The City of Nairobi and "The Lunatic Express"
The history of Nairobi began with the Lunatic or "Looney" Express.
In 1899, when the builders of the "Lunatic Express" railway line decided to set up camp at "Ewaso Nai´beri", they likely had no idea that they had just sown the seeds of what would become the largest city in the region. They chose to camp in this place for two main reasons:
- It was cool and well supplied with water. It is no wonder that the local Maasai people had named it "Ewaso Nai´beri" meaning "a place of cool waters". The cool temperature was a welcome relief from the hot Mombasa coastal sun the British had to contend with as they built the railway line from Mombasa to Uganda.
- It offered an escape from the man-eaters. The fact that "Ewaso Nai´beri" was a swampland reduced the likelihood of an encounter with lions. During the construction of a bridge at Tsavo a year earlier, two very large male lions killed and ate more than 135 of the railway workers.
This railway line, meant to connect the East African interior with the rest of the world, had been named the "Lunatic Express" by skeptics doubting its economic worth. The Looney express camp gave rise to the town that would later become the City of Nairobi.
History of Nairobi - about the Name
As mentioned, the area was originally called Ewaso Nai´beri", a Maasai name meaning "a place of cool waters". However, the British were unable to pronounce this complex name and, instead, coined their own name from the original, calling it "Nairobi".
Population and expansion of Nairobi
With the railway line now complete, the history of Nairobi continues when the British moved their administrative headquarters from the hot and humid town of Mombasa to the cooler, swampy town of Nairobi, thus making Nairobi the capital of British East Africa. In 1919, the Nairobi municipal community formally became the Nairobi City Council. Its boundary was extended to include surrounding part-urban settlements. The boundary was again extended in 1927 to cover 30 square miles (48 sq.km). Geographically, the city of Nairobi now occupies approximately 425 square miles (684 sq.km).
During the struggle against British colonialism, the city served as an important meeting point for political activists to get together and compare notes. In 1906, the city had a population of 10,512. By 1963, when Kenya received independence from Britain, the City of Nairobi had a population of 350,000. Nairobi was the heart around which the predominantly agricultural economy pulsated. People kept streaming to the city. Businesses developed and thrived and the town grew in leaps and bounds. The population was mainly comprised of English settlers, Asians and ethnic communities of the Kikuyu and Kamba whose origins were in close proximity to the city. The Maasai had been relocated by the British a few years earlier to pave wave for settler occupation.
Today, the city of Nairobi is a truly cosmopolitan, multicultural, lively and modern city with an ever-growing skyline. It is a "gateway to Kenya" and embraces people from all walks of life. From local Kenyans to Asians, Arabs, Europeans, tourists, diplomats and businessmen, and general visitors, you will find a good mix of people in Nairobi.
As of 2007, the population of Nairobi stood at more than 3 million and continues to grow. Nairobi continues to thrive and benefit greatly from the overall stability that Kenya enjoys as a nation. An important aspect of the post independence period has been the migration of people from the rural areas to Nairobi. The majority of the immigrants come from the neighboring Central and Eastern Provinces, while others come from as far as Western and Nyanza Provinces. Almost every Kenyan ethnic tribe has a presence in Nairobi, leading to the rapid population growth.
History of Nairobi and the "Green City in the Sun"
The beautiful green foliage and the fact that Nairobi is the only city with a national park within its boundaries earned it the dual identity of "the green city in the sun" and "the safari capital of the world". Any safari tour to see Kenya's world famous game animals begins in Nairobi. Before independence, Nairobi was a popular place for big game hunters to begin their hunting expeditions. Indeed, in the early part of the 20th century, Nairobi was the hunting capital of the world. It was, therefore, only natural that later wildlife conservation efforts would be focused on Nairobi.
The life stories of leading conservationists such as George and Joy Adamson, David Sheldrick and the Leakey's, among others, helped cement Kenya's reputation as a leader in wildlife conservation during the latter part of the 20th century. By the early 70s, big game hunting had altogether disappeared though it remained a serious problem. On July 18, 1989, Kenya underscored its commitment to wildlife conservation when the president at the time, Daniel Moi, set ablaze 12 tonnes of elephant tusks valued at over $3 million. This took place in the City of Nairobi at the Nairobi National Park.
Nairobi's History and the East African economy
Economically, Nairobi has evolved from a rustic village to an important economic hub for the East African region. From its initial start as an agricultural-based economy, the city has grown exponentially and is now a center for huge manufacturing and industrial facilities. The history of Nairobi is closely intertwined with the rest of East Africa, in a relationship that began when the original East African Community, East African Railways & Harbors and The East African Airways housed their regional headquarters in the city. Thus, Nairobi has always been the regional center driving economic activity in the East African region.
Related Information about Nairobi
- The history of Kenya and the founding fathers.
- Where to stay? find a range of places where you can book your stay in Nairobi, from 5-star luxury hotels to safari and game lodges - accomodation to fit your budget.
- Do you want self-catering accomodation? find vacation rentals - Nairobi cottages, villas and apartments to fit your budget.
- Kenya safari tours, animal safaris, adventure holidays and beach safaris that you can customize and book online before you travel to Kenya.
- The Nairobi City Council - resources and more information about the city of Nairobi.