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Nairobi, the next great global city?

I’ve been living in Kenya for about 4 months now. As I meet people in Nairobi, walk the marble floors of its new malls, devour a perfect chicken burrito at Pete’s, and watch a room of young professional women work on a coding problem, I can’t help it. I’m calling it right now — Nairobi is on the verge of something extraordinary.

It’s possible that Nairobi will be the next great global city. Don’t believe me?

Well, first let me tell you why I might be crazy. Risks and uncertainties do lurk around the corner.

SECURITY: Kenya faces regional instability with terrorist activity bleeding over from its northern neighbor, Somalia. We are all too familiar with the Westgate tragedy and more recently, the Garissa shooting.

CORRUPTION: Kenya ranked near the bottom — #145 out of #178 on the corruption perceptions by Transparency International. Some laws here are just bizarre. The traffic cops all around Nairobi asking for bribes are only doing exactly what they are incentivized to do. Low pay. Ridiculously high penalties and day-long waits in court for minor driving infractions. The system is rigged for them to make their living through bribes (and for the higher-ups to make the most). Imagine growing up whereby you did not trust every single institution – government, school, business, church, and non-profit. The depths of corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, and theft run across every level.

INFRASTRUCTURE: While infrastructure is relatively good and getting better fast, it is still only mediocre by Western standards. Water outages, wi-fi outages, and car-killing potholes are relatively common. More times than I’d like to admit, someone will just say, “TIA” (this is Africa). My “fast” internet here in a small town near Nairobi is 1MB/second. Don’t laugh.

Oh, and the TRAFFIC. And I thought L.A. was bad.

On the bright side, many things are getting better. New roads, bridges, and high-rises, expertly built by legions of Chinese workers, are popping up like African monkeys around mango gardens.


Nonetheless, even as all of these negative factors persist, many people already believe what I do — that Kenya, and specifically Nairobi — has its best days ahead.

Consider the facts:

But it’s not these facts that convince me on Nairobi’s future. It is the Kenyan people I have met.

My friend James, as a small-village farmer, is experimenting with turning cow dung into cooking gas through a cheap, innovative tarp dome design. His passion is to protect the woods from deforestation.

My friend Njedi supports the 11 kids in her house by herself through her tireless resourcefulness and different freelance gigs. She is my language teacher and somehow is also my cheese supplier.

My friend Ken runs a successful advertising firm and a non-profit advertising firm that employs slum teenagers; he has plans to start a TV station next year.

My friend Daniel runs a successful touring/transport company and is equally comfortable talking about Nairobi traffic, K-Pop, Obama’s healthcare policies, and Dubai restaurants.

A quiet, determined hard-working entrepreneurial spirit is rising up now in just the right place at just the right time. Kenya, do you see what’s happening? Nairobi is on the verge of something extraordinary.

What do you think?