Daniel Howden: UN loses benefits of 'Nai-robbery'

Nairobi Notebook: Maybe now it's safe outside, the two communities might get to know each other better
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The Independent Online

Nairobi is a place of starkly different realities, ranging from the appalling slums of Mathare to the plaza paradises of its newest shopping malls. But there is only one place that can be said to be truly a city within the city: the United Nations compound at Gigiri, pictured right. The Kenyan capital is the UN's third-largest headquarters after New York and Geneva, and the base of its environmental body, UNEP. However, the organisation has a somewhat uneasy relationship with Nairobi itself and chose long ago to retreat behind compound walls and into a world of UN supermarkets, recreational centres and armoured residential quarters.

The city beyond its walls was deemed to be too dangerous, which in bureaucratic speak meant a category C listing. This put the place on a par with Kinshasa, Bamako and Ouagadougou, which to anyone who lives here is odd in the extreme. Odder still that Johannesburg, with its considerable crime problem, merits an A ranking, seeming to suggest that the league is based on amenities rather than safety.

Nonetheless you would have thought there would be a loud if muffled cheer from Gigiri when staff were told that the Kenyan capital was now safe enough to merit an upgrade to B.

As ever it hasn't quite worked like that. The pretence that "Nai-robbery" is a seething hotbed of crime earns those hardy souls at the UN a tidy sum in risk allowances and the city's promotion to the B-league will cost staff up to $5,000 (£3,200) per person annually and a free trip home.

The loudest cheer came from the rest of town, which has long resented the red and white number plates, inflated salaries and tax-free living of their UN counterparts. Maybe now it's safe outside, the two communities might get to know each other better.

Connecting the Kenyan way

Despite the oft-quoted maxim of Pliny's that out of Africa there is always something new, most people believe the traffic heads mainly in the other direction.

It was satisfying then to see that Nokia has been copying Kenya's Safaricom in moving into mobile banking.

Nokia Money will enable handset owners to transfer money or pay bills via their phone. None of which would be new to your average Kenyan who has been using M-Pesa for several years. Micro-payments have been a runaway success in a country where small amounts of money make a big difference to people's day-to-day survival. The same micro-transactions have also been evidence of serious economic activity in places where some companies were too timid or complacent to look for it. The transfer system has seven million clients across Kenya and Tanzania and M-Pesa has become a verb that competes with "send". Catch-up, Nokia.