Nairobi is losing its glitter and devolution is responsible for the ignominy
By JB Ohaga
March 2007. This was the first time I stepped in to Lodwar town. The journey had taken us about two days from Nairobi and the sweltering heat was not letting up. As a young and upcoming journalist, I had landed an opportunity to visit Turkana District to document the voter education exercise in preparation for the 2007 December plebiscite. Even though I had not developed a keen sense of news judgement back then, I was able to pick out the fact that as our journey progressed and we drew closer to Turkana, a lot of people that we came across along the way, expected us to either hand out food stuffs or water. They openly begged for these items and when we could not provide, the disapproval, thinly veiled as disappointment, clearly showed on their faces. When we eventually made it to Lodwar town, the story was only slightly different. The expectant eyes remained, however, the people restrained themselves from openly asking for water or food handouts. .
The refrain of “mmetuletea nini kutoka Kenya” (what have you brought us from Kenya) was however a constant feature
This is the Turkana that for a long time was etched in my memory. I have since visited Turkana three or four times after that experience. However, these later visits have been quite brief and therefore did not accord me an opportunity to truly engage with the people of Turkana.
February 2018. Thanks to Friends of Lake Turkana, I recently visited the County to engage with young people in the creative space within the County. As a person, my threshold for getting surprised at anything is pretty high. This is borne out of being born in a family of seven boys, thus growing up, I had to get used to a lot of stunts whose efficacy relied heavily on elements of surprise. That being said, nothing prepared me for Turkana circa February 2018. The heat is still unforgiving, but there is bubbling exuberance from everyone you meet on the streets from the boda boda riders to the little children that still trek for long distances to schools.
What’s more, for the entire duration that I was there, no one asked for any alms, on the contrary, I had people reaching out either with goods for sale, or offering their services for pay. Additionally, there is a lot of construction work going on within and around Lodwar town. Most of the land that initially looked fallow and ignored, has all been acquired and secured by use of barbed wire fences. In fact, there has been massive mushrooming of buildings and structures within the town’s central business district that the County Government has had to demolish some of these to create space for a road. In Turkana that a mere ten years ago, had nothing but oceans upon oceans of unoccupied land!
I ormation seem like the most likely culprits. During this last visit, I sat in an audition hall at Friends of Lake Turkana with artistes from different areas and sub counties of Turkana County; Lokichar, Kalokol, Loima and Lodwar among others and those young people could have been picked from any hood within Nairobi. Nearly 90% of them had pieces of their work on their smartphones that they readily showcased to the panelists.
The gist of this piece is to bring to the fore the fact that there is a silent but steady wind of change blowing across this country. Nairobi’s hold on the imagination of Kenya is slowly but certainly slipping away. Thanks to devolution, the periphery is gradually being empowered, and thanks too to the ease of access to information and communication tools, people at the periphery are slowly realizing that Nairobi with all its filth, noise and stench, is merely a pretender to the city throne and it is only a matter of time before it loses any form of relevance to anyone else that does not reside in it.
am not sure what to attribute this huge transformation to, but devolution and easy access to inf