I knew Nairobi for having passed through it, many times, when I was heading for Rwanda or Burundi. I always stayed downtown, just for a night, before taking off again. I’ve been in town for just 24 hours but this time the situation is different. I’m staying outside the city, in the Westlands district, 15 minutes from downtown at the All Africa Council of Churches. It’s an upscale neighbourhood, far away from the monster downtown traffic jams. What do I mean by monster? At rush hour—meaning anytime between 8 AM and 7 PM—a 15-minute trip can take two hours!
We are also staying in this neighbourhood for security reasons. Last October and November, three grenades were thrown downtown, killing five people and wounding some twenty others. There are also kidnapping threats. These incidents are attributed to al-Shabaab, a Somali extremist group that wants to respond to the Kenyan incursions into their territory. Kenya is now refusing any new Somali refugees, for fear that “terrorists” could slip in with the refugees.
That is because Kenya wants to make its territory safe. It is holding presidential elections at the end of this year. The last elections, in 2008, caused over 1,500 deaths, events that highlighted tribal conflicts and, especially, the many inequalities existing in the country. Kenyans are afraid it could happen again, each for their own reasons. In Nairobi, the people I’ve met, from the taxi driver to the restaurant waiter, have suffered from the drop in the number of tourists that a large part of the population relies upon. Everyone has suffered in some way or another.
Barely 24 hours here. Did I mention that I just got my luggage today? All air traffic to and from Europe is being disrupted by cold and snow. The Montreal-Amsterdam flight was delayed three hours. I had 30 minutes to make my connection to Nairobi. I made it. My luggage didn’t.