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The many faces of Nairobi, “Green City in the Sun”

What do you picture when you think of Kenya?

Do you see lions napping in the setting sun? Giraffes galloping across vast plains? How about epic traffic jams and some of Africa’s largest slums?

Kibera slum (Photo: Leslie Tuttle)

Wipe away your preconceptions, because Nairobi is home to all of the above—and even that oversimplifies the reality of Kenya’s multifaceted capital city.

Photo by Robert Harding.

Photo by Robert Harding.

Founded in 1899 as a railroad depot on the line linking Mombasa and Kampala, Uganda, Nairobi quickly grew to become the capital of British East Africa. Under British rule, it was a major center for coffee and tea plantations and a destination for big game hunting. Remnants of colonialism endure in modern day Nairobi in the form of streets with English names and stately hotels serving afternoon tea.

After Kenyan independence in 1963, Nairobi began a period of intense urbanization, expanding from just under 267,000 residents in 1962 to more than 3.2 million in 2010, which makes it the largest (though youngest) city in East Africa today.

The results of rapid population growth have been two-edged. On one hand, Nairobi has become a major cultural and economic hub, home to many international businesses, museums, sports stadiums, and even Nairobi National Park, which offers views of both skyscrapers and zebras.

On the other hand, insufficient infrastructure for the city’s 4.1% growth rate has resulted in now-infamous slums and rampant crime, earning it the nickname Nairobbery.

Stereotypes just won’t do for this enormous, cosmopolitan capital, which is why we prefer to get to know it through the personal stories and experiences of its diverse citizens. As we work to conquer malnutrition, all of us at 2 Degrees are humbled and inspired by the work of heroes like Kennedy Odede, who is giving young girls in Nairobi’s Kibera slum the opportunity for education, health, safety and empowerment. Check back soon for amazing stories of hope in Kibera!

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