In Summary
  • Increasingly unmoored from our villages, to these new cosmopolitan creatures I was seeing, Nairobi isn’t a city. It is their village.
  • The bizarre dress and tattoo styles on display are their traditional costumes and “tribal markings”.

  • They are an expression of fast-evolving urban individuality and identities.

They are many creatures like me, but we don’t yet have a name.

We are the people who fled the noise and bustle of (Nairobi’s) central business district and took off for the suburbs, rarely returning to the place where we got our baptism of fire.

I guess we are the “CBD exiles”.


After an absence of many months, recently I have been visiting again. Surprisingly, I liked it.

There is something seductive about the frenzy, the crazy matatus and the sheer insanity of Kirinyaga and River roads.

The good thing with staying away from the CBD, and not having to struggle and work in its belly daily, is that it allows you to return to it with fresh eyes.

One of the last times I made this return to the CBD, I had some business to do at Telposta Towers. I had never been inside a Huduma Centre, so out of curiosity I did.

The plan was to look around and leave after five minutes. I left nearly an hour later.

I just sat and observed. The lines at the Huduma Centre were different from most of those you see in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.

Most queues are usually about compliance (to file taxes, pay the children’s fees, pay electricity and water bills, pay a bribe at a state office); or are undertaking a civic duty that will leave you heartbroken (election queues); or because you have been backed into a corner by the capitalist system and its rituals (at the bank); or because doing all the above has nearly driven you crazy and you are looking to keep sane (so you queue for a music concert, or to buy a ticket at the cinema).


The Huduma Centre is a bit of each one of the above but, primarily, you could say it’s the Great Hustler Pipeline.

It’s where the dreams, energy and genius that exist in the off-road economy come to see if they can become reality through the elusive help of “government services” and “enabling business environment”.

For so long, I hadn’t seen so many people scurrying about in the hope of becoming rich in future through honest work.

I said to myself, if there’s something like the “Kenyan dream”, perhaps the Huduma Centre is the place where you can best study what it is.

There are other things I see.

The CBD, I noticed, just keeps getting younger. In the part of town where I live, there used to be a Big Square restaurant. It closed. I thought maybe it had gone bust.

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