On Safari: Always Begin with Nairobi

On Safari: Always Begin with Nairobi

No matter what I’ll be doing, I start my African journey in Nairobi, because to me that seems to be the heartbeat of Africa. It’s where you really find out what’s really going on.

It’s also a good idea to arrive at night, although I was unable to this time. Morning traffic in Nairobi is absolutely unbelievable. At night, the ride from the airport to the center city takes all of 20 minutes. It took me, today, 2 hours.

That may not seem unbelievable to someone working in Manhattan and commuting from a distance Connecticut suburb, but this was 12 miles in 2 hours. Most of the time you sit in a car with an engine turned off, waiting for the spurts of movement caused by police opening up certain routes into the city’s roundabouts.

I remember years ago in Bangkok that it was the same, so I also remind myself of this, because in those days Thailand was at the stage of underdevelopment that much of Africa is, today. And frankly, I think Africa’s going to reach Thailand’s level much more quickly.

After getting settled into my hotel, the rest of the day was spent reuniting with old friends, buying a new phone, and completing a consulting job critiquing a new Nairobi hotel transparent politics and very positive about the future based on the great performance of the present. Like many developing economies, Kenya’s GDP growth may approach 8% this year, phenomenal by developed world standards.

So more people have jobs and more jobs are better paid. It’s still a long, long way from what we consider tolerable. Parents still play an active role in getting their adult children .

The folks in Kenya are doing better than ever, energized by new and more jobs, and in probably more than half the households, young children are raised by grandparents, not parents.

This isn’t because the parents have abandoned their children, quite to the contrary! It’s because so many jobs are far from home and require the parents to live apart from their families, sometimes for weeks at a time. This is quite common. Nearly a sixth of Kenya’s population lives in or around Nairobi, but jobs are spread throughout the country.

As the Kenya economy improves, many Kenyans are beginning to feel that the adult children who had moved to places like the U.S. or the U.K. should return. It’s a particularly appealing feeling, since perhaps as many as half of the Kenyans living abroad are doing so as illegal immigrants.

Finally, today, I critiqued the new Sankara Hotel in Westlands. This is an upmarket area of Nairobi experiencing very rapid development, including a number of new NGO offices and residences. It’s near the National Museum.

Sankara is a sleek and beautiful hotel with a minimalist style that will remind guests of America’s Omni or W hotels. The rooms are spacious, beautifully furnished, lavished with lots of teak and glass. The hotel is an indoor/outdoor with the three outer edges of the pyramid where the rooms are, and the center a massive atrium.

It includes Nairobi’s swankiest pastry shop which looked to me like an art gallery more than a place to buy sweets! The pastries are works of art, and most, far too big for me!

The wine cellar, displayed entirely in glass on glass shelves in climate controlled glass pantries, houses some of the most famous wines in the world.

This is a hotel for the young, the romantic and the jet-setter, and it was no surprise that while I was there so was a convention of Citibank Africa and a South African movie video company.

Tomorrow: on to Botswana.