Today our Man Around Nairobi is John-Allan Namu. John-Allan Namu is the co-founder of Investigative Journalism Publication, Africa Uncensored. He is an investigative journalist and a believer in Africa (very corny, but very true). For almost 12 years, he has been involved in some of the country’s most incisive investigative work. John-Allan is married with four children.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi?
Yes and no. I grew up in Tigoni, Limuru. We moved there when I was quite young. I think I must have been seven or eight. I say yes because a lot of our lives revolved around Nairobi. We went to school in Nairobi, had a lot of relatives who lived in Nai, and did a lot of stuff in the city. Living in Limuru was the best, though. So quiet, peaceful, and yes, safer. Plus we drank so much fresh milk that I don’t like it any more.
My brother and I did all sorts of stuff – there was this treacherously steep hill at home that ended in a sharp turn which if you didn’t take would send you hurtling into trees 20 metres below. He would ride his bike with me standing on two pedals on the back wheel, and we would go down as fast as we could. We called ourselves “circus boys”. We should have called
ourselves crazy! We also fished quite a bit, catching small fish and Crayfish, and went swimming in a natural spring at the end of our farm. It was dope.
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
Convenience. There’s “a guy” for everything! I also really enjoy early mornings and just after 8pm when the traffic has died down. Then you really appreciate the city, especially the city centre. Living outside of Nairobi, I always envied the camaraderie I saw whenever I visited
relatives in different estates. Being the outsider, it was always exciting to hear about who the favourite kid was, the kid with the cool games, the house with the kali folks and the adventures guys would get up to.
My older brother and my cousins would go fishing in Nairobi River, catching them in transparent paper bags. I learnt my first Luo words listening to my cousin’s neighbour’s dad discipline one of his kids: “A biro chwadi ma tek” (saying it how it sounded). Life outside Nairobi was slower, quieter, but just as much fun in a different way.
I also love the energy that the city has.
In terms of what I do, I’d say its diversity is definitely a plus. Nairobi is like a book with endless and fascinating chapters filled with all sorts of stories, dangerous, weird and wonderful people, many of who are very willing to talk to you.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
Order. I hate how guys in the informal sector are not taken care of. Ngong Road heading up to Lenana School is an example of this. It is a pity how such ingenuity in furniture making has to be carried out without access to public toilets, footpaths or just paved shop fronts.
I’d definitely make Nairobi a more orderly city. I’m not sure whether I can change this, but I really don’t like the “Nairobi ni shamba la mawe” attitude that a lot of us have. A lot of people are constantly looking to shaft the next guy, and the attitude of scarcity drives a lot of madness in this city – from the traffic to the “me first” attitude when guys are getting into lifts. Nairobi is a city where courtesy is the exception.
In terms of what I do, I would (and currently am) try change the narrative of stories only being important when they revolve around big people. The city’s lifeblood is that of ordinary people. I wish they mattered more to journalists.
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Like anything else, the work experience in Nairobi could always be better. You have to prove yourself over and over again, and people often want to exchange your talent for as little as possible. I’m often called silly for not haggling for stuff too much, but that’s because I don’t like the motivation behind the bargaining dance in Nairobi.
There is no sense of compromise, so you then find products that are overpriced for no reason (just look at rental prices for apartments) and people copying one another in the name of competing (look at the clothing stalls in the city). I do like the fact that Internet access is good – a lot better than many of the African capitals I have visited.
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
Karura forest. My family and I visit there now and again, and it is so refreshing to be away from the bustle of the city.
I’d also tell them to catch a rugby game at RFUEA if they like the sport.
Finally, I’d take them to a few places that I enjoy going to eat at. Mpambe, down the road from Pumwani Hospital has really nice food.
If you would like to interact with John-Allan you can find him on twitter as @johnallannamu, instagram as @johnallanamu (watch for the single “n”), and John-Allan Namu on facebook. It’s still a personal page though, So he’d have to friend you! You can also find a lot of the stories they do on Africa Uncensored on twitter, same handle on instagram, Africa Uncensored on facebook and Youtube, and www.africauncensored.net. Check out the stories we they do, I guarantee you’ll be impressed!