Archive for April, 2011

Connecting the dots

Linda Kwamboka: one of Nairobi’s tech pioneers Mobile phone use in Kenya has risen sevenfold in as many years, internet access is ever cheaper and smart handset technologies are freeing people from traditional bonds. By Mike Pflanz. HURLINGHAM, April 30, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – High on the muddy Kinangop escarpment, where the rain off the mountains nourishes fertile soil, a farmer with a crop of snow peas is negotiating prices with a trader up from town. The farmer is being offered 8¢ a pound. Until recently, he’d have no way to know that down there where the buyers are, that same pound of peas would fetch him 37¢. Today, however, he can pull his cheap Nokia from his grubby pocket, send a text message to a dedicated shortcode and, moments later, the live market price will beep back into his inbox. His text message had bounced along mobile phone masts Read More…

Watching the detective

Cpl Patrick Simiyu discusses a fraud case with a bank employee in Nairobi Nairobi has long struggled to shake off the nickname Nairobbery, but Mike Pflanz discovers during a day with a CID detective that most crime figures are falling. CITY CENTER, April 28, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Behind the frosted glass door of an empty office in one of Nairobi’s largest banks, Corporal Patrick Simiyu is quietly meeting a source. In February, hackers broke through the Cooperative Bank’s online security and illegally transferred half-a-million dollars from customers’ accounts onto 480 cellphones hooked up to Kenya’s mobile money scheme, M-Pesa. When they began withdrawing the cash, computer alerts sounded. Since then Simiyu, 41, has painstakingly been building his case. Trawling records from the phone company, running surveillance on suspects, and partnering closely with the bank’s own investigations team, today he’s close to an arrest.

“The doors to my future are open again”

Ahmad Yussuf prepares to take his last pills after two years of daily TB treatment Tuberculosis, a once-endemic disease now under control in the West, infects one person a second mostly in the developing world. In Nairobi, Mike Pflanz talks to three men now finishing the arduous two-year treatment program. MATHARE, April 27, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) AHMAD YUSSUF, 22: “I was born in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, and from a very young age I think I had this disease. By the time I was eight, I was taken to a doctor about pains in my chest, he found I was carrying the illness. I was given pills, they helped, but soon it was the same again. “You know, in Somalia, I was born two years before the start of the civil war. Since then, there has been no government to organize hospitals, or to pay for tablets for poor families Read More…

Food costs double as Arab crises hit Nairobi’s markets

Hundreds of traders descend on Wakulima Market early each morning Staple foods are twice the price they were at the start of 2011. Mike Pflanz hears how this is hurting traders and customers alike. CITY CENTER, April 26, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – It is not yet dawn but Wakulima Market is chaos. Bystanders duck as men carrying 150lb bags on their shoulders hiss past. Handcart pullers jostle for business in the fluorescent half-light. Vegetable trucks reverse blindly. This is Nairobi’s largest wholesale farmers’ market. Suppliers who have often driven through the night from their fields strike deals with traders who then sell goods on to the city’s supermarkets, restaurants and small-scale market stalls. But here, those deals and those trades are in trouble. Soaring food costs caused by increasing international oil prices driven by revolutions in North Africa, and Kenya’s weakening currency, are hitting these businessmen and women hard.

Stories from the streets

One of Nairobi’s street-children walks through Westlands’ traffic Uncounted hundreds of children and young men live rough on Nairobi’s streets. They tell Mike Pflanz their stories. WESTLANDS, April 25, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – It used to be worse, people tell you. The kids would swarm around your car, ready to launch a handful of faeces straight at you should you fail to pay. Keep your windows up, doors locked, that was the only way to drive through Nairobi. Today, that doesn’t happen anymore. The government, in operations with questionable motives and methods, have moved many of the city’s street children to ‘homes’ on the outskirts. Many, however, remain, struggling to find the money even for a cup of tea, constantly fleeing authorities, homeless and with fuzzy futures often devoid of opportunity. Too often ignored, each, however, has a story.

Nairobi’s many facets – interesting read

By Mike Interesting review of a new book, written by foreigners, about Nairobi. Worth checking out:  

Faith, hope and charity?

An overflowing crowd watches Pastor David Adeoye at Nairobi’s Winners’ Chapel on Easter Sunday Congregations are growing across all beliefs in Nairobi. Mike Pflanz explores what faith means to religious leaders and their followers in a fast-changing world. WOODLEY, April 24, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – The main hall, brick-built with a high tin roof, is packed. The tents outside, three of them, are packed. And still people are streaming in. Welcome to Winners’ Chapel, early on Easter Sunday morning. As the choir, smartly dressed in white shirts and black skirts, take their seats, a compact man in a charcoal suit jumps to the stage, beneath a sign promising “Financial Fortune Is My Heritage: Deu 8.18”. This is Senior Pastor David Adeoye, a Nigerian ministering here in Nairobi to what claims to be one of the fastest growing churches in Kenya, an evangelical mission preaching prosperity through sacrifice to Jesus.

On the rooftop

By Brendan Yesterday we met JP, a young man with deep roots in the Westlands neighborhood of Nairobi, where you’ll have noticed we’ve been doing quite a bit of our night-time reporting. We were standing on the rooftop of the row of apartments where he lives, which look out over Kangemi, Kawangware and beyond, to the Ngong Hills and the mountains of the Rift Valley beyond. He has recently developed an interest in documentary film making, and is planning an ambitious cycle of stories that probe the root causes of Kenya’s post election violence and  their implications for the future of Kenya. As a budding film-maker, JP aimed his deep curiosity (he never finished college, telling me he was “too unfocused” but he has a sharp, analytical, categorical mind) at me, a professional image-maker. “One thing I’d like you to do,” he said, “is to take a picture of the Read More…

Faithfully reporting Nairobi

Muslims gather for Friday prayers at Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque, the largest in Kenya CITY CENTER, April 23, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Nairobi, cosmopolitan city that it is, hosts people of pretty much all faiths and religions you can imagine. By numbers, the most prominent are Christians, then Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and a plethora of traditional belief systems. This weekend, as the city shuts down for the Easter holidays, Daily Dispatches is taking a little time out from the hustle of turning around a story a day. We’ve not stopped the work though – far from it. We’re talking to religious leaders from the three main faiths, and to their congregations, about what faith means to them, and how it is changing as the city modernizes and expands around us. We’ll post the Dispatch we hope late Sunday or early Monday. We’re really keen to hear what kinds of questions you Read More…

Fixers, producers, assistants, interpreters

By Mike Whatever you call them, few foreign correspondents or photographers working in strange places can do their job without them. A fixer, a producer, an assistant or a translator – if you’re lucky, and a big TV station with a big budget, you get a team, covering all the bases. Most of the rest of us will work with one person who’s doing all the jobs together. What do they do? Sometimes pretty much everything up to the point where I ask a first question of an interviewee, or a photographer releases the shutter on the first frame. They’ll set up interviews, make the first calls to people to make them aware of what the foreigner wants from the interview, even go and prep the interviewee, check where the best light is for the photographer, run protocol with the authorities. That’s if you get a good one. Most of Read More…

Traffic sources

Nairobi’s Thika Road, mid-upgrade, heading north By Mike Sincere apologies for the lack of Back Story updates in recent days. It’s been a mite busy. I’ll be back here posting again regularly from now. For those who’d want to read a little more technical information about Nairobi’s urban planning, particularly how it relates to traffic flow, two good reports are worth a look. Those of you watching Dispatches from an academic point of view, especially journalism students, will be able quickly to see where I found bits of my information for today’s Dispatch on roads. Some usable information is also on the Nairobi Metropolitan Development ministry’s website (which isn’t loading properly as I post this, should be up again soon). Feel free to ask questions etc about why I picked certain facts and left out others.

A city, stalled

Future movement? Rebuilt roads aim to ease Nairobi’s infamous congestion Mike Pflanz discusses Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams, and sees the efforts being made to break the bottlenecks THIKA ROAD, April 21, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Let’s think of this city as a body. Let’s think of its heart as its businesses, pumping vitality and sustaining circulation. Let’s think of its brain as its universities, schools, and policy panels, all – in theory – scheming for a brighter future. Its soul, let’s imagine somewhere in its pubs, clubs, churches, mosques and temples, and in its family homes. Its roads, then, are its arteries, veins and capillaries, keeping the whole system alive. Here, today, in Nairobi, they have became so clogged that we are slipping into coma.

Wheels of fortune

A new Nissan SUV on sale in a downtown Nairobi showroom Mike Pflanz charts the rise of car ownership in Nairobi, and sees how what were once toys of the few are now available to the many. INDUSTRIAL AREA, April 20, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – It was once the ultimate symbol of power in Africa, a car which gave its name to the continent’s often crooked elite: the ‘WaBenzi’. But the Mercedes Benz is losing its position as the only car to buy to boast of your success, as sales plateau, overtaken by Japanese SUVs and muscular 4x4s. “You cannot overestimate the importance of cars as status symbols here,” said Gavin Bennett, director of the Kenya Motor Industry Association.

The bone collectors

Dr Emma Mbua examines Turkana Boy’s jawbone at the National Museums of Kenya In the vault of Nairobi’s National Museum lies one of the world’s most important fossil collections. Mike Pflanz hears why it is so precious, and why financial struggles might delay fresh finds. MUSEUM HILL, April 19, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – The steel cabinet looks little different from the other 22 here in this chilly, climate-controlled strong-room. On its door, sticky tabs printed on an old hand-held labeller cryptically say W. Turkana Hominids, 85S, Eliye Springs, Nariokotome. Inside, seven compact wooden cases with black metal clasps lie on shelves, all marked KNM-WT 15000. Dr Emma Mbua reaches straight for the second one down, “85S/B Cranium and Mandible”, pulls it out and gently sets it on a foam-covered table in the middle of the room.


Mary Cherop Maritim buying raw corn just after sunrise at Nairobi’s Kangemi market Name – Mary Cherop Maritim Age – 44 Work – Entrepreneur, Cherubet Company Lives – Westlands DONHOLM, April 18, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Mary Cherop Maritim launched her frozen food company by going straight to the managing director’s office at Kenya’s biggest supermarket chain with 11lbs of sample produce in a borrowed cooler. Four years later, now shipping 2,000lbs a week, she talks to Mike Pflanz about starting out, expanding her firm, and why financial independence is important for Nairobi’s young businesswomen.

Friends in our night

P.O.P. heads out into Nairobi’s fast-changing night-time party scene Nairobi’s character changes after the sun’s gone down. P.O.P and Richie Rich, hip-hop musicians with the city’s Ukoo Flani collective, tell Mike Pflanz how past midnight is not as you might imagine. WESTLANDS, April 16, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – It’s way into tomorrow already, and the DJ at the Skylux club, on the 3rd floor of a nondescript office block, has packed the dance floor. It filled up late – the Barcelona vs Real Madrid soccer game kept most of the partygoers in the pub longer than usual. But now the beats deepen, and the dance-floor darkens. RICHIE RICH – Something new’s coming to Nairobi in the last five years. You know there’s a lot moving in this city, there’s construction, there’s new apartments everywhere, guys are feeling that there’s a hype about the place, it’s picking up. Money’s moving around. Read More…

The karate grandmothers

A grandmother practices a palm strike against a punch bag during self-defense classes Mike Pflanz meets Korogocho’s Gender Defenders: grandmothers in self-defense classes learning how to fend off attackers amid a surge in sexual violence KOROGOCHO, April 15 (Daily Dispatches) – First a prayer, then a stretch, then a hammer-fist blow. Two dozen women, none younger than 60, were gathered at a school for disabled children for their latest lesson how to fight back against an epidemic of violence sweeping this Nairobi slum. Under coach Beatrice Nyariara, a spry 68-year-old, each squared up to the punchbag in turn to practice hammer-fist blows to the head, upward palm-strikes to the nose, backwards punches and strong kicks.

Rapping a revolution in Nairobi’s slums

Nairobi’s hip-hop sensation Octopizzo, during a tour of Kibera Octopizzo, a hip-hop artist rising from Kibera, talks to Mike Pflanz about his contempt for US gangsta rap, representing the city’s poorest, and why music must be a business for artists to survive

Arrest this development?

A view of new apartments through the shrouds wrapping one of Nairobi’s under-construction shopping centers Mike Pflanz offers a personal view on Nairobi’s construction boom, and what it could mean for the city’s future. WOODLEY, April 13, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – The face of this young city is undergoing radical plastic surgery. In what the media here never fail to call “the leafy suburbs”, 1930s stone-built bungalows behind manicured hedges are being torn down and multistory apartment blocks rising high in their place. Out on the upgraded highways snaking into the city, red tiled roofs stretch across acres of what was once empty grassland tended only by Masai cattle. Malls are morphing from charming clusters of family-owned grocers and butchers, where everyone knows your name, into many-outlet monoliths to Mammon. At well-to-do dinner parties, this is a constant topic of slightly disapproving conversation. Think of all the traffic. Have they Read More…

Railroad rebirth?

A schoolboy watches from the window as a commuter train passes people walking to work in Nairobi’s outskirts Mike Pflanz joins commuters on one of a recently doubled number of early morning train services to the city. Does this signal a rebirth of the railroad that helped create the country that is Kenya? ON THE 06:40am TO NAIROBI, April 12, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – We pull slowly out of Athi River station, leaving behind the run-down railroad shed that is now home to the Jesus Victory Center and a tinshack kindergarten. Ahead, an hour-long commute, through the Athi plains once swarming with wildlife, beneath final-approach to the international airport, through the smoggy iron-roof slums and the industrial area, and into the heart of Nairobi. “Ah, we love this thing,” smiles Steve Nyahe, 40, a graphic designer, who like most aboard the train used to have to sit cramped in a Read More…

A bright future?

Workers correct colors at a Nairobi printing firm looking forward to expanding its business Economic growth, stalled by the global financial crisis and Kenya’s election violence, is rising once again. Nairobi’s businesses are poised to reap rewards, Mike Pflanz finds. INDUSTRIAL AREA, April 11, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – With an incessant computer-controlled hiss clack clack, hiss clack clack, a million-dollar machine the size of a bus was churning out 14,000 bank flyers an hour. Over in the corner, sales pouches for a cellphone firm’s SIM cards were being folded. Nearby, neat stacks of An Introduction to Public Health stood ready for shipping. This 44-year-old firm, Colourprint, housed in a nondescript factory off a pot-holed road, is one of hundreds of companies clustered in Nairobi’s industrial area.

Vox Nairobi | 2

Name  – Peter Olendo Age – 59 Work – Photographer, Lens Image Creation Center Lives – Kibera KIBERA, April 10, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Peter Olendo talks to Mike Pflanz about his business as a studio photographer – his first camera, the advent of digital photography, and never forgetting a customer’s legs.

“We are all in the night together”

Daily Dispatches takes to Nairobi’s streets for two hours either side of midnight on Friday, to talk to people who earn their living during darkness. By Mike Pflanz. Photos by Brendan Bannon. CITY CENTER and WESTLANDS, April 8-9, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) Walter Njau, 36, Taxi Driver, Kenya Taxi Cabs Association, Koinange St “This is a business when sometimes you lose, and sometimes you profit. Weekends are busiest, but people come drunk in my car, I drop them far away then they say they don’t have money. What can I do? Other times, customers drop their money in the car then leave, that’s mine, that’s my profit. Or you are new to Nairobi, you say you want to go to Hurlingham, it’s just here but I tell you it’s $25, and you agree. That’s profit for me, you see, because Hurlingham is only $5. “When it’s quiet, I’m standing by my Read More…

Election violence in Kenya – an explainer

People forced from their homes by election violence in a temporary camp at Endebess, Cherengani. Photo: Brendan Bannon 2008 By Mike Hope you’ve read our stuff about Robert Nagila at NTV reporting on the court appearances in Holland of three prominent Kenyans accused of orchestrating the post-election violence here in 2007/8. But what actually happened then? I was here at the time, and was working full-tilt throughout the eight weeks of the fighting. It was one of the worst times of my career from a personal point of view. This is my adopted home, after all, and to see bits of it in flames, and friends muttering nastiness about other friends just because of their tribe, was all pretty hard to stomach. What’s the background to the violence? The December 2007 presidential election was always going to be close. The incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, could boast strong economic growth, and carried Read More…