With reference to IGLUS Nairobi Module, we gone thru many aspects of Nairobi, Kenya and East African countries and cities. I thanks to AgaKhan University, which arranged the wonderful speakers cum experts in respective domains i.e. Economy, Housing Green spaces, Youth Development etc.. and outdoor visits specially Dendora Low Income housing transformation Project called “Dendora Transformation League”. This article is reflection of all those wonderful and informative sessions, particularly in current state of Nairobi city which holds great potential of economic growth in world of Urban/Mega Cities.

Urbanization is one of the defining trends of the times. Rising urbanization and population growth rates are projected to push the global population to 8 billion by 2030; 9 billion by 2050. Nearly 90 per cent of this increase will be concentrated in Asia and Africa (UNFP, 2014). Over half of the world (55%) live in urban settings, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050.

The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018. Asia, despite its relatively lower level of urbanization, is home to 54% of the world’s urban population, followed by Europe and Africa with 13% each.

Cities have become younger, about 60 % of people in cities live in the slums. Cities provide a wealth of opportunities. Cities generate over 80 % of GNP across the globe. Urban areas account for 60 – 80 % of all energy consumption.

Figure 1: Projected population growth of African cities by 2025 (UNDESA, 2013)

Source: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wynand_Steyn/publication/318311114/figure/fig5/AS:520672993398784@1501149523820/Projected-population-growth-of-African-cities-by-2025-UNDESA-2013.png

Today, the most urbanized regions include Northern America (with 82% of its population living in urban areas in 2018), Latin America and the Caribbean (81%), Europe (74%) and Oceania (68%). The level of urbanization in Asia is now approximating 50%. In contrast, Africa remains mostly rural, with 43% of its population living in urban areas.

The 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects produced by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) notes that future increases in the size of the world’s urban population are expected to be highly concentrated in just a few countries. Together, India, China and Nigeria will account for 35% of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050. By 2050, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million. This will likely challenge the urban sprawl and slums formation because of lack of capacity, finances, technology and uncontrolled urbanization.

Africa has significant natural resource wealth. The region is home to the world’s largest arable landmass; second largest and longest rivers (the Nile and the Congo); and its second largest tropical forest. The continent’s proven oil reserves constitute 8% of the world’s stock and those of natural gas amount to 7%. Minerals account for an average of 70% of total African exports and about 28% of gross domestic product. The mineral industry of Africa is the largest mineral industries in the world. African mineral reserves rank first or second for bauxite, cobalt, diamonds, phosphate rocks, platinum-group metals (PGM), vermiculite and zirconium. Many other minerals are present in quantity. The 2012 share of world production from African soil was bauxite 7%; aluminium 5%; chromite 38%; cobalt 60%; copper 9%; gold 20%; iron ore 2%; steel 1%; lead (Pb) 2%; manganese 38%; zinc 1%; cement 4%; natural diamond 56%; graphite 2%; phosphate rock 21%; coal 4%; mineral fuels (including coal) & petroleum 47%; uranium 18%. platinum 69.4%.

Africa is not prepared for this urban explosion. By 2025, there will be 100 African cities with more than one million inhabitants, according to McKinsey. That’s twice as many as in Latin America. Runaway urbanization and a growing youth bulge, with most young people lacking meaningful job prospects, is a time bomb.

Figure 2: Africa’s fastest-growing cities

Source: UN World Urbanization Prospects, 2014

The East African economy is dominated by a string of wealthy cities, from Uganda’s capital Kampala via Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest city.

Africa’s rapid urbanization is a huge opportunity for national governments.

Figure 3: South Africa still boasts the main concentration of wealth in Africa, but no longer the only one.    

Source: Visual Capitalist


  • Kenya (47 counties),of 54 countries in Africa, area of 583,000km2, GDP of US$ 99.246 billion, a population of 48 million; 80 % of future economic growth will be in the cities
  • Gateway to East Africa (combined population of 150 million), among fastest growing global economies (5.7% GDP growth against 3.5%);
  • Kenya rapidly urbanizing = 13.8 million persons living in urban areas = 27% urbanized (contributing to 70% of the GDP) – highest in 5 urban areas of: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru + Eldoret = 70% of urban population.
  • Rapid urbanization in Kenyan cities. Economic activities in urban areas account for 55 % of the GDP
  • Positive correlation between urbanization and development/ per capita income – indicators for health, education and housing better in urban areas than rural areas; – all countries become 50% or more urbanized before attaining middle income status = urban manufacturing/services as net effect
  • An estimated 78 percent of Kenya’s population is aged below 35, while the median age is just 19 years.
  • Kenya has been ranked position 18 out of 100 in a global standing of countries and regions in English proficiency, beating European, American and Asian countries. The 2019 Education First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) ranking demystifies the stereotype that Europeans, Asians and Americans have higher potential to acquire the language compared to Africans.
  • About 1 in 2 University graduates is out of full-time employment, In 2016, unemployment was the top concern for the youth at 63%

Figure 4: Kenya’s Population is Growing Rapidly

Source: Author’s own resource


  • 696 Km2
  • A decade ago had 2 million people ,Today, has over 4 million people
  • Population set to be about, 8.5 Mil by 2035
  • 60 % of Nairobi’s resident live in slums

Figure 5: Nairobi City

Source: Author’s own resource

History of Nairobi

  • The earliest account of Nairobi’s /naɪˈroʊbɪ/ history dates back to 1899 when a railway depot was built in a brackish African swamp occupied only by a pastoralist people, the Maasai, as well as the agriculturalist Kikuyu people who were both displaced. The railway complex and the building around it rapidly expanded and urbanized until it became the largest city of Kenya and the country’s capital. The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyirobi, which translates to “the place of cool waters”. However, Nairobi is popularly known as the “Green City in the Sun.”
  • Nairobi is the capital of Kenya. It is one of the largest cities in Africa with a population of around 3 million. Nairobi’s name comes from the Maasai Ewaso Nyirobi, meaning “cool waters”. The main languages spoken are English and Kiswahili. English is the legal, business and administrative language while Kiswahili remains the lingua franca. Nairobi was founded in 1899 as a supply depot for the Uganda Railway which was being constructed between Mombasa and Uganda. It was totally rebuilt in the early 1900s after an outbreak of plague and the burning of the original town. Thereafter the settlement continued to grow, becoming the capital of the British East African Protectorate in 1907 and the capital of the newly independent Kenya in 1963. Nairobi is unique in having a protected game reserve, Nairobi National Park, within its borders. Nairobi also has more species of birds than any other capital city in the world and is the starting place for many superb safaris throughout the country.
  • Nairobi grew as railway Depot, ideally located between the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria, altitude played a role in location as did Soil fertility and river network,
  • Trade and commerce began to pick up, Baishara Street, CBD.

Figure 6: Nairobi Railway

Source: Author’s own resource


Figure 7: Nairobi Districts

Source: Author’s own resource


Nairobi Population Growth

Figure 8: Nairobi Population Growth

Source: Author’s own resource

Nairobi is in many ways an archetype of the African colonial city, having purely colonial origins which shaped its structure and management at the time of Kenya’s transition to the independence. Like other African cities, Nairobi was characterized after independence by a rapid increase in rural and urgan migration.

After reaching to Nairobi first time in Feb 2020 for attending IGLUS module, some of the observations as follows:

  1. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, formerly known as the Nairobi International Airport, is Kenya’s largest airport and also the busiest airport in East Africa. It is named after the 1st Kenyan Prime Minister and President, Mr. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was a cakewalk for through immigration using eVisa access.
  2. It is having good infrastructure and cab hailing services like Uber ,easily available at finger tips. The cost of travelling is higher then any large Indian City. In India cost of 23 Km will be roughly INR 400/- which was INR 650/- (equivalent Kenya Shilling of KES 920.00) higher by 55%

Figure 9: Map Route from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Ngong Rd, Nairobi, Kenya

Source: Author’s own resource

  1. Morning traffic congestion was as high as in any other large urban city in the world and lot of road construction work was going on. Rapid urbanization, a rise in the number of car owners, poor infrastructure, and an ad-hoc system of colorful matatu busses are jamming up the city’s streets, making them dirtier and deadlier than ever before.

Figure 10: Morning traffic congestion photo

Source: Author’s own resource

  1. Motorbike renting services using Uber called Bodaboda was available at almost every nook and corner. Boda boda are a fast, efficient, flexible and relatively affordable mode of transport and there is no doubt they have made life easier for many Nairobians. From helping commuters beat traffic jam to making deliveries around the city, boda boda is to most Nairobians – who don’t own cars – a necessity.

Figure 11: Morning traffic congestion photo-2

Source: Author’s own resource


Figure 12: Morning traffic congestion photo-3

Source: Author’s own resource

  1. It is learnt in one of the session that Nairobi has approx. 175 informal settlements or slums; population of 2.5million; 60% of the city’s population; 6% of the city’s land. In Nairobi, over half the population lives in slums or informal settlements, which are plagued by cramped living conditions and poor access to basic services. Women face additional burdens, particularly in the area of personal security. In Nairobi’s Mukuru settlement, the “poverty penalty” means that residents pay three to four times more for the available poor services than in wealthier neighbourhoods nearby. For example, on average residents of Mukuru pay 172.72% higher for water and 45.35% higher for electricity and majority part of income spent on food.
  1. Corruption is one of the pain point raised youth in Nairobi. “To get a job in Kenya, it is not about being smart or hard-working. They say, ‘You have to know someone,’ ”and they are struggling to get reasonable job. A sense that pervasive corruption is stifling young Kenyans’ futures has been building for years, like pressure in a sealed, heated chamber. And Kenya’s leaders — themselves long accused of corruption — seem finally to have recognized the potential political cost of not addressing it.


Figure 13: Meeting in Nairobi photo

Source: Author’s own resource

  1. One of the Energetic and Interactive session by Aleya Kassam. She is a #Kenyan feminist, storyteller, writer and performer. A promiscuous creative, her writing has been performed and published on multiple platforms and stages around the world, from Nairobi to Kigali to Stuttgart. She covered the history of Nairobi thru stories and songs. Her blog : https://chanyado.wordpress.com/ ,which was nominated for best new blog at the BAKE Awards, and has been described by Nanjala Nyabola as ‘shuffling between personal narrative and political observation, the blog allows you to think about the real impact of political or social issues on the individual.’

Figure 14: Meeting in Nairobi photo-2

Source: Author’s own resource

Challenges in Nairobi raised by different speakers and people

  • Unemployment
  • Insecurity
  • Inequality
  • Poor governance,
  • Inadequate capacity and under investments,
  • Inadequate planning (only 30% of Kenyan urban areas planned);
  • Water & Sanitation Management,
  • Food Security,
  • Climate Change,
  • De Forestation,
  • Social Dynamics.
  • Poor infrastructure
  • Limited resources
  • Slow economic growth
  • Pervasive poverty
  • Poor urban spatial planning


  • Economic growth
  • Growing population – youth
  • Innovation
  • Policy interventions
  • Urban planning

It’s cheaper to provide all kinds of services to people living in urban areas, from paved roads to health care. Urban growth can turbocharge economic development, since people working in industry and services tend to be more economically productive than those working in agriculture. And urban Africans typically live longer and have higher incomes than their counterparts in the countryside.

Companies from China, and from India, are boosting their presence in Kenya through multi-million-shilling acquisition deals, with an eye on lucrative sectors such as telecommunication, tourism, energy, technology, commodities and construction.

For years, Nairobi has been the cradle of technological innovation in Kenya, and the center of the country’s thriving tech ecosystem, famously known as Silicon Savannah.

Most of the innovation spaces, incubation centers, accelerators, and maker labs were also concentrated in the capital—making Nairobi an attractive spot for both technologists and investors. Some innovation spaces, such as the iHub, which was founded in 2010, have launched as many as 170 startups.

With the highest internet penetration rate in Africa, and rapidly improving digital infrastructure, Nairobi has earned the title of Africa’s most “intelligent city” according to the Intelligent Community Forum. It is also perceived to have a more supportive legislative and policy environment for tech-startups, particularly in the telecoms and banking sector, according to Erik Hersman, the founder of I-hub. And with an oil and gas boom in east Africa, strong and growing geopolitical interest from both the East and West, not to mention its status as the regional economic dynamo, Kenya, and more specifically its capital, Nairobi, is making an attractive play as the preferred launchpad for pan-African investors. Throw in its educated population (especially in terms of STEM graduates), banking sophistication, and infrastructure drive, the outlook is a positive one.


Yet, corruption, security fears and political and policy uncertainty remain key issues for investors. Low levels of development and considerable red tape and bureaucracy in the business environment are also major deterrents — as evidenced by the debacle over the country’s interest rate cap. Ultimately, as a single B rated country, Kenya does not offer the level of institutional maturity and investor protection that some of its competitors do; nor does it have the balance sheet to fund big ticket continental investments. But it retains a number of distinct advantages, notably its regional access and technological knowhow which can be leveraged.

As the world continues to urbanize, sustainable development depends increasingly on the successful management of urban growth, especially in low-income and lower-middle-income countries in Asia and Africa where the pace of urbanization is projected to be the fastest. Many countries will face challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations, including for housing, transportation, energy systems and other infrastructure, as well as for employment and basic services such as education and health care. Integrated policies to improve the lives of both urban and rural dwellers are needed, while strengthening the linkages between urban and rural areas, building on their existing economic, social and environmental ties.

Finally, what an amazing learning experience we had in Nairobi! Through lectures, field visits and discussions we have discovered this fascinating city and understood its challenges. Huge thanks to the Aga Khan University for hosting and IGLUS !!


  • https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_industry_of_Africa
  • Cities & Opportunities: Nairobi’s emerging cities Dilemma by Raphael Obonyo, Public Policy Analyst
  • Development of low-income urban housing in Kenya through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) by Daniel Mutegi Giti (Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Management Candidate, University of Nairobi), Principal Housing Officer, State Department for Housing and Urban Development, Government of Kenya
  • Housing in Nairobi by Sam Owuor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Nairobi
  • KNBS, Kenya National Bureau of Statistic
  • https://web.archive.org/web/20070428205948/http://www.pulseafrica.com/Highlights_1110000000_1_Nairobi%2BGreen%2BCity%2BIn%2BThe%2BSun.htm
  • Whole Youth Development in Kenya by Lucy Mbuvi – Research Associate & Mercy Karumba – Research Assistant
  • Urban Food Environments: The case of Nairobi’s Food Systems Strategy by Stephen Otieno PhD(c) University of Nairobi ,City Adviser, Nairobi (Food Systems) ,C40 Cities – Climate Leadership Group
  • Food Security in and Urbanizing world by Grace Githiri (Independent Expert)

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