Nairobi will offer you everything
Lamentations: Upon a brief visit to Nairobi, Ugandans always come back with lamentations. Lamentations about Kampala and how it has been overtaken by Nairobi. Lamentations about the fact that Kampala will never catch up with Nairobi. The case is not helped when Kenyans visit Kampala. They complain about the inadequacies of our malls, about our potholes, about everything small in Kampala.
Can two cities be compared just from the surface? Is there no other criteria? Today, we plunge into a new method, we enter something deeper in these cities, the soul and spirit of each city and that should provide the final verdict.
But first things first! There is news about the disappearance of iron sheets in the kingdom. When the crown prince takes the throne, such stories will be history. As for the king himself, he has found a sweet way of creating a spectacle. He grants his clowns a spectacle and soon afterwards, he uses this to clip their wings while emerging as the only man with a vision. And that is how decades have moved by, the performers at the spectacles have been changing, but the sponsor has been constant.
Then we have Eddy Kenzo and Philly Bongole Lutaaya. Kids these days are very impatient. Why can’t they trust the process? Should we have this debate? We need time, we need 30 more years, then we can have the conversation, and make the comparison. Kigali is surely not Paris! Now back to the matter of the day.
I loathe Kampala. I loathe the potholes on the roads. I loathe the fact that every movement in this city is a fight. It is a fight with the government, it is a fight for survival. It is either the traffic police or it is the boda bodas. Or it is the taxis. I hate that I love these fights. I hate that the rules are always changing. One day, you wake up and the new rule is that you must hoot twice before you can be allowed to jump the queue. There is also a new rule; the bigger the car, the more rules one can break. Engine capacity matters, every extra litre is a rule to bypass.
Yet, you will not doubt one thing about Kampala, the connection. You understand Prof. Big Eye’s frustration. Connections run Kampala. We are all connected in this city. Rich or poor, light-skinned or bleached (please note, that the dark complexion is now extinct), regardless of your walk-in life, Kampala has been designed to work for you. Kampala is for everyone in Kampala. The boda guy knows deep down that he can always summon Kiwanuka and Kibuuka to deal with a Mayanja. There is always a way to avenge in Kampala. One thing is certain in Kampala, you will never walk alone. We hold you all the way, sometimes that means taking your wallet. But you will always have connections. When you die, we shall kill working days, just to confirm a few things. It is all in the spirit of connection. We always know there is a ka disease beyond the official one. We always expect to find something lacking at your ancestral grounds. But fear not, this is all proof of connection. You never die alone, you just never die. We always have a story to tell!
Now Nairobi is beautiful. It is high rise after high rise. Everything is fast-paced. Everything is happening in this city. Every creative, every billionaire, everything, international capital and thieving capital. Nairobi will offer you everything. Yes, everything; a national park in the city, a forest walk in the city, the largest slum. There are people organising tours to the Kibera slum. You even pay to experience poverty, by spending an hour in one of the slum houses. Everything is a business idea in Nairobi. You can charge people for anything. There are Ugandans who charge people for an experience of Ugandan love. You know in Uganda we love with kajanja. We do not just love, we love to kulumya the others. Our love comes with all ingredients, all spices. You cannot mess with Ugandan love, it never leaves you the same.
The malls in Nairobi have everything you will ever need. You will never run out of things to do in Nairobi. But you will run out of money. That is a fact, and once you run out of money, Nairobi parts with you. Nairobi lacks a face. It does not smile. It smiles at ‘pesa’, once pesa stops, then it is moto moto, it is Kiboko fire. Nairobi is a Chameleone. It is cold. It is faceless. Nairobi lacks the soul and spirit of Kampala.
Kenyans work hard because Nairobi is always guillotine-dialed. It is ready to cut a neck, to cut a finger. And they work hard because deep down in this hard work is also a depression that no matter how hard they work, they will never afford their city. Ugandans can afford Kampala. Kenyans cannot afford Nairobi. Nairobi has been designed to work for foreign capital, not for Kenyans. Everything is gated, everything has a price to it. You may laugh at someone’s joke in Nairobi and get asked to pay. It is this emptiness. You pass by a city cemetery, more than 10 funerals are ongoing, isolated.
Can’t someone at least have some attention in death? It is like, come on, we need to put you under, so we move on before our time comes. Nairobi is a void that cannot be filled. Kampala is that ‘be still and know we are here.’ Whatever it lacks in aesthetic, in pomp, in luxury, in services, it compensates with that ‘umuganda’, that love that smile, that energy on the dance floor, the song, the humour, the quick breaks and make-ups. Kampala wins! Yet one worries that a decade down the road, Kampala will become that Nairobi, faceless, void, an infernal of work that will never result in bliss!
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