Nairobi, Kenya

Reference work entry


In the nineteenth century Nairobi was no more than a swampy tent city where the Masai grazed their livestock. It has since grown into one of the major African capitals with over 2 m. people. It is now the financial and administrative capital of Kenya.


Nairobi started out as a watering hole for the indigenous pastoral Masai people. They referred to the place as Uaso Nyirobi, the place of sweet waters. It was not until the late 1890s when the Mombasa–Uganda railway was built to bring trade and commerce to the interior regions of East Africa that the area became a railway mid-point. Settled by Indian labourers from Gujarat and the Punjab, the town succeeded Mombassa as the capital of British East Africa Protectorate in 1905. European highlands farming throughout the colonial period relied heavily on Nairobi.

On gaining independence in 1963, Kenya kept Nairobi as its capital. A period of rapid expansion followed which resulted in urbanization.

Modern City

Nairobi is a city of contrasts. As well as the business districts and expensive shopping centres, there are slums and high unemployment. As well as colourful, bustling markets there are sprawling middle-class suburbs. Nairobi is infamous for muggers notably round the Uhuru Park area. Nairobi is a religiously mixed city with many churches, mosques and temples. Nairobi has an international airport. It hosts the United Nations Environment Programme.

Places of Interest

The National Museum has displays of early human life in Africa. There are also other prehistoric relics and tribe crafts. The Snake Museum on Museum Road has live East African snakes on view.

The Nairobi National Park is 114 sq. km and has rhinos, hippos, lions and giraffes. The former home of Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, is at Langatta. The farmhouse was given to the Kenyan government and is now a museum with furniture and photographs of the Danish author.

Every neighbourhood in Nairobi has a market, but the best is said to be City Market on Muindi Mbingu Street. It is one of the largest markets in Africa.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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