“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

Taxi Driver Walter Njau (L) and car wash man John Mgogo in Nairobi. (Brendan Bannon)

“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 car, I’m looking around like a crow looks around from the air to the ground, looking far for something. These people coming, can they be customers? Can they need me to drive them far? I hope so. I ask almost everybody who passes by, need a taxi? On a weekend, I can go home with $40 or $50 after my all-night shift. Other days, sometimes only $10. I buy food for the kids, I save some, I drink some.

“There are some rules we have, there is an association, they arrange for every driver to be posted in a certain place. If a freelance guy comes to my spot, I’ll puncture his tires, I’ll beat him or chase him away. He can’t work here. Sometimes it’s dangerous. Once when I was dropping some customers at their house, in was raining heavily, five guys with guns jumped us, they opened the boot, told us to enter inside. It was like 11pm. They roamed with us to 3am, then they dropped us in a different place. They released us, “get your car and go”, they said. They had taken all our money, our phones. But they did not kill us. The other good thing they did was they filled the car, full tank. They used the car for robberies, while we were inside. The police when I went to them they told us the car was seen in robberies all over town.” (more…)

Fast news day

NTV reporter Robert Nagila reporting on the public reaction to Kenyan leaders' appearance at the International Criminal Court on charges related to  the 2007 post-election violence. (Brendan Bannon)

NTV’s Robert Nagila reports on international court cases against Kenyan politicians

Mike Pflanz profiles one of Nairobi’s fresh breed of TV journalists on one of the country’s busiest news days of the year

CITY CENTER, April 7, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – The red digits on the clock on the newsroom wall climb steadily towards 10:30am. Guys in shirtsleeves thumbing BlackBerrys march past to meetings. Desk-phones peal.

A plasma TV shows a smiling Kenyan politician spilling out of a shiny Mercedes by a smart office block 4,000 miles away in Europe.

He is one six men accused by the world’s war crimes court of organizing election violence here three years ago. He and two others will appear before judges in Holland for the first time this morning. (more…)

Ivory orphans

Orphaned baby elephants playing at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi National Park. The elephants range in age from  six months to three years. When one lies  down the others pile on playfully. (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

Elephants play after their morning milk feed at a rescue center in Nairobi

Rescued baby elephants whose mothers have died or disappeared end up in a very different kind of city orphanage in Nairobi, Mike Pflanz discovers

LANGATA, April 6, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Five years ago, Abdi Kashel was a waiter in a safari lodge serving gin and tonics to well-heeled tourists.

The only elephants he saw were those drinking at the watering-hole below the guest cottages, or the occasional distant herd spotted from the bus taking him home for holidays.

Today, he lives with elephants, full-time, in Nairobi. He watches over them as they browse the bush for fodder in the city’s National Park. He feeds them specially-formulated milk, every three hours without fail.

And at night, he sleeps sharing a stable with one. (more…)

Scrap metal market

Rising paint prices forced  artist Dickens Otieno, 32, to search for free raw materials to continue his work. Today he recyles tin cans into a canvas of woven metal. (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

Dickens Otieno swapped to using recycled metal after paint prices rose and sales fell

Nairobi’s artists are struggling amid an economic downtown and a shrinking market for fresh work. By Mike Pflanz

INDUSTRIAL AREA, April 5, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Mid-morning Mondays, round the back of Nairobi’s middle-class pubs, you’ll find Dickens Otieno waiting.

He’s after the empty beer and cider cans swept up after the weekend’s merrymaking. For this 32-year-old artist, trash tin is sprung tight with colorful potential, waiting to be reborn.

Otieno is one of the hundreds of painters and sculptors struggling to make a living in a city far from famous for its art, or its art market. (more…)

Old media and new in a revolution reaching young Kenyans

Shujazz FM DJ B? (Brendan Bannon)

Anonymity assured: “DJ B” records his pirate radio show

By Mike Pflanz

KAREN, April 4, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – The collection of hipsters, artists and passionate young designers that is the team at Shujaaz.fm has broken many taboos and launched itself into the consciousness of an entire generation of previously ignored Kenyan young people in its short life.

The group is behind the immensely popular Shujaaz.fm comic book, a linked radio show broadcast daily on 22 FM stations nationwide, and a booming online community on Facebook, Twitter, text message and a website.

Together, all these media are used to one end: to boost the confidence, pride and outlook of the 27 million people, 73% of Kenya’s population, who are aged under 30. (more…)

Vox Nairobi | 1

Shujazz FM DJ B? (Brendan Bannon)

Name – DJ B

Age – Young enough to know better

Work – Pirate radio DJ, Superhero

Lives – It’s a secret, man

KAREN, Nairobi, April 4, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Thousands follow him on Facebook, tens of thousands hear his radio show, millions see his life illustrated in Kenya’s monthly Shujaaz.fm comic. DJ B is a secret superstar for his country’s youth, a man with a mouth, a mission and a message. He jealously guards his identity, and agreed to talk to Mike Pflanz only by telephone from his shack-studio somewhere on Nairobi’s outskirts. (more…)

Under starter’s orders

Jockey J Lokorian riding Kimberly on Derby day at Ngong Racecourse | Photo: Brendan Bannon

Can a new influx of trainers, jockeys and owners revive Nairobi’s 107-year-old tradition of thoroughbred horse-racing? By Mike Pflanz.

JAMHURI, April 3, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Henry Muya is angry. A year of dawn training runs, a year in the saddle slowly coaxing the best from his horse, a year of preparing for this race on this day, all for nothing.

Three false starts to the biggest event in Nairobi’s racing calendar, The Kenya Derby, spooked Ngobi, his horse. He was among the last out of the stalls, failed to pick up position on the back straight, and flew over the line 2,400m later clumped up in the pack several slots off the money.

“Inside, I’m gutted, I’m torn apart, all the hard work it takes to come to this,” the 26-year-old jockey said after the race, still in his jodhpurs, sweat still sticking his hair to his frowned forehead. (more…)

Resilience 101

Small enterprises line a street through Kibera | Photo: Brendan Bannon

Mike Pflanz hears from the Olympic Small Business Organization about how they rebuilt their companies after Kenya’s 2007/8 election violence

KIBERA, April 2, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – Less than an hour after the results of Kenya’s presidential election were announced late in December 2007, the fires started in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum.

Supporters of rival political parties launched a month of attacks against their opponents in a wave of violence which eventually killed 1,300 people nationwide.

Along one of the frontlines in Kibera lay the 100-odd small shops – selling everything from bottles of Coke to cheap plastic flip-flips – lining the 500yd road leading down to Olympic Secondary School. (more…)

“You have to be faster”

Emmanuel Sinzole weaves his minibus taxi through Nairobi’s morning traffic | Photo: Brendan Bannon

Mike Pflanz rides the matatus through Nairobi’s sun-rise stress and rush-hour hustle

KAWANGWARE, April 1, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – It’s already past 7:15am and Catherine, a 32-year-old civil servant, knows she’ll be late for work.

It’s less than two-and-a-half miles from the Petro gas station, the start of the Route 46 bus near her home in Kawangware, to her Upper Hill office just west of the city centre.

But that will take Catherine at least an hour this morning, as steady sheets of dawn rain fell and traffic crawled along the slum’s choked streets. (more…)

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