats by high-ranking government officials directed at the Kikuyu community and caused opponents of the government to charge that the state was behind a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" (genocide) in the Rift Valley province. Since the colonial era the state has arrested, harassed, and tortured political dissidents. Some Nairobi businesses, especially those associated with the political opposition, have been ransacked by state security officials. Political tensions have led to rioting, demonstrations, and violent conflicts between rival political factions in Nairobi.

The relationship between the police and citizens is not good. There is a widespread belief that the police cause more problems than they solve. Through soliciting bribes and police brutality, the effectiveness of the force has been weakened. Probably because of this, most wealthy people find it necessary to hire their own private security guards, and there are many private security companies, such as Ultimate Security, Total Security, and Securicor.

9. Economy

Kenya has the most vibrant economy in East Africa, and Nairobi is the main commercial center of the country. Nairobi has a well-developed infrastructure, including modern financial and communications systems. Leading domestic (Kenya Commercial Bank) and international banks (Barclays, Citibank, Standard Chartered) operate out of Nairobi. Kenya also has a relatively well-developed industrial base, which accounts for some 20 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Nairobi is also the largest industrial center. The principal products include processed food, beer, vehicles, soaps, construction material, engineering, textiles, and chemicals. There is also a thriving sector that provides employment to carpenters, metal workers, furniture makers, vehicle repairmen, and retailers.

The cornerstone of Kenya's economy is agriculture, which employs around 80 percent of the population, contributes 29 percent of the GDP, and accounts for over 50 percent of the country's export earnings. The areas around Nairobi are prime agricultural lands. The principal food crops are maize, sorghum, cassava, beans, and fruit. Cash crops, such as coffee, are grown by small-scale farmers. Horticulture is a new agricultural growth sector. Flower exports are an important source of foreign exchange.

With a well-developed system of hotels and top-rate tour companies and the country ' s spectacular game parks and beautiful coast, tourism is an important part of Kenya ' s economy. It has replaced coffee as the country's largest foreign exchange earner. Nairobi is the center for many tour companies and travel agencies. City hotels range from low cost budget to luxury and offer good value and excellent service.

10. Environment

Nairobi is well endowed with a pleasant environment that preserves much of its pristine natural beauty. Ponds, seasonal springs, rivers, flooded grasslands, and swamps abound. Unlike other major cities, Nairobi is not situated on a large river or near the sea. Nevertheless, several streams criss-cross the city. Streams running from the Ngong Hills to the south and the ridges to the north become the Athi and Nairobi Rivers. Occasionally hippos and crocodiles can be spotted in the Athi River. Other important sources of water for Nairobi are the Chania and Thika Rivers. There is also the manmade Thika dam, which was constructed as a water reservoir. Natural springs feed a number of small swamps in secluded hollows. In addition, temporary wetlands are created with the coming of each rainy season. The planting of eucalyptus trees, however, has drained most of these springs.

Nairobi National Park is another preservation of natural environment. It is covered by a highland forest of hardwoods. A spectrum of birds and animals find their home in the park. The park itself was established in 1948 as an effort by the government to preserve the remaining natural beauty of Nairobi.

Nairobi has a bustling population growth. Rapid urbanization and industrialization consume a lot of natural resources, causing alarming environmental degradation. Construction places a very heavy burden on natural resources. Sand is an important construction material; thus, all rivers in Nairobi have been extensively excavated in search of sand. The result has been serious soil erosion. Timber is also used in construction, causing depletion of forests surrounding the city. Additionally, Nairobi attracts hundreds of new immigrants daily. This has an impact on the environment as service struggles to keep pace with rapid population growth. The city ' s sewage system frequently breaks down, adversely affecting the environment.

11. Shopping

A wide variety of shopping experiences can be found in Nairobi. It is a good place to pick up souvenirs and handicrafts. All sorts of goods can be obtained from vendors, kiosks, boutiques, small shops, department stores, and malls.

Souvenirs and handicrafts can be purchased all over Nairobi. The city market on Muindi Mbingu Street has a good range of items from souvenir kiondo (colorful woven sisal bags), jewelry, wood, and soapstone carvings to everyday goods like meat, fish, and fruits. However, shopping at city market will test any shopper's bargaining abilities. On Tuesdays there is a Masai market (which is an informal market) at Kenyatta Avenue near the roundabout on Uhuru Highway. There Masai women sell beaded jewelry, gourds, baskets, and other Masai crafts. The Kigali market, between Kigali Road and Tubman Road, is an overpopulated tourist spot. All kinds of souvenirs can be found there, and if the shopper's bargaining skills are sharp, some good deals can be obtained. Safari wear, T-shirts, wood carvings, and better assortments of jewelry can be found at a number of downtown shops situated along the major roads of Kenyatta Avenue, Koinange Street, and Kimathi Street. More upscale handicrafts, artwork, and jewelry from all over Africa can be found at the African Heritage Center on Kenyatta Avenue.

The appropriately named Biashara (Business) Street is the core of downtown Nairobi ' s shopping district; it is made up of endless small shops and cafes. In the Langata area, the Ostrich Park has a craft center with an artisans workshop where passersby can see items being made and enjoy a nice cafe. The Yaya and Sarit Centers are well-known shopping malls located outside of the city center. Uchumi supermarkets, located throughout Nairobi, cater to grocery shopping needs, as do stalls that sell fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat.

12. Education

During the colonial era, education was segregated along racial lines with schools built for Europeans, Asians (those from the Indian Subcontinent), and Africans. With independence, the school system was desegregated. Education is seen as an important avenue for upward social mobility and is very competitive. In Nairobi, even at the pre-school level, parents are interested in enrolling their children in schools with strong academic reputations. Competition becomes especially intense for places in top government and private high schools. A student ' s educational future is largely determined by results on national exams taken after primary school and high school. Many of Nairobi ' s approximately 77 private secondary schools and 44 state-run schools are among the country ' s best.

Nairobi is well served by institutions of higher learning. The oldest university in Kenya is Nairobi University. Another leading state-related university is Kenyatta University, which grew out of a teachers college. A number of private universities were opened in the 1980s and 1990s. Nairobi Polytechnic and Utalii College are other leading learning institutions. Utalii College was started in 1969 to provide highly trained manpower for Kenya ' s tourist industry. The college has a strong reputation and runs its own hotel in Ruaraka on the outskirts of the city.

13. Health Care

The best medical facilities in East Africa can be found in Nairobi. Two private hospitals with strong reputations are the Nairobi and the Aga Khan. Kenya ' s main teaching hospital is Kenyatta, though its reputation regarding patient care is not as strong as in the past. Nairobi and all of Kenya are also served by "Flying Doctors," an insurance organization that provides expert care and medical evacuations should a health emergency occur. However, if a patient does not have the foresight to join Flying Doctors, they must bear the full cost of the often very expensive services they receive should they become sick. In addition to hospitals, there are numerous private clinics and practices that serve the capital city ' s population.

14. Media

Nairobi is the media hub of East Africa. The Nation Group of Companies, which publishes newspapers and runs radio and television stations, has its headquarters in the city. In addition to the Kenyan daily newspaper, The Nation, the company publishes the East African, a weekly newspaper that covers the region of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The Nation Group also publishes the Taifa Leo, a Swahili-language daily newspaper.

Kenya ' s oldest newspaper is the Standard. It is a daily English-language newspaper that is well known for its business coverage. The Standard Group also owns Kenya Television Network, the country ' s first private television station, based in Nairobi.

Kenya ' s third most popular newspaper is closely affiliated with the ruling Kenya African National Union and is called the Kenya Times. Kenya Times Ltd., the parent company, also publishes the Swahili language Kenya Leo.

Other major media companies operating in the capital are the government-owned Voice of Kenya radio station and the government owned television station, Kenya Broadcasting Company, which first began broadcasting in 1961.

Popular magazines published in Nairobi include the Weekly Review, which provides in-depth local news; Viva (for women); Drum; and a puzzle magazine called Chemsha Bongo, which translated from Swahili means Boil Your Brain.

15. Sports

Kenya has a strong reputation for sports, and Nairobi is the center of the sporting scene. In particular, Kenya is well known for its world-class runners. Kenyan runners exploded onto the international scene during the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games when three distance runners won gold medals, including Kipchoge " Kip " Keino, who beat the American favorite Jim Ryun in the 1500-meter race. Since 1968, Kenyans have dominated middle-and long-distance running at the international level. National track and cross-country meets are usually held at the national stadium or at the Ngong Race Course in Nairobi. These events traditionally produce a new group of world-class runners, ready to challenge their already-established peers.

The most popular sport in the country and the capital city is soccer. Nairobi has three large stadiums (Nyayo, City, and Kasarani) in which domestic league and international matches are played. Two clubs with large followings in Nairobi are AFC and Gor Mahia, which are both nationally popular clubs with home bases of support in western Kenya. Recently, a Nairobi-based team, Mathare United, has taken the soccer scene by storm. Named after one of Nairobi ' s most notorious slums and made up of young impoverished players, Mathare United is a formidable challenger to the traditionally strong teams of Gor Mahia, AFC, and Kenya Breweries.

Motor sports are popular in Kenya. One of the biggest sporting events is the Kenya Safari Rally, which takes place around Easter. The rally, which starts and finishes in Nairobi, follows a route that covers 4,000 kilometers (2,486 miles). Large crowds follow the event in the rural areas and the cities. During the rally, daily results dominate radio, print, and television news coverage as Kenyans cheer for the local heroes competing against top international drivers.

Other sports gaining popularity in the nation's capital are rugby, cricket, and field hockey. These games, previously the domain of Nairobi's settler and Asian communities, are becoming popular among Africans. With increasing numbers of participants, Kenya ' s rugby, field hockey, and cricket teams have done well in international competitions. Polo is often played on the weekends in Jamhuri park.

For the country ' s affluent, golf is a popular sport. There are a number of well-maintained country clubs in Nairobi that offer good golfing facilities. Muthaiga Country Club, the old premier settler club, has a top-flight golf course as well as other sporting facilities. Other prominent clubs that have golf courses are Karen Country Club, Limuru Country Club, Royal Nairobi Golf Club, Sigma Golf Club, and the Railway Golf Club.

16. Parks and Recreation

There are a wide variety of parks and recreational activities in Nairobi. The most spectacular, Nairobi National Park, is located just five miles south from the city center. The 117-square-kilometer (45-square-mile) park contains impala, Grant ' s gazelle, Thomson ' s gazelle, hartebeest, eland, kudu, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, birds, rhinos, and hippos. Probably the most visited game park in East Africa, it provides a wonderful opportunity to view the wildlife of Africa silhouetted against the Nairobi skyline. It is open daily from dawn to 7:00 PM.

Uhuru Park and Uhuru Gardens are located along Uhuru Highway, not far from Nairobi University and the city center. Uhuru Park and Gardens are a large urban green space. The Nairobi Arboretum, also located near Nairobi University, provides a restful setting for a walk among its 300 different species of trees. City Park, located two miles north of the city center, is a well-preserved remnant of the woodlands that covered the area before the construction of the railway. City Park features well-kept lawns, gardens of rare plants, playgrounds, and sports fields.

Attending horse races at Ngong Racecourse is a popular weekend activity. Open almost every Sunday, the race-course is set amid green grass, and it hosts a beautiful old grandstand.

17. Performing Arts

Popular music is an important part of Nairobi ' s cultural life. Many musicians sing in Kenyan languages, such as Luo, Kamba, Luhyia, and Kikuyu. Other pop musicians, some from neighboring countries, sing in Swahili. Pop music in Nairobi is heavily influenced by the benga beat, which originated in western Kenya among the Luo people. Music from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania are also major influences. Gospel and choir are popular musical genres. Choral music concerts, organized by the Nairobi music society, can often be heard at All Saints Cathedral. Visiting jazz and classical musicians occasionally hold concerts at the Kenya National Theater.

Drama and plays are very important forms of expression. In Nairobi, two resident theater companies offer performances. One is the Kenya National Theater, located across from the Norfolk Hotel and next to the University of Nairobi. The other is called the Professional Center and is located on Parliament Road in the city center. Kenyatta University and the University of Nairobi have amateur theater groups that stage performances. Nairobi hosts the national school drama and music competitions at the Kenyatta Conference Center. These competitions, which start at the local level and culminate in the national finals, generate a great deal of national interest.

18. Libraries and Museums

Nairobi is home to a number of libraries and museums. The national archives are kept in the old Bank of India building, located in the central business district on Moi Avenue across from the Hilton Hotel. Apart from housing important historical documents, it features photographs and craft exhibits.

The McMillan Memorial Library is also located in central Nairobi near the Jamia Mosque. This library is distinctive for its two large stone lions that guard its entrance steps. Inside is a display featuring the furniture of writer Karen Blixen, famous for her novel Out of Africa. The library has an extensive collection of books and newspapers. It also houses the parliamentary archives. For a fee, people can become members of the library and check out books.

The Kenya National Museum has an excellent exhibit on pre-history based on the work of the famous Leaky family of anthropologists. There are also exhibits on insects, animal life, and Kenyan culture. The museum houses a display of Joy Adamson ' s (naturalist and author of Born Free ) paintings. Film screenings and public lectures sponsored by the museum are very popular. Across from the Kenya Museum is the Snake Farm, which features live specimens of snakes, lizards, chameleons, tortoises, turtles, and crocodiles found in Kenya.

For people interested in trains, the Railway Museum, located near the Nairobi Train Station, features a display of locomotives that have operated in Kenya since the railway was built. A well-known part of Kenyan history is represented in the form of a carriage in which a man-eating lion killed and dragged away a railway worker during the line ' s construction. In December 1898, lion attacks brought work on the railway to a halt 194 kilometers (121 miles) from the coast in what is now Tsavo National Park. Lion attacks, which usually consisted of a worker being dragged away from his tent in the night, resulted in a number of deaths. A major labor dispute threatened to erupt as the largely Indian workforce demanded to be returned home. Construction of the line was held up for three weeks as the lions were hunted and killed.

Karen Blixen ' s house, located in the fashionable suburb that bears her name, has been turned into a museum in her honor. Not far away is the Langata Giraffe Center, which is mainly for children. The center is supported by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife and is home to a number of giraffes that visitors can feed from raised wooden platforms. In addition to the giraffes, the center contains warthogs, bushbuck, and dikdik. The trees and shrubbery at the Giraffe Center are an ideal habitat for birds, and there are over 160 species. For those interested in bird watching, the Langata suburb is also home to a private bird sanctuary. Appointments must be made in advance, and all visitors are accompanied by an ornithologist.

The Bomas of Kenya features performances of traditional songs and dances from Kenya ' s various ethnic groups. It is located two kilometers (one mile) past the gate of Nairobi National Park in the Langata suburb. On the grounds is an open-air museum that depicts the traditional lifestyle of Kenya ' s African ethnic groups.

19. Tourism

Tourism is an important part of the Nairobi economy. With a well-developed system of hotels and top-rate tour companies, tourism has actually replaced coffee as the country's largest foreign exchange earner. City hotels range from low cost budget to luxury. Trips to Kenya ' s impressive game parks and beautiful coast can be arranged in the city. Tours of the city itself also can be arranged; tours of central Nairobi normally include visits to the Parliament Building, the City Market, and the National Museum. Trips to Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Center, and the Karen Blixen Museum are also popular. The city offers a well-developed infrastructure, excellent hotels, and fine food. Nairobi has been host to numerous international conferences, conventions, and meetings.

20. Holidays and Festivals

New Years Day

Good Friday and Easter Monday
Safari Rally Motor Sports

Labor Day

Madaraka Day

Nairobi International Show

Kenyatta Day

Independence Day

*Ramadan is also a national holiday. The date of this holiday depends on the sighting of the moon and varies from year to year.

21. Famous Citizens

As the political, cultural, and commercial center of Kenya, Nairobi has a long list of famous citizens. Many people living in Nairobi may identify their ancestral village as home; however, Nairobi is considered the second home, if not first home, for most of the country's leading personalities.

A.M. Jevanjee (18611923), real estate tycoon and businessman who started the Africa Standard, Kenya ' s first newspaper, created the Jevanjee Gardens, and served as a representative of the Indian community in the colonial Legislative Council.

Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke (18851962), writer, also known by her pen name Isak Dinesen, who moved to Nairobi in 1918 and wrote the novel Out of Africa.

Jomo Kenyatta (18901978), Kenya ' s first president and a dominant figure in the Kenyan nationalist movement, jailed in the 1950s by the colonial government for alleged connections to the Mau Mau.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (191194), famous politician and one time vice-president, who was dismissed from the government for quarreling with Kenyatta, but who remained a leader of the political opposition until his death.

Daniel arap Moi (b. 1924), president of Kenya, who took over power in 1978 when Kenyatta died.

Tom Mboya (193069), staunch trade unionist, founder of the Kenya Federation of Labor, and principal leader in Kenya's independence movement, who was assassinated in 1969.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o (b. 1938), famous novelist imprisoned and exiled for political reasons.

Richard Leakey (b. 1944), palaeoathropologist who has served as director of the Kenya Department of Wild-life Services and who discovered crania of Austropithecus boisei (1969), Homo habilis (1972), and Homo erectus (1975).

Meja Mwangi (b. 1948), outstanding writer, winner of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize.

22. For Further Study


Kenya Web. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Living Encyclopedia for Kenya. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Nation Newspaper. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Government Offices

Kenya Embassy in Washington D.C.
2249 R. Street
N.W. Washington D.C. 20008
(202) 387-6101

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Kenya Government Tourist Office
and Consulates:

424 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10017
(212) 486-1300

Dohery Plaza Suite 160
9150 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles CA 90212
(310) 274-6635


Nation Newspapers
PO Box 49010
Nairobi Kenya

Weekly Review Ltd.
PO Box 42271
Nairobi Kenya


Cohen, William, and E. S. Ohdiambo. Burying SM: The Politics of Knowledge and the Sociology of Power. Heinemann, 1992.

Denison, Isak (Karen Blixen). Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass. Vintage Books, 1989.

Donelson, Linda. Out of Africa: Karen Blixen ' s Untold Story. Coolsang List, 1998.

Finlay, Hugh, and Geoff Crowther. Lonely Planet Kenya. Lonely Planet, 1997.

Hauman, Mathew, and R. Van Eyndhoven. Africa Give me Your Eyes: Stories About Meeting People in Kenya. Source Books, 1997.

Hodd, Michael. East Africa Handbook. Chicago: Passport Books, 1998.

Hutton, J. Urban Challenges in East Africa. Nairobi: East Africa Publishing House, 1970.

Huxley, Elspeth. Nine Faces of Kenya. London: Harvil, 1991.

Lonely Planet. East Africa. Singapore: SNP Printing House, 1997.

McHugh, Kathleen. (ed.) Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles. London: Fodo Travel Publications, 1990.

Mwangi, Meja. Going Down River Road. Heinemann, 1976. [Fiction]

Ngugi wa Thiongo. A Grain of Wheat. Heinemann, 1994. [Fiction]

Quick, T.L., (et al). Rhinos in the Rough: A Golfer's Guide to Kenya. Nairobi: Kenways Publications, 1993.

Robertson, Claire. Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men, and Trade in the Nairobi Area 18901990. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1997.


views updated May 29 2018

Nairobi Capital and largest city of Kenya, in the s central part of the country. Founded in 1899, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate in 1905. Nairobi has a national park (1946), a university (1970) and several institutions of higher education. It is an administrative and commercial centre. Industries: cigarettes, textiles, chemicals, food processing, furniture, glass. Pop. (1999) 2,143,254.