Archives for posts with tag: Kenya

This Nairobi matutu mapping project is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. The idea is to create a map of the informal bus (known as matutus) routes in Nairobi in the aesthetic style of subway maps. Having something like this would have been extremely helping for navigating the bus systems in Kampala and Kigali. I’m the kind of person who rarely takes the bus around Boston because it’s too much of an effort to figure out the dozens of routes and the times that change depending on day of the week and time of day, so you can imagine how much fun I thought it was getting to class in Kigali or making it across town for a meeting in Kampala via bus (they’re more like oversize vans in Uganda and Rwanda) routes only found out about through word of mouth (or pointing when you don’t know the language). Of course those conversations to figure how in the world to choose which of the numerous matatus zooming by to hop into were an interesting opportunity to strike up a conversation and learn a little more about the city’s geography. And, once I knew the routes to use (distinguishing between the names of the destinations that the conductors would yell out took the most time), it felt like I had tapped into an esoteric transportation network not otherwise accessible through any kind of material map. But if I end up in Nairobi anytime soon, I know I’ll be thanking my lucky stars for this map. I’d be curious to know what Nairobians think about the project–a positive development for making the city more welcoming to new arrivals, visitors, and tourists? A lose of privileged knowledge that empowered and distinguished [poor] Nairobians from outsiders? I’d also be interested to read the history of how these routes have been slowly negotiated over the years without the oversight of government regulation. However anyone who thinks this private transportation network is an example of the efficiency of the private sector to provide what are elsewhere public services has not relied on hot, dusty, cramped, and dangerous matatus to get anywhere. But this takes nothing away from the ingenuity and creativity of the developers of these informal routes. One of the members of the team working on the project is a Cambridge, MA based company called Groupshot whose goal is to create, research, and develop “technology-driven projects that interface with and support existing local systems.” This matatu project seems like a great way to do just that. One thing to watch going forward is how current this mapping project is able to stay with the bus routes in Nairobi (how well and how long the project is maintained…) as one of the benefits of an informal, decentralized bus system like this is that it can change rapidly to adjust to new developments and flows of people in the city without having to wait for bureaucratic approvals or the redrawing of countless bus transit maps throughout the city as Boston would have to if a route was altered even the slightest. A cell phone crowd sourcing effort of the likes that the project website talks about for the future may be a solution to this upkeep problem, and something that city governments in the western world might want to pay attention to in order to keep their transportation networks agile and adaptable as changes in cities accelerate with the massive growth they’re undergoing around the globe.

Image

Image source

Advertisements

A few very relevant and interesting articles came out over break in the New York Times and on Phys.org:

1. Seth Kaplan suggested that Lagos might be a model city for the future. He describes the recent success the Lagos government has had in raising revenue, cleaning up the city, and reducing crime, and makes the case that other fragile states like Nigeria could learn from Lagos and adopt policies giving more autonomy to cities, which could then become hubs of good governance and service delivery. With megacities mushrooming in fragile states there are definite merits to this return-to-city-states idea. But it remains to be seen what will happen when cities like Lagos no longer feel a need for the central government and are perhaps even more powerful than it.

2. Kennedy Odede discussed the bleak odds he lived through growing up in Nairobi’s slums and warned that the kind of urban poverty he experienced creates a fertile breeding ground for extremism and terrorism. Odede is 29 years old; a year from surpassing the life expectancy of Kibera slum where he grew up. He describes the violence and terror common in this mega-slum and explains how survival requires desensitization to death. From there the financial incentives offered by terrorist groups in Somalia and elsewhere become alluring. Odede calls for investment in urban renewal in Africa to create hope for the future in places like Kibera, not simply a new frontier in the military pursuit of terrorists.

3. And, on a lighter note, Phys.org had an article on an innovative and resourceful way some Nigerians are creating their homes out of recycled soda bottles. The house looks sturdy and attractive. It seems almost like living in a piece of El Anatsui art.

ImageImage Source

…are profiled in this CNN article. This exciting new generation of camera wielders are rapidly changing the image of the continent and many share their work with thousands of followers on instagram (check out “truthslinger”‘s profile and the incredible images of life in Kenya he shares with 35k followers). I especially like the “Future Memories” series by Michael Tsegaye that captures bleak frames of recent large-scale Addis Ababa construction projects juxtaposed with more rural imagery (cattle, hand-washing clothes, and a great one of silhouetted wooden scaffolding). I don’t usually love black and white photography, but in this case, the medium does a perfect job of capturing the rapid inevitableness of the fading and cracking that the buildings will endure as they age. Do these images give a glimpse into the memories of this new wave of large-scale construction projects? Will they be remembered differently than the grand independence era towers and monuments that now look painfully optimistic in photographs from the time of their celebratory completions.

Image

Image Source (photographer:  Michael Tsegaye)

An excellent article in the New Republic by Eve Fairbanks about the attack on Westgate Mall as an attack on what has become a popular symbol of Africa’s future:  shopping malls. The article is worth reading in its entirety, but in it Fairbanks recounts how large shopping malls have proliferated in the last couple of decades in many African countries, becoming the most popular hangout spot for all kinds of people from ex-pats to artists to very poor people, not just angsty teenagers. They’re the physical symbol of Africa’s rising middle class and the consumerism comes with it (retail is the hottest area of investment in Africa according to the article)–they’re where all kinds of African urban dwellers come “to act out a dream of the African future.” And in striking contrast to much of the surrounding cities, it’s a dream where has been planned with beautiful and clean infrastructure, running water, and electricity. It’s also a place where new identities can be experimented with, and where anyone is permitted to visit–it’s an open space unlike many walled and gated restaurants or hotels in African cities. Unfortunately this may begin to change in the wake of Westgate…security will certainly be beefed up, and Fairbanks wonders if rougher-looking people from the slums who used to come to window gaze and to dream about the future might begin to be turned away, stratifying what used to be a welcoming and cosmopolitan vision of Africa’s future.

Image

Image source

Images in the New York Times of the rubble of Kenya’s Westgate Mall. What happens now to the devastated concrete structure with a crater in the middle of it? Will it be rebuilt with loads of security? Will it be left for squatters? Will it be bulldozed and replaced by a memorial? And here is another troubling detail from the article:  “Western security officials say they believe that several fighters slipped out of the mall during the attack, dropping their guns, changing clothes and blending in with fleeing civilians, an account echoed by some witnesses.”

Thinking about the people of Nairobi tonight. And hoping there is no violent backlash on the Somali community there. Here’s a Time article (a year old but still relevant) on the war against Islamic terrorism in East Africa. It does a good job summing up the situation, including the US’s behind the scenes involvement, and gives a detailed account of the investigations after the 2010 Kampala World Cup bombings. And here is the New York Time’s aggregator page on Al-Shabab and a firsthand account of today’s tragic attack.