Roads are a mess, but memories of good times linger
Posted Saturday, December 27 2008 at 20:35
- Once a preserve of elite Africans and Asians, Eastleigh now looks like a Somali city
Razia Abdulhaq has watched with dismay as the serene, well-laid out neighbourhood of her childhood has disintegrated into a chaotic estate where trees are largely a thing of the past.
“Things are just not the same any more. It seems like this is another place. We don’t have roads any more. Buildings come up with each rising sun. I think this is the only place that one cannot distinguish where the road ends and where the pavement begins,” said Ms Razia, 49, who has never lived outside Eastleigh.
According to Nairobi City Council records, Eastleigh acquired its name in 1921 when it was made a township by the colonial government.
Under the colonial master plan that segregated the population according to race, the estate was earmarked for Asians and elite Africans who were clerks, builders or shoemakers.
As you approach Eastleigh from Kariakor, past the Starehe Boys’ Centre on General Waruinge Road, the tarmac gives way to large potholes that have eaten into the once smooth roads that would empty by late evening, and the only sounds to be heard were the muezzins’ calls to evening prayers.
“You would not go out of your house after 7 p.m. There was nothing to do back then,” said Mohamud Abdullahi Sheikh, a businessman who runs a radio station that broadcasts in Somali.
“Shops and kiosks were closed, but now even at 3 a.m. it is business as usual; the official banking hours in this part of the city extend to 8.p.m.”
Mr Sheikh also misses the old neighbourhoods with paved roads and tree-lined streets well-lit with security lights. Extensive grasslands surrounding the area prevented dust from getting into houses. Today, the only vegetation visible are trees planted during one of the city council’s sporadic attempts at beautification efforts.
Now a thin layer of dust from never-ending construction projects covers everything; the only time it does not is during the rainy season when the dust turns to mud, and waterlogged sewers burst, pouring effluent into the streets.
“It is not about having a home here any more. Everything has become business. Everyone who comes to Eastleigh comes on business,” Mr Sheikh said in his fourth floor office in Eastleigh Mall.
The multi-storey mall houses Star FM, numerous electronic and furniture shops and restaurants. There is a mosque on the top floor.
A decade ago
A decade ago, the plot occupied by Eastleigh Mall was a garage belonging to the Kenya Bus Service. The conversion of empty plots into multi-storeyed buildings has become a permanent feature of the area.
“Eventually we will not have any open spaces, and all buildings will be business premises. Residential houses might soon disappear,” said Sylvanos Asanga.
The tearing down of buildings by developers may be erasing the memories of the area’s past but, of greater concern to remaining residents, is the growing pressure on limited available housing caused by the steady influx of Kenyan Somalis from the northern part of the country into the estate.
Ms Razia said that businessmen often buy up entire residential plots, pull the buildings down and put up shopping malls whose popularity was fanned by the famous Garissa Lodge of the late 1980s.
That building, which has survived two major fires, is today dwarfed by newer malls. Although residents may recall quiet, orderly streets, Eastleigh estate has for a long time been associated with all sorts of shady businesses from illegal trade to smuggling to drug and human trafficking.