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While Kigali (left) boasts of Kigali City Tower as its tallest building, Nairobi has several high-rise buildings that make the iconic KCT a dwarf in comparison.

Nairobi vs Kigali: a tale of two cities

By Joseph Oindo

I don’t know who said that you cannot eat patriotism. What I know is that the late Tanzania President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once said that if you want to see capitalism at its starkest, go to Nairobi, or something along that line.

I have lived in the so-called City in the Sun for a long time and in Kigali for some time. This gives me some bragging rights to compare life in these two cities. But as that anonymous person said that you cannot eat patriotism, who am I, a mere mortal, to be kind to my city?

Skyscrapers
Nairobi, to some aspects, is different from Kigali City in a number of ways. While Kigali boasts of Kigali City Tower as its tallest building, Nairobi has several high-rise buildings that make the iconic KCT a dwarf in comparison. On the other hand, Kigali’s clean streets are legendary and that makes the score level at this moment.

When you approach East Africa’s biggest city from any direction, what pleases your eyes are its giant skyscrapers that are both alluring and intimidating in equal measure. These tall buildings boast of modern architecture with state-of-the art offices well furnished to offer comfort to those who work in them. Kigali too has such.

But behind the façade of these architectural wonders lie some dark secrets. It’s usually a sight to marvel seeing hawkers running helter-skelter when they spot Kigali City council authorities. You go to Nairobi and you will not miss the show. Hawkers will normally run with their wares when city council askaris are swooping on them, but what you wonder is how they manage to gather their wares at short notice. You’ll see them running excitedly in dark alleys with their wares balanced on their heads.

Policemen, police dogs and thugs
Unlike Kigali, Nairobi police are authority of their own. It’s, by and large, whispered that the police has a policy that only three things are allowed to walk in the night: The policemen, the police dogs and the thugs.

So when you happen to meet a group of policemen patrolling the streets, they will first ask you if you are a policeman, then if you are a police dog. If you say no to both counts, then they are going to deduce that you’re the third option and only release you after parting with all the miserable money you are carrying in your pockets, or else you spend a couple of rough days in the slammer.
Thus, the best option is to run for your dear life when you spot the policemen ahead.

Smoking on the streets
And smokers don’t have an easy ride in Nairobi as they have it in Kigali. You light up in the streets of Nairobi and you retrospectively light up someone’s face. Immediately you fire up, a group of council askaris will stealthily stalk you from behind and immediately you finish destroying your lungs and carelessly throwing the filter away, they will pounce on you and since they have adopted “take no prisoners” approach, only parting with some tidy amount of money will spare you a night in their notorious cells.

Thugs and con men
Apart from these, all Nairobians know that they are at the mercy of thugs and con men, something I rarely see here in Kigali. Thugs will snatch your expensive phone, laptop and other valuables in busy traffic jams. Thugs will patiently wait for you to make a call and coldly ask you to hand over your mobile phone. Thugs will accost you in some dark alley and frisk your pockets of all you have. And con men will sell you a mobile phone stuffed with sand inside because you were not smart enough. You try this in Kigali at your own risk.

The other side of Nairobi as in Kigali literally wakes up in the evening for both cities have very vibrant nightlife. Nairobi people are famous for the love of the beer and music and each evening, its bars teem with revellers of all persuasions that visit these places for some bit of fun. In both cities, twilight girls are normally on the prowl for inebriated clients around watering holes, as if they know that beer and women are birds of the same feather.

Traffic jam
Nairobi, unlike Kigali has a notorious traffic jam. Its denizens are also at the mercy of public transport where the fare is hiked with abandon immediately the rains show up. When it suddenly rains, you know that some matatu tout is smiling somewhere. Fare is hiked and you can’t say, “can’t pay, won’t pay.”

Just a free advice to those intending to go to Nairobi for the first time: Carry your identity card at all times, run away from thugs and policemen at night, be smart and act as if you were born in Nairobi, don’t talk to strangers and avoid buying cheap things on the streets.

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