The Significance and Magnificence of Buildings often Ignored

The Kenyatta International Conference Center | MY DESTINATION

The Kenyatta International Conference Center | MY DESTINATION

Robertson Davies once said that a truly great book should be read, in youth, again in maturity, and once more in old age; as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.

I personally reckon a great building should be like love; exciting when it is new; dazzling when it is mature and satisfying and permanent when it grows old.

A great building, wrote Louis Kahn, must begin with the immeasurable, must go through the measurable means when it is being designed, and in the end must be unmeasured.

Let me first state here that I am not an addict of buildings; I am more of an unwilling enthusiast. My passion however, is history, and buildings are simply history cast in stone. You see if you look at any building; you can easily see the aspirations, the hopes and the achievements of a society; the Arc de Triomphe (in Paris) for example was commissioned in 1806 after Emperor Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz.

Buildings glorify what a society deems to be glorious. In ages past,for instance, buildings immortalized conquests; ancient buildings like the Al Hambra remain testament to the Muslim domination of Europe. Today buildings like the Burj Khalifa try to recapture the Islamic renaissance. In today’s world, where wars are not fought in battle fields but in stock markets and through trade, has it ever occurred to anyone that banks tend to have some of the most imposing and elaborate buildings? London’s tallest building, the Shard, is owned by a consortium which includes the Qatar National Bank, QInvest and the Qatari Islamic Bank.

The Shard in London

The Shard in London


If you look at the list of the World’s tallest buildings it will occur to you that a majority of them have a relationship with banking, trade and finance.

Click here to read more on some of Africa’s, and the World’s, tallest buildings

Buildings also play another role; they tell you what a society considers moral or religious. A lot of buildings of note in ages past tended to be places of worship; Islam gave us Charminar and the Shah Mosque – Egypt gave us the Pyramids which played a religious role, Greece was decked by elaborate temples. Christianity provided numerous medieval churches; Isn’t it strange that brothels, for instance, have always been located at the dingy, dark areas since antiquity?

In short, what society is ashamed of cannot be cast in stone, meanwhile every city you can imagine has a tomb to an unknown soldier to celebrate virtues such as bravery or sacrifice.

Mount Rushmore is a sculpture that was intended to represent 150 years of American history; of those years, only Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln were chosen to have their faces on the rock; could you imagine the catastrophe if someone like George Bush Jr. was cast on that mountain?

The Taj Mahal in India | SANTABATA

The Taj Mahal in India | SANTABATA


The Taj Mahal was built during Shah Jahan’s empire and it was the high point of the Mughal dynasty, and it was attribute to the love of his life; his wife Mumtaz, who died while giving birth to their 14th child. Do you think he would have built it for some mistress?

Like Aldous Huxley once said – ‘Marble, I perceive, covers a multitude of sins.’


| The article is a guest post written for A Chiselled Cornucopia by my best buddie, Joseph Kongoro @josekongoro


Africa and its Parliaments

These are the seats of national assemblies across the world; the buildings that host individual legislatures and which countries pride themselves in both architectural and symbolical grandeur. Usually located at the heart of capital cities, these (usually) forbidding and intimidatingly large structures can be spotted from a wide area within the central business district and while reservedly open to the public, they are mostly heavily secured and restricted. Let’s have a look at the parliaments of some of Africa’s leading economies.

The Republic of Botswana

Mostly a flat country and grossly covered by the Kalahari desert, Botswana overcame being one of Africa’s poorest countries at independence in 1966 to boasting one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with a GDP per capita of over $14,000.  The economy is mostly supported by a well advanced banking system and the mineral industry that contributes at least 40% of government revenue. Transparency International also crowned Botswana recently as the least corrupt country on the continent.

Parliament at Gaborone

The seat of the government used to be in Mafeking, South Africa, but after 1965, was moved by the British to present day Gaborone, which happens to be located near the border with their southern neighbour. The city is also the seat of the government and where its parliament is located. The country also boasts a highly representative government, with the President as Head of State and Government and a vibrant multi party system. Interestingly, the Parliament elects the President directly and has a total of 61 seats!

Inside the Gaborone Parliament

The Arab Republic of Egypt

The famed link between Africa and Asia, through its Sinai peninsula extension, Egypt is a major power not just in Africa, but in the Arab world. Most of the population is concentrated around the capital, Cairo, Alexandria and other cities across the very fertile Nile Valley. Egypt’s GDP per capita is over $218,000 and the backbones of the economy are tourism, agriculture, service and industry. The country has very rich history, dating back to 3000 BC, though more recently it became a Kingdom, in the early 1900s before becoming a republic in 1954.

The Parliament at Cairo

Egypt has been under Emergency rule since 1967, but the basic structure of the government is the President as head of state and a Prime Minister (though most of the power rested with the Head of State), and the military remains powerful. It is however still viewed as a multi-party democracy, with the country sub-divided into 21 governorates. Egypt’s parliament is in it’s capital city, Cairo; The building consists of a round hall with a dome covered in glass and botannical units within the space that are representative of what was in vogue at the time of its construction in the 1920s.

Inside the Egyptian Parliament

The Republic of Ghana

The word ‘Ghana’ means ‘Warrior King’. The republic was predominantly an Akan Kingdom before the British colonized most parts of it around 1874 and later gave her independence in 1957, the first Sub-Saharan African country to manage that. The GDP per capita of Ghana is over $18,000 and the economy is generally supported by gold and agriculture. Interestingly she was listed as the World’s Fastest growing Economy of 2011, with a predicted growth of 20% and the currency is strong, at an exchange rate of around 1.4 Ghanaian Cedi to the US Dollar.

Click here to read ‘Another African Tsunami’

The Parliament at Accra

After independence, Ghana was a parliamentary democracy but this changed to alternating military and civilian rule that bore the Fourth Republic after the new 1992 constitution that effectively divided power among the President, Parliament, State council and the independent judiciary. There are 10 administrative regions and the seat of Parliament is in the capital city of Accra. The Parliamentary Building is known as Job 600 and was built in the 1960s to host the first pan-African OAU conference. The main building is quite run down, and has been undergoing renovation for quite sometime now, but the main hall and the banquet room serve as the seat of the Legislature.

Inside the Ghana Parliament

The Republic of Kenya

World famous for its diverse wildlife and globally successful athletes, Kenya attained her independence in 1963 from the British after being occupied for half a century by her colonialists. Kenya’s climate is as diverse as her cultures; deserts, snow capped mountains, tropical forests, swamps, savannah grasslands and lakes. Her GDP per capita is the largest in East and Central Africa, over $32,000 and the economy, the largest non-mineral based on the continent, is generally supported by agriculture, service and tourism.

The Parliament at Nairobi

Following the adoption of a new constitution in 2010, the country is sub divided into 47 administrative regions known as counties. These will be governed by Governors, independent of the central government based in Nairobi, the capital city, and the seat of Parliament. Currently there are 222 Members of Parliament. The Houses of Parliament were constructed in the 1950s, with interesting ethnic and cultural designs embellished onto the main external walls; the main body of which seems to jut out and arch, as the entrance is a stylized arch with a star structure hanging over the modern themed gate. The gardens surrounding the building are wide and well manicured, but the interior should be undergoing some renovation, expansion and redesign.

Inside Kenya’s Parliament

The Kingdom of Morocco

This constitutional monarchy also primarily administers over Western Sahara. Morocco is relatively stable politically, the economy mainly relying on tourism and phosphates and she boasts a growth rate averaging 4% annually. The GDP per capita of Morocco is over $103,500 making her one of Africa’s more affluent societies, with beautiful cities that attract tourists, such as Rabat, Marrakech and Casablanca dotting the arid and semi-arid landscape. Morocco gained independence from France and Spain in

The Parliament at Rabat

The King of Morocco is the Head of State, controlling the military, but the Prime Minister is the head of government and the multi-party setup. There are also two parliamentary chambers and an independent judiciary. The country recently (July 2011) passed new constitutional reforms that are believed to be a step forward in the government of Morocco. The legislative bodies sit in the Parliament based in the capital, Rabat.

Inside the Moroccan Parliament

The Federal Republic of Nigeria

Named after the Niger river that meanders through her, Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent and the seventh largest in the world. In 1914 the Niger are was formally united and known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, but the country gained her independence in 1960 from Britain. Her economy is one of the fastest growing on the planet, with a projected growth of 8% for 2011 and mainly based on the oil she possesses in abundance. The GDP per capita for the country is over $216,000.

The Parliament at Abuja

The government operates on a federal system much like that of the United States, with a Senate and House of Representatives, though the President retains all Executive power. The Parliament of Nigeria is in its capital city, Abuja, resplendent in the national colours of the country. Abuja was a custom-designed city, well planned away from the previous congested capital, Lagos, with large areas of Parks and recreational areas, some designed by architect Manfredi Nicoletti. There are 36 states and one Federal Capital territory.

The United Republic of Tanzania

Home to the roof of the continent, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania boasts stunning wildlife and beaches (especially those of the island of Zanzibar). With a GDP per capita of over $22,700, she is only second to Kenya in East and Central Africa in terms of economic muscle. Agriculture is the focal point of her economy, contributing to over half of the government’s revenue, but Tanzania is also rich in natural gas and some minerals.

The Parliament at Dodoma

Tanzania is a one-party state, the CCM, and the country’s government consists of the President and an elected Prime Minister who is the head of the National Assembly. The country is divided into 26 regions; 21 on the mainland and 5 on Zanzibar, and enjoys relative political stability to most of her neighbours. Between independence and 1996, Dar es Salaam was the seat of the government, but the capital is now Dodoma, where the houses of Parliament are located, though most government offices are still located at the Coast.

Inside the Tanzanian Parliament

The Republic of South Africa

By far the wealthiest and most advanced economy on the continent, South Africa’s GDP per capita is estimated at over $357,000, bolstered by mineral wealth (particularly gold), tourism, industry and services. The British successfully overcame the Boers in the Second Boer Wars of 1902 and she remained a colony until 1961 when in a white only referendum, the country became a republic and left the Commonwealth; the Queen ceased to be head of state. South Africa then struggled with apartheid up until the early 1990s, though the white minority enjoyed the highest standards of living in Africa.

The Parliament at Cape Town

The President of South Africa is the Head of State and of Government, and appoints a Deputy President and Ministers who form the Cabinet, then there is the National Assembly, made up of 400 members. There are 3 capitals; Pretoria (Tshwane) the seat of the Executive, Johannesburg the seat of the Judiciary and Cape Town the seat of the Legislature (Parliament). The original designer of the building was Charles Freeman, but he miscalculated the foundations and was replaced by Henry Greaves who oversaw it to its completion. The new House of Assembly was designed by Herbert Baker, the same man who designed modern day Nairobi School and Nairobi Primary School. The Houses of Parliament, Cape Town, boast Corinthian porticos and beauitful pavilions.

Inside the South African Parliament

Of Princes and Palaces…

Dungeons, dragons, witches and wizards, charming princes, desperate damsels, fabulously wealthy Kings and Queens; the epic tales of royalty and fantasy abound and amaze. We’ve all been given a glimpse into the lives of what medieval monarchs went through, seen the mammoth castles and fortresses they called home (as depicted in ‘modern’ television series such as Game of Thrones, Camelot and Merlin) It is indeed a fascinating life that royalty lead, having to balance national duty with personal life and always maintaining the not less than perfect outward appearance. Royalty are revered and adored and the only way to be one was/is to be born one!

Ever since I was in Class Seven, I was an ardent fan of a guy world renowned, not in his own right or achievement, but by the simple fact that he was the Royal of one of the tiniest yet wealthiest nations on earth; Prince Albert of Monaco. As we all know, shy of two months ago, Britain’s Prince William wed relatively unknown Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, in a ceremony that was likened to that of Princess Diana and Prince Charles way back in the late eighties. Prince Albert of Monaco however, wed the former South African Olympic gold swimming champion (now Princess) Charlene (formerly Wittstock) just this past weekend, in a religious ceremony that was much less publicized by the media but was arguably more glamorous than that of the British Royals. For some snippets of just how lavish this affair was, you can have a look here:

Now you have to understand, I have been obsessed with the European royals, their lives and their castles ever since I was young; I would imagine myself as the heir to the throne of Monaco or that of the equally if not wealthier Sultandom of Brunei on the Indonesian subcontinent.

The medieval and grandiose palaces they reside in, the dazzling behemoths they are driven in and the unrivaled cuisine they enjoy. Who would want to pass up life as a Royal? In this post however, I will let you admire what some of the Princes of (mostly) European monarchies enjoy and the ‘delicacies’ that are the official Palaces of their Principalities.

Prince Harry of Wales and Buckingham Palace

Prince Harry

This Prince really needs no introduction. Harry has earned a reputation as a lovable rogue. Despite getting a D in Geography, he excelled in Sports at Eton College. At age 23, he was appointed by the Queen as Counsellor of State and has already embarked on fulfilling his royal duties. But beyond the headlines, he’s got a heart of gold and a passion for causes like Walking With the Wounded, a charity that benefits wounded veterans that is currently on a trek to the North Pole.

Originally designed as a large townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham around 1705, Architects John Nash and Edward Blore later extensively enlarged what is now Buckingham Palace to house British monarchs, the first of whom being Queen Victoria herself. This was of course way after King George III had acquired the property for his wife and during which the Palace was aptly named the ‘Queen’s House’.

Buckingham Palace (aerial view)


Andrea Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco and the Le Rocher Palace in Monaco

Andrea Pierre of Monaco

If Prince Albert of Monaco dies without having any legitimate children, then Andrea will adopt the name Grimaldi and be the next Prince. Casiraghi is one of a trio of Europe’s hottest young royals (along with brother Pierre and sister Charlotte). Second in line to the Monegasque throne, he lives mostly in New York and is fond of skateboarding.

Unlike most royals, though, he lacks official titles, since his late Italian father was a commoner, much like Kate Middleton (anyone he marries will have to be content with the family’s vast fortune). He is also actively involved in charity, such as with his mother’s AMADE Mondiale charity in and around the African continent.

Built in 1191 as a fortress and garrison, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, on the Rocher Island, has an elegant facade, thanks to King Honore the 2nd who commissioned the Architect Jacques Catone to transform the Palace from the grim fortified nature it possessed to a more renaissance-looking structure. The main façade facing the square, the “front” of the palace, was given decorative embellishments which gave it a beautiful appearance by the end of the 18th Century.

Le Rocher Palace, Monaco

Prince Felix of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Palace was built for the mother of King Louis Xlll of France, which would more than explain the elegant and almost femininely appealing facade of the Palace. It was thematically modelled on the Palazzo Pitti of sister city Florence in Italy. Most notably, from 29 July to 15 October 1946, the Luxembourg Palace was the site of the talks of Paris Peace Conference.

Prince Felix

One of the most intelligent royals on the planet, brainy billionaire Prince Felix is a 6-foot-tall jet-setter. He is the second son of the Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg. He is currently second in the line of succession. Said to be easygoing and flirty, he’s also surprisingly down to earth: Before recently moving to Rome for a master’s degree in Bioethics, he worked in the PR department of a sports marketing firm.

Prince Azim of Brunei and the Istana Nurul Iman

Prince Azim of Brunei

For those of you had no idea, Brunei is one of the wealthiest nations on Earth! With A-listers such as singer and songstress Mariah Carey a regular attendee of his social gatherings, it is no surprise that fun-loving Azim, fourth in line to the throne, is lavishly generous with his estimated $22 billion fortune, and regularly throws blowout bashes that grab “party of the year” headlines. He’s a lover of trinkets and baubles, too: One of his favorite childhood gifts from his father was a gold- and diamond-encrusted Game Boy.

The Istana Nurul Iman is both the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and also the seat of the government. It was completed in 1984 at a total cost of $400 million. The name is derived from arabic and means Palace of the Light of Faith. Leandro Locsin was the principal Architect, basing its design on the Islamic and Malay influences within the Principality of Brunei.

The Istana Nurul Iman entrance

Prince Carl Phillip of Sweden and the Stockholm Palace

Prince Carl Phillip of Sweden

They say he is one of the ‘better looking’ of European Royals, Prince Carl of Sweden. He is the only son of King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden. A wild child fond of clubbing and sports (from cross-country skiing to soccer), he’s been linked with a reality-show beauty since splitting with his girlfriend of a decade a couple of years ago. He currently studies at the Swedish University of Agricultural studies and also pursues his passion of graphic design in Stockholm.

The largest of all European royal palaces and entirely built of brick and sandstone sections, Stockholm Palace was predictably a fortress at first, to protect Lake Malaren. It happens to be the official offices of King Carl XVl Gustaf, though the family lives in Drottingholm Palace.

Stockholm Palace

Phone Etiquette

This happens to be a repost from my old blog, but from what I’ve witnessed and heard of late, I think it’s necessary to remind Kenyans of  basic phone etiquette…

Ever wondered why the only food that isn’t another man’s poison happens to be… money? We all seem to want piece of it, and when we get it, we never seem to get enough of it! We live more than half of our lives toiling for it and ironically, at the end of our cycle, we realize that it’s not the most important thing in the world after all. What ends up being important then, happens to be the legacy we leave behind; what we’ve done with our lives, how we treated others, our relationships, the memories we possess, the feats we’ve achieved, the mistakes we conjured and ultimately, where we think we’re headed after that…whether it be the afterlife, purgatory, hell, reincarnation, Valhalla, Heaven or a slumber akin to death.

All of that laid aside, what I will focus on in this post is one particular gadget that our money constantly loves  catching up with trends and technological advances, though most importantly, to remain socially relevant in this rapidly changing oblate sphenoid … it’s a different kind of relationship… it’s the one most of us possess with our Blackberries, iPhones, Nokias, Samsungs…etc

There’s been a proliferation of mobile phone usage in Kenya since late 1999, the year I remember it was only my father who possessed that funky but monolithic mobile gizmo that cost as much as two and a half year’s rent in say, Jamhuri Estate, in the entire household. Today though, you can get a Kshs.500 second hand handset or the infamous ‘Kabambe’ at just less than 1500. The figures are so astronomically confusing and complicated that it would take an entirely different post to write about it. However, my concern is that while we were out purchasing our nifty gadgets, we were not taught how to use these little things that tend to be, if wrongfully used, a nuisance to both ourselves and to those around us, without us even knowing it.

Think of it this way, you buy a tube of Glycerin, not labeled, no directions for use: what would you use it for?… the outcome would be disastrous! Thus, here are my 10 Laws of Phone Etiquette which I recommend to all of us…

1. The phone won’t fly away!
When you’re at a meeting, date or rendezvous, don’t clutch on to your mobile handset, no matter how expensive, or how precious it may be to you. Its ok to keep in in your pocket or lay it on the table, just don’t hold it in your palm like it’s a white dove ready to fly off any second.

2. The handset is only used by one person at a time. Mind your own business!
Lots of us seem to have a tough time with this rule. A handset is your own possession. What you do with it is your identity and your own business. Don’t ever try and peek over to someone else’s handset screen either in a vehicle, a matatu, the cinema or a public convention. It’s very intrusive on another’s privacy and it won’t go down well if your caught peeking.

3. Using your phone at the dinner/lunch table is equivalent to chewing with your mouth open
When you’re having a meal, avoid picking calls or texting. It’s polite to finish what you came to do at the table and then going on afterwards to finish up your business or phone conversation. It also draws away your attention from the goings-on at the table and does not create a welcoming aura to your persona. If you constantly are on your phone, you may be perceived as a recluse or a snob and this habit may isolate you from the rest.

4. Discretion of the Ringtone
No matter how hot your ringtone is or how great or in vogue it may be, be cautious as to when and where you decide to change your handset’s profile to ‘General’ or ‘Silent’. Just because you like a particular tune does not mean everyone around you does. Measure the demographics and environs to discern whether or not they will be pleased to listen to your latest tune. Don’t take too much time picking up your phone, just for the sake of the ringtone, but if you’re sure that you are among tolerant friends, then by all means… Make sure you adjust the volume of your handset’s functionality to suit the environment you are in and you will find that you and your ‘best friend’ become less of a nuisance.

5. Always cordially reply any text message you receive
In this day and age of social media and emails, it takes a lot of effort for someone to send you a text message, unless of course they prefer a more personal or traditional touch to inter-personal communication. Therefore if you do receive a text message, ensure that it is duly replied, even for confirmation of receipt. It goes a long way towards improving the perception the sender has of you in relation to how it will go if you choose not reply.

6. Treat every phone conversation like a secret that has to be kept
When you receive a call, speak in a clear but ‘personal’ tone. Not everybody around you wants to listen in on what you have to say. If it’s a crowded area, like let’s say in a public service vehicle…consider covering your mouth to the speakerphone of the handset so as to be clearly but at the same time, privately heard. Always measure the tone of your voice and do not unnecessarily shout out or exhibit unwarranted emotions in public.

7. Treat the phone like you would your In-laws after marriage
It is your phone but do not discriminately use it. Answer all calls even if you do not want to speak to the person at the moment in time for various reasons. It is polite to pick up the call and say something dismissive rather than to leave it ringing. It may also not always be the person we think may be calling but a third party using the handset. So let us avoid embarrassing situations and face our problems head-on, even if we may be unwilling to. Acceptable calling hours are usually from 8.00am to 8.00pm and any time before or after that is usually reserved for relatives, people you know very well or are close to.

8. Always return your missed calls, unless otherwise
If for one reason or another you were unable to pick up a call or had stepped out for just a bit, kindly make the effort of calling back and do not assume that the caller will redial! It is your duty to call back and confirm. One ‘Please Call Me’ is enough if you do not have units on your mobile phone. Do not send multiple flashbacks, as this proves to be annoying or too persistent. Do not also persistently call a number more than twice because you may be in danger of being labeled a ‘stalker’. Also avoid hiding your caller ID unless under very special circumstances (which are yet to be known to me); this doesn’t encourage the person to pick up the call and if missed, the recipient will not be able to call you back.

9. Minimize the time you spend on your handset
Studies have shown that the amount of time you spend on your phone could affect different aspects of your life: from your level of productivity at the workplace to your eyesight going awry as you constantly stare at the screen on Facebook or Twitter. Manage your mobile phone usage, increase the time you spend out in the ‘real’ world, meeting and getting to know people and getting involved with your environment. We don’t want life to pass us by on a ‘mobile’ technicality after all! Preferably us e a hands-free or Bluetooth device on calls, at least occasionally, as persistent phone usage has been known to increase chances of getting brain cancer

10. Be Eco-Friendly with your phone!
Most manufacturers have come up with environmentally sound ways of disposing of your unused or old handsets. You can hand them back to either your service provider or the manufacturer’s office e.g. Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson etc. and their experts will do what needs to be done, with the least negative impact to our environment.
I hope this post genuinely helps you with your phone usage.

The Mshipi Chronicles

I still don’t know how to drive… shocking, I know, but there it is. Ok, thats a bit of an exaggeration… let me just say i don’t have a DL. When I ponder about it, I would conclusively say that it’s a matter of blatant disinterest rather than opportunity (or lack thereof). It is purely for this reason that I decided to aptly call the start of this series of articles, the Mshipi (Seatbelt) chronicles, only because I go through these experiences from the passenger seat, and more often than not, on public transportation: as popular in Nairobi as in any other global metropolis (make that any ‘third world’ metropolis).

The route I predominantly use is Kawangware 46, and yes, the journey home is usually as callous and uncomfortable as the title delicately suggests. At the central transportation hub of the city, Kencom Bus Station, one may observe the habits of Nairobians, especially during rush hours. If it were any other capital of the Western world, citizens would be deeply engrossed in one of the latest best sellers as they patiently queue to take either the bus or the train home…but not in Nairobi. To say it’s all akin to a zoo at feeding time would be putting it lightly. Firstly, the bus companies openly exploit consumers: the fare they charge is more often than not, exorbitantly high and continues to sky rocket when people need to get home the most… don’t even get me started about what happens when the floodgates of heaven open on the Central Business District; it’s as if the raindrops fall with currency fertilizer in commuter pockets. Secondly, the commuters seem assuringly unaware of their rights. Why you would make a ‘scramble for Africa’ for a City Hoppa or KBS just to be exploited, is beyond me and thats why I admire ‘the others’ on Route 8 to Kibera. There is no way in hell those individuals would pay anything above 40/= come rain or sunshine.

To say that I’ve seen it all on my daily commute home would be the hugest understatement of the 21st Century. (No wait. Kind of reminds me of this guy way back in the 19th Century who said that this ‘contraption’ known as the television set would never catch on with the human race). Anyway, there happens to be three kinds of people in the world right about now… there are the Arabs, the rest of the world and Kenyans… Kenyans, these very special people with peculiar habits and more often than not traversing global headlines in a plethora of ways. I digress…

This fine Thursday evening, just after a draining day at the office, the early Nairobi night chill ricochetting shivers down my spine as I meander through Kenyatta Avenue onto Standard, passed 20th Century and into Mama Ngina, aka the pedestrians haven within the capital. The treelings that dot the ca brio block tiles en masse seem finally at peace, after an entire afternoon of absorbing dust, sweat, saliva and toxic artificial fumes from cars, trucks and kitchens. Couples are hand in hand, cherishing the few moments they have together after a demanding day at work/college: strolling, standing, on the City Council park benches, pecking, observing and reminiscing. The domineering cylindrical structure that is the Nairobi Hilton beckons, with its chiselled and marbled facade, and as you turn round from it, the vessel-like KCB Centre swallows up the miniscule square peripheried by the National Archives, Galitos and Norwich Union Towers. Then you cross the street and your tranquility is squashed by the hoard of commuters at the Bus Hub. It so happens to be 8.00pm and I’m bewildered as to why there are still so many people here at this time of night, notwithstanding the 24-hr tag the government is trying to slap onto the city’s lapels.

I recollect, it’s end-month. Normally this would be a good thing, but the bus companies always turn this into a boon… it means the mwananchi will cough up an extra 10/= or 20/= just to get home. What happens then is every Tom, Wanjiru and Omondi decides to linger a little longer by the shelters, so that the prices come down. But KBS, City Hoppa and Double M are relentless in milking our mfukos dry; the result is a literal stampede for any bus that comes by. To my left, I witness this primly dressed lady, in a yellow cardigan and lime green jeans trying to outrun a 46-seater bus as she makes an attempt at crossing the street… the side mirror of the vehicle nudges her just enough to topple her over her pumps and honestly the wheel of that bus would have fractured her knee had it not been for the driver’s speedy brake. Meanwhile, a bus pulls up right infront of me and I embrace the opportunity and dash in, only to realize the driver hadn’t really stopped but was moving a couple of centimeters forward. This doesn’t stop the barrage of bodies from boarding the bus though. I comfortably get a seat right behind the conductor and blankly wait till the bus fills up. T-minus 5 minutes later and we are on our way home, the entire space engulfed with silence as everyone settles in and looks forward to reaching their destination. Shortly the conductor takes out his ticketing machine and starts charging the passengers. He happens to be right in the middle of the aisle when the driver sharply applies the brakes of the bus to meet a red light and consequently sends the guy sprawling onto the rubber sheathed floor.

The passengers waste no time in displaying their dissatisfaction with the driver. All sorts of insults hurled at him as the conductor picks himself up, dusts himself off and resumes with his duties. Quiet reigns again, but only for a short while, before this drunk commences with his load of nonsense for the day. Nobody has the energy nor the time to put up with him though, so we all tolerate his antics and outbursts, but what he does before alighting is what had me in utter disbelief. Before the bus comes to a stop at the next stage, he scurries down the aisle and takes over the entrance to the bus, usurps what the conductor was doing and hangs on the door’s edge as he yelps ‘beba gari beba gari‘. When the bus comes to a complete stop, he jumps off, unzips and would you believe it… starts to pee on the others who were alighting! Other distraught ladies vehemently refuse to alight and the bus has to move on to the next stage. All in a day’s trip I tell you. Travel safe folks….

‘Another’ African Tsunami…

Being an ardent Arsenal fan, the last couple of weeks have been kind of equivalent to the effect this terrible tsunami has had on the socio-economical landscape of the mighty Island of Japan. It so happens the Gunners are making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and aren’t the media (trained and untrained) having a field day at my team’s expense. Crashing out of 3 tournaments in two weeks is not an easy feat, trust me, and its not like Wenger planned for all this to happen. I’m cognizant of the fact that at a time Arsenal went without a trophy for 17 years, so what kind of a fan would I be if I didn’t stick by it if the others could that long?

Speaking of Japan, am I the only one who was experiencing this inexplicably hopeless feeling in my gut, as I watched the videos on BBC and Al Jazeera… the tumultuous waves sweeping away anything in their wake: men, women, children, vehicles, livestock, trees, trucks… I guess the only Hollywood blockbuster I can remember that came close to what I imagine the Japanese civilians are going through was Deep Impact. Picture a tower of water, about half the height of Times Tower, consuming the entire shoreline of Mombasa all the way to the tip of the North coast…and tourism being our leading foreign exchange earner, my guess is as good as yours what that would mean for our economy, notwithstanding how long it would take our semi-dysfunctional government to clear such a catastrophe up.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the tsunami, its that for Africa to forge ahead in its agenda to catch up with the rest of the world in the ideological revolution that is steadily taking place, there has to be a turn around from traditionally agrarian dependencies to innovation, science and technology. The tsunami has caused enormous havoc throughout the Japanese countryside…. there’s no hiding that, nuclear power plants are threatening to meltdown and its practically impossible to fathom how the government will clear up all the mess in the streets and piece back the economy together in a giffy. Then you might ask, what is left? I’m sure I’m not the only Kenyan who’s been left wondering how we would cope if disaster struck the same way, and being an African country, it wouldn’t be surprising that the world would be a lot less understanding and helpful unless it convincingly suited their national agendas. The only recurrent statement I hear and see is the fact that the Japanese can handle it…great engineers, solid planners, quality work and brilliant minds…with such a wealth of tangible resource, who could argue with that?

Western countries long ago discovered that the only way to move forward is to faithfully invest in its population, testament to the fact that most of the European, Asian and continental American countries have admirable social policies and ensure that the general population is taken care of… meanwhile our African governments are perpetually spiraling into a cesspool of self gratuity, with the agenda of individual and familial betterment, at the expense of the civilians they were faithfully elected to serve. To deepen this quagmire, Africans are generally slow to rise up to the occasion of fighting for their collective rights because of a rigid mentality brought about by a new form of segregation, ethnicity mixed with ignorance, which comprehensively claws across diverse peoples, tongues and sub Saharan nations.

Let me put the ethnic divide theory on hold for a minute and reflect on this: Africa is divided into roughly three categories IMO; the political class, the wealthy and the ordinary. The ordinaries are the predominant, as on any other continent, but instead of the wealthy being at the top of the food chain, we have placed the political class on such an elevated pedestal, that a subtle taste of its resultant potently alluring juices would corrupt even the noblest of souls. This then equated to political dynasties, dictatorships, misuse of public funds and a wide range of a cornucopia of issues that any citizen who knew their rights, wouldn’t stand for, or be hood-winked into. Whether it be a population that lacks a civic education or simply delights in being spoon fed with a barrage of excuses by biased forces, I have not yet come to that conclusion, but what is clear is that the world as we know it is evolving…

It’s not an agrarian revolution and neither is it industrial nor technological, I think we are way past that… it happens to be an enlightenment that transcends the physical and meta-physical.

As 7 billion earthlings (read a billion Africans) come to the realization that they can force the will of their elite governors, and as Mother Nature fights back with the very creation she was to support, it is a cataclysmically volatile race to a finish line that religion and belief has foreseen for thousands of years, dotted with uncertainty, a poignancy for the past and faith in the promises of the future.

Better Cities, Better Life

The first Monday of every October was designated by the United Nations as World Habitat Day. The theme of the day this year is, rather befittingly ‘Better City, Better Life’. Now, UN Habitat happens to be headquartered right here in our ‘Safari Capital of the World’, Nairobi and with that should come a truckload of responsibilities that our city should take upon itself, both as an obligation to its citizens and as a necessity towards rising global standards. As the world experiences rapid and elemental changes in technological advancement, practical efficiencies and environmental conservation, it seems only reasonable that any global citizen would want a safe and secure setting to grow his/her business and bring up his/her family.

Beautiful City in the Sun, Nairobi

Africa is no longer being excused from meeting international standards. It would make no sense for a continent that was relatively at per with Asia half a century ago to still be lagging behind in many if not all aspects of advancement. It would also beat logic to try and assist a resource-rich continent with development aid that ultimately ends up being gobbled up by a greedy political class that seems stuck in a perpetually backward bubble. There comes a time when we, as citizens of Africa, must snap out of it and take charge…an ideological revolution. They say that the wars of the future will not be fought with guns and grenades but with guts and genius. This is not to mean that there is nothing good about our motherland, on the contrary, as we mark the 24th World Habitat Day, there is a plethora of strides that not just Africa, but the entire world, has made. This year’s scroll of honour awards went to various cities in the world for their unique and individual ways of helping to improve the quality of human settlements.

2010 UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour award Winners: Vienna, Austria was lauded for developing a model urban renovation programme…instead of carelessly tearing down old and disused buildings, the Municipal Council has been consulting residents and supporting ideas and ways in which it could improve existing sites. Johannesburg, South Africa was awarded for assisting city residents get affordable and decent housing and help improve living conditions. Morocco on the other hand is working fast to reduce the size of its urban slums as Medellin, Columbia successfully implemented and urban poverty reduction programme. Kunshan, China was awarded for granting migrants the right to having basic services as Singapore summed up the awards scroll for helping to provide ‘one of the world’s cleanest, greenest and most socially conscious housing programmes’.

The first Global Habitat conference was held in Vancouver, Canada in 1976. I’m not surprised then that the issues that beset the World at that time are still the very same ones that plague us almost 30years later: global urbanization and how to control it, inadequate shelter for growing populations, lack of sufficient water…I guess you get the picture. The blueprint is the same across the board, from the developed world to the emerging economies and the developing world. Nairobi itself is not exactly a model of perfect living but I do believe we can get there, with commitment and dedication to the needs of our population.

Shanghai, China is the location for the official global observance of the day, I guess because of the great strides the city itself has made in human settlement improvement. Back at home, the official observance venue in Kenya is the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru, which is also interesting because the town was recently declared the fastest growing town in Africa!

I had a look at a list of the World’s fastest growing cities, and it would seem that East and West Africa are in a global hotspot. Kampala no.13, Lubumbashi no.12, Dar es Salaam no.9, Lagos 7th and Bamako 6th. This is as much a blessing as it is a curse…the growing populations pose the greatest possible potential as well as the greatest possible threat. How will the administrations of these cities meet the growing service demands for its people? How will they minimize the growing threat to the environment? How will they keep the people healthy and ultimately how will the government plan for subsequent increments in numbers? And it seems that the bulk of this responsibility will belong to the developing world… have a look at this;

  • Globally, Karachi in Pakistan had the second largest population growth between 2000 and 2010 (3.1 million increase) followed by New Delhi, India (2.9 million increase). The ten cities with the largest population increments between 2000 and 2010 were all located in Asia and Africa;
  • 324 global cities with a population of over 750,000 registered rapid growth of more than 20.0% between 2000 and 2010. The fastest-growing city was Abuja, Nigeria (a whooping 139.7% increase!) followed by the Yemenite cities al-Hudayda (108.1% increase) and Ta’izz (94.0%). Of these cities, 53.1% were located in Asia Pacific, 24.4% in Africa and the Middle East, 16.0% in Latin America and the remaining 6.5% in North America, Australasia and Western Europe;
  • Of the world’s 324 fastest-growing cities between 2000 and 2010, 84 were in China. Of the world’s regions, Asia Pacific had the largest growth of urban population between 2000 and 2010, with an increase of 378 million;
  • Africa, the world’s least urbanized continent, is also the one with the fastest rate of urbanisation. The average annual rate of urban population growth in the Middle East and Africa between 2000 and 2010 stood at 3.3%, compared to 2.7% in Asia Pacific, 1.7% in Latin America, 1.3% in North America, 0.9% in Western Europe and -0.1% in Eastern Europe.

A future city, here with us, Hong Kong

As startlingly stark as the figures are, we are left with the task of ensuring that our future cities don’t turn out to be behemoths of congestion and filth but beacons of comfort, security and contentment. Africa as at now has a larger urban population than the whole of North America and out of every 6 people in the world, the likelihood is that 2 are Chinese, 1 is Indian and 1 is African! Let’s take advantage of the fact that growing populations will necessitate infrastructure and service development, thus creating more job opportunities and foster growth of businesses. Consumer markets will also grow and push these cities the limits. But let all this be a qualitative development and not just in terms of quantity. Building standards need to be held sacrosanct and continuous self -improvement checks made. The environmental impact of human settlements is also taking a front row seat in the arena of planning for the future. I found some interesting local suggestions for future developments that you might like to take a look at here:

I’d like to see a Nairobi that caters for its residents faithfully, provides adequate housing and services and is a mile ahead in planning for the future…a Nairobi with reliable and efficient transportation, cleaner air and happier people. A Nairobi that rivals the Dubais, Tokyos and Hong Kongs of the World. But most of all, I’d love to see a Nairobi that is Nairobi, proud in its own right, wouldn’t you?