Nairobi Stories: Cattle are clogging the city streets, while the pot-holes grow ever bigger

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The Independent Online

Nairobi's streets are clogged with cows and goats being driven through the city by the Masai in their traditional red robes.

Nairobi's streets are clogged with cows and goats being driven through the city by the Masai in their traditional red robes.

It is the dry season in much of the country and the herdsmen need to find pastures where they can. Taxi drivers have a new reason to be cross: the cows graze placidly on roadside verges and roundabouts, oblivious to the frenetic traffic around them. I was held up for 10 minutes by the proverbial chickens crossing the road. My driver's wing mirror was smashed after a bull wandered into his path, but neither he nor the cow-herd bothered to stop. Both just carried on their way muttering curses.

The Masai are unrepentant and, as usual, everyone blames the British for it all. The Masai remember that Nairobi - Maa for "place of cool water" - is theirs anyway; the land on which it is built sits bang in the middle of their old grazing routes and if they do not have enough fodder to feed their cattle, it is because they were cut off from most of their traditional water sources when the Happy Valley set moved into the Rift Valley. They may never be able to reclaim Nairobi legally, but they can certainly infuriate its urban citizens and remind them that the countryside is never that far away.

¿ We are waiting for the opening of a new multi-screen cinema in Dagoretti corner. The corner of Nairobi that used to be filled with nyama choma (barbeque meat) and beer shacks has slowly been transformed into an American-style entertainment complex - fast-food joints and boutiques selling silver-plated pizza cutters and candle holders. But its transformation will only be complete if Java House, Nairobi's favourite coffee shop, moves to Dagoretti corner from its current location 500 metres away.

Java House serves good coffee (unforgivably rare in coffee-growing Kenya) and unexciting burgers and salads, but it has acquired a cult-like status among Nairobi's expat community, homesick for the bland comfort of Starbucks. At the moment, it takes over a corner of an eclectic shopping area, filled with second-hand shops selling clothes and fridges, as well as ones stocked with glass chandeliers and handmade silk. The owners of the more chi-chi boutiques have already moved to Dagoretti corner, convinced that Java House will move out there soon and that when it does, the type of people who want to buy hand-painted ceramics will surely follow.

¿ Nairobi's pot-holes appear to be getting bigger. This is not surprising in a city where money set aside for repairs usually finds its way into people's pockets, but this government had promised to stop corruption when it came to power two years ago. A few years back the residents of Karen, one-time home of Out of Africa's Karen Blixen, came up with their own solution. Fed up of paying rates to a council that did not maintain electricity, roads or water, they went to court and refused to pay the council until it provides the services it is meant to. Meanwhile, they maintain their own roads and organise refuse collection. The rest of the city is casting envious glances in their direction. Most people do not have the money or confidence to follow Karen's example, but the government knows it will have to start filling in the pot-holes.