Exploring Nairobi: A Journey Through Time – Part XI

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The first postal headquarters, constructed in 1906 on Delamere Avenue (currently Kenyatta Avenue), was originally based in Mombasa since its establishment in 1899. On our right, we passed Kipande House, built in 1913 as a train depot and later used for the issuance of IDs before being acquired by KCB in 1976.

Opposite stands the Nairobi Gallery, originally constructed in 1913 as the District Commissioner’s Office, where records of births, marriages, and deaths were kept until 1976 when Vice President Joseph Murumbi and his wife Sheila sold their art collection to the Kenyan government.

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Turning onto Uhuru Highway, we marveled at the Nyayo Monument, created in 1988 to mark 10 years of former President Moi’s rule and 25 years of independence, located at Central Park. Uhuru Park also features the Pope’s Pyramid, in honor of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1980, and the Nyayo Fountains. The park itself was completed in 1971.

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Our journey culminated in the sprawling expanse of Kibera, a microcosm of Kenya’s complex tapestry of culture and identity. Against the backdrop of corrugated iron shanties and bustling marketplaces, I unraveled the tangled web of history that shaped this vibrant community. From its origins as a settlement for Nubian soldiers to its status as a symbol of urban poverty, Kibera bore witness to Kenya’s struggle for social justice and equality.

In the late 19th century, the British presence in East Africa began to solidify, marked by significant events that intertwined colonial governance, military strategy, and the displacement of indigenous peoples. In 1890, Captain Frederick Lugard of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) negotiated with Sudanese soldiers, formerly under Emin Pasha’s command, incorporating them into the IBEA’s forces in Uganda. This marked the beginning of their pivotal role in British imperial endeavors in the region.

By 1895, these Sudanese soldiers were formalized as the Uganda Rifles by the British Foreign Office, becoming essential for maintaining British control. Concurrently, the construction of the Uganda railway commenced in 1896, with the Sudanese soldiers providing crucial protection during its development.

However, discontent brewed among the Sudanese soldiers due to poor pay and living conditions, erupting into the Uganda Mutiny of 1897. This event underscored the British dependency on these troops for maintaining control.

By 1902, the Uganda Railway was completed, symbolizing British colonial achievements in the region. The Uganda Rifles, along with other contingents, were amalgamated to form the King’s African Rifles (KAR), officially recognized as regular troops under the British crown. In 1912, the British military consented to the settlement at Kibra – which translates to “Forest” in the Nubian language.

In 1918, ex-soldiers of more than 12 years’ service and their dependents were given permission to live on a plot in the area, build structures, graze a limited amount of cattle, and grow food, as long as they had a ‘shamba’ pass issued by the military. 291 such shamba passes were issued.

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In 1928, administration of Kibra was handed over from military administration to civilian authorities, marking the beginning of a period of confusion and repression. The repercussions of these colonial activities became evident in subsequent years. The settlement of soldiers’ dependents throughout Kenya and Uganda, particularly in Kibra (soon to be Nairobi), led to tensions with indigenous peoples like the Maasai, whose lands were ceded to the British. The colonial government repeatedly attempted to evict the Sudanese from Kibra.

The post-World War I era saw the formalization of segregation policies, relegating Africans to ethnic reserves and classifying certain groups, like the Sudanese soldiers and their families, as “detribalized natives.” Kibra, initially established as a military reserve, became a focal point for Sudanese settlement, despite repeated attempts by colonial authorities to evict them.

Throughout World War II, the KAR continued to serve the British in various conflicts, solidifying their position within the colonial apparatus. In 1939, the Sudanese were permitted to stay in Kibra because no other suitable settlement could be found for them.

However, post-war realignments, such as the realignment of the Uganda Railway through Kibra in 1946-1948, further marginalized the Sudanese population, leading to the destruction of homes and insufficient compensation.

As Kenya moved towards independence in the early 1960s, the status of the Sudanese, now identifying as Nubians, remained uncertain. The bulldozing of Salama village in 1962 highlighted the continued dispossession faced by the community. With Kenya’s independence in 1963, constitutional provisions granted citizenship to those born in Kenya or with parents born in Kenya, securing the legal status of the Nubian community within the newly formed nation.

However, the government designated Kibera as an unauthorized settlement. This gave the tenants no rights to their homes or land and absolved the government of any responsibility to provide basic infrastructure.

Kibera became a place for those who could not afford legal housing. Many came from rural villages, dreaming of making it big in the city. As such, Kibera is full of ambitious and entrepreneurial people as well as a much greater mix of origins than anywhere else in Kenya.


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