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Notes on the Geography of Kenya: Post-Colonial Nairobi

How fares the city today?

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Nairobi traffic is notoriously jammed, but the downtown sidewalks are crowded, too.

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Behind the people, the buildings are mostly post-colonial and formulaically modern.

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Older buildings--no more adventurous than the new ones--are scattered in the mix.

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Icons? One is 1969's Hilton Hotel, now grown tired. "I can't deny, it is an older property," one of the managers says apologetically. The design was by Zevet, an Israeli firm.

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The post office.

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Sheria House, the office of the Attorney-General.

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Office of the President.

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Make you feel better?

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Here's a building that's easy to dismiss, if you don't know its history: Nyayo House, the Nairobi Provincial Headquarters. It was built in the early 1980s, shortly after an attempted coup, and was equipped not only with prison cells but with cells with watertight seals so prisoners could be held in knee-deep water for days. Special ducts could also deliver freezing or hot and dusty air.

On May 1, 2003, the BBC reported that "many Kenyans are believed to have been tortured during Mr Moi's 24-year rule--2,000 in the infamous Nyayo House in Nairobi alone." The torture cells were put on public display, a step that did very little to satisfy the surviving victims. (The name Nyayo means "footsteps," in the sense of following in the footsteps of Kenya's first president, Moi's predecessor, Jomo Kenyatta.)

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How do people live in such a city? For the well-off, the solution involves deterrence.

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It involves avoiding downtown in favor of the northern suburbs.

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Inside.

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For foreigners it involves the emerging diplomatic quarters around the far-north United Nations Avenue. Here, the entrance to The Market, a shopping center in that district.

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It could be Southern California.

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For others, life can be very tough.

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The graves could hardly be fresher.

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Some find respite in the downtown block of greenery that is Jevanjee Gardens.

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There's religion, of course, offering high hopes.

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And there's getting out of town like suburbanites everywhere. Here, a line of ticket agents, each reaching out to workers heading home on commuter trains.

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Kenyatta sits and watches.


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