TAXI drivers, like salon workers, are the best source of news in any country. They know all the dirt everyone carries. They hear all the gossip after all.
Having arrived in Nairobi for duty, I engaged a driver to take me around the city.
“What is the latest in Nairobi?” I asked my driver.
“Madam, the security situation is most worrying. Armed police now guard hotels because of the constant fear of terror attacks,” says Charles Muluki, who plies his taxi errands in Nairobi.
Police are paid to guard hotels because of what happened at a hotel in Nairobi’s Riverside area, which was stormed by armed terrorists shooting at will.
Unlike in Lusaka where hotels are manned by unarmed guards from hired private security firms, the situation is different here in Nairobi.
Police with guns at the ready are the first people one sees at any hotel or big establishment.
As a visitor coming from a country that is not scarred by terrorism, it is difficult to appreciate the apprehension that many others live with.
This is evident in Nairobi, Kenya’s commercial capital which has also been a target of terror attacks.
Not once but twice now, a busy dwelling place has been attacked by gunmen.
In 2017, the country was rattled by a series of attacks from a militant group, Al shabab, that one day took the fight to a shopping mall. For a few anxious hours, a horde of gun-toting bandits took over the mall and everyone on the premises was held hostage.
Some years earlier in 2008, parts of the city was bombed.
Shopping malls’ entrances are manned by armed police and soldiers in some cases.
Hotel workers and patrons alike are happy with the presence of police on the premises.
Nobody wants a recurrence of what happened to Dusit D2 Hotel.
Some of the measures hotels have taken include closing off some entrances.
“What is the point of having too many entrances when that might be used by terrorists to enter the hotel?
Most hotels are now having only one entrance plus basement and the same entrance is also the exit,” explains Charles.
“The terrorists,” he says, “are clever and can find a way in while our guards may not even be aware.”
Boda boda are now banned from the central business district (CBD) because they cause problems. In the past, when someone is robbed, you hear that the robbers ran away on a boda.
And snatching of phones and other things, it involved bodas. So the government is trying to stop them entering town. But some are stubborn and are coming into the CBD. So their bodas are confiscated and they have to pay lots of money to get the modified motor cycles back.
Not only are bodas banned but there is strict implementation of parking fee in the CBD to stop people from making unnecessary trips into town.
Sh200 fee in town is applicable for an hour. Uncompromising council police clamp all vehicles that are illegally parked.
The traffic congestion in Nairobi is worse in the morning and after-hours when people leave their offices for home.
Kikomba Market is like our own Soweto Market in Lusaka, where one can buy almost anything. A man carrying a carcass of a cow on his back rushes past our car.
Charles narrates that life is tough and the cost of living has gone up. At this market, one can buy a cow or goat and all manner of second-hand goods.
My driver doesn’t have any kind word for beggars, whom he says are “very rich”.
“They can make sh10,000 per day, which is someone’s salary. These babies are being hired for begging and are given milk and at the close of business, their handlers get all the money.
“They book a taxi to the airport at sh3,000 to go and beg, which means they make a lot of money. They don’t want to use a bus which is cheaper,” Charles says, without hiding his resentment.
Like in most cities, the oldest profession has its own niche and, according to Charles, many men have fallen prey.
“You see, the girls are very sleek and can rob a man blind. They use tricks to rob men. Normally, a hooker will ask for upfront payment. If a man is too drunk, he will remove all his money and take out a few notes for the girl and carelessly put it away. She will rob him before she leaves and because they are putting things in drinks, the man won’t know until next day,” Charles explains.
“He won’t remember anything except that his money is gone.”
Of course, my taxi driver knows everyone and even offers to introduce them to a journalist at a television station upon learning that I am one.
It was too late to take him up on this offer as he was now showing me where Freemasons meet to ‘pray’. We could not be allowed inside the yard when he requested that we enter. Guards politely said “no”.
Ok sawa sawa, it is ok… we moved on to another part of town, Mbombasa Highway. It was on this notorious road that a former Zambian high commission was involved in a nasty accident. Though the road is quite wide, motorists seem impatient such that even the speed limit of 100km/hrs seems too slow.
We went as far as the headquarters of Standard Media before turning back.
Weaving through matatus took time as all the space is quickly taken up.
The art of manoeuvring goes into overdrive as everyone fights for every small opening to edge ahead.
Charles has no regard for speed cameras that are over head on poles across the highway and other roads.
He thinks they don’t work because he has never received a ticket despite abrogating traffic rules.
The only rules he respects are the traffic lights because he has received a ticket for jumping the red light.
However, the real purpose of the street cameras is to counter car hijacking and other crimes.
With the use of the cameras, the police are able to track any incident that is reported.
This has helped to reduce crime.
Apart from matatus, members of the public can also use the train for moving to and from town.
However, whereas matatus literally move throughout the night, the train is operational only during the day.
A new train from Mombasa to Nairobi has also improved the transport situation in the country. For about sh3,000, one can travel from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi.
After eight hours of touring and braving the hustle and bustle of Nairobi, we called it a day.