Our Man Around Nairobi today is James Wamathai. He is a writer, digital solutions expert, online publisher, creative consultant and a human rights advocate. He is the founder of Wamathai Media, a digital solutions and media company, Wamathai.com, an arts blog and HapaKenya, a lifestyle blog. Wamathai is also a founding member and director of the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE). He loves reading, traveling, music, football and has a phobia for water bodies and two wheeled contraptions.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi?
Yes. I am a proud Pumwani baby. I grew up in Jericho and later on my family moved to Uthiru. Growing up in Nairobi was interesting for me because of all the different kinds of people I got to interact with both at home and in school. I was brought up in a Kikuyu household and meeting people from other places who spoke a different language, had different food and different beliefs was an interesting experience. I had this neighbour who was a Kisii and everyone around swore that he was a witchdoctor. He used to mix herbal concoctions, pray loudly at night in his first language and never really interacted with anyone. Most people were afraid of him but I loved how he was different and was comfortable with it.
I also loved how back then I could just go to my neighbours and be accepted, treated and fed as if I was one of their own. As you can tell, food was important to me back then.
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
I love the people most. No matter how hardened you are or how you believe you have seen everything, they have a way of surprising you. A few years ago I was in the Nairobi CBD waiting to cross a street. There were two little girls in school uniform next to me and one was trying to get my attention unsuccessfully. I had been accustomed to being accosted by kids in uniform begging for change and after watching documentaries of cartels running such kids, I largely ignored them. When I finally paid attention to the little girl, she asked whether I could help her and her sister cross the road. I have never felt so ashamed. I escorted them to their bus stop and made sure they got into their matatu. That incident taught me to help when I can because you never know, you could be ignoring someone who actually needs your help.
Nairobi is a melting pot of different cultures, tribes and races. You get meet, interact and learn from all sorts of people and from different places here. It’s nice how Nairobi National Park is within the precincts of the city and you can go from city to Safari in 20 minutes.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
Governance. We have serious governance issues. I can’t believe that in 2016 we still don’t have a workable solution for waste collection and disposal. Worse still is that there is those who are benefiting from this status quo and so of course will do anything to perpetuate it. They are many other things that are not working as they should. If we don’t vote in new people, with our interests at heart, then we are in trouble.
I believe we also need more resident associations to help lobby for change. Coming together as a community with a collective voice means that the powers that be will pay attention when you ask for issues to be addressed. Kilimani Foundation is a great example here.
4. As a professional how is it working in the Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I work in digital marketing and media and work wise Nairobi is kind to me. For me, fast internet and easy connection to a pool of clients is key and the city offers that. It also sits in a key place in the African digital economy which means that there are lot of opportunities that come my way because I am in Nairobi.
However, traffic in Nairobi limits movement which is important and it is a challenge especially when one has a key meeting or event to attend.
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.
The Nairobi National Park would be the first thing. There’s something awesome about a national park within a city. The neighbouring David Sheldrick elephant orphanage would be next. Those baby elephants are so cute.
Next would be the cuisine. I’d sell them the idea of trying out distinctly Kenyan cuisine including Ugali, mukimo and nyama choma.
Lastly would be drinks and nightlife. For some reason, foreigners love Tusker Lager and I’d definitely sell that. We don’t appreciate it enough, but Nairobi’s nightlife is quite something and it would be my pleasure to show it to them.