The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase ‘Enkare Nyrobi’, which translates to “cool water”.
Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, has risen in a single century from a brackish uninhabited swampland to a thriving modern capital. The former swamp land occupied by the city now was once inhabited by the herding people, the Maasai, under the British East Africa protectorate when the British decided to build a railroad to open East Africa and make it accessible for trade and encourage colonial settlements. The Maasai were forcibly removed to allow land for white ranchers. When railway construction workers reached this area in 1899, they set up a basic camp and supply depot, simply called ‘Mile 327’. The local Maasai called this highland swamp Ewaso Nai’beri – the place of cold water. The location of the Nairobi railway camp was chosen due to its central position between Mombasa and Kampala, as well as its proximity to a network of rivers that could supply the camp with water. Its elevation made it cool enough for comfortable residential living. Furthermore, at 1661 meters (5,500 feet) above the sea level, the temperatures are too low for the mosquitoes carrying malaria to survive.
The camp became a rustic village, and then a shantytown, which by 1907 was the capital of all of British East Africa. The town was totally rebuilt in the early 1900s after an outbreak of plague and the subsequent burning down of the original town. By 1907, Nairobi was a humming commercial center and replaced Mombasa as capital of the British East Africa. The city expanded, supported by the growth in administrative functions and in tourism, initially in the form of British big game hunting. As the British colonialists explored the region, they began using Nairobi as their first stop. This prompted the colonial government to build several grand hotels in the city for British tourists and big game hunters. It was soon an important center for the colony and a Mecca for adventurers, hunters and travelers from all over the world.
Nairobi continued to grow under British rule, and many Britons settled within the city's suburbs. The continuous expansion of the city began to anger the Maasai, as the city was devouring their land. In 1915 The British passed laws restricting the ownership of land to whites. Then followed high taxes and low wages. Blacks were forced to carry identification cards. In 1919, Nairobi was declared to be a municipality by the British. In 1921 Harry Thuku founded the Young Kikuyu Association and began organizing protests as people became more open about their grievances against the British. On March 14, 1922 he was arrested. His arrest caused a general strike in Nairobi in which thousands of Africans protested and the British government reacted by shooting 56 protesters, 25 of whom died, the massacre shocking people worldwide, even the British. Although Thuku was exiled to a remote desert oasis, this was only the beginning of unrest that continued with escalating severity.
After the end of WWII, the friction developed into the Mau Mau uprising. Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's future president, joined the Kikuyu Central Association after moving to the urban Nairobi from a small village, becoming its general secretary in three years, a step that lead to his becoming Kenya's first prime minister and then Kenya's first president. Following the disputed Kenyan presidential election, 2007, serious violence broke out in Nairobi. In the Mathare slum, Luo gangs burned more than 100 homes.
Because the area around Nairobi continued to be a popular attraction for British big game hunters, the Nairobi National Park was established by Britain in 1946, the first national park in East Africa. It remains unique in 2008 in that it is the only game reserve bordering on a capital city in the world. The park is home to large herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Giraffe and more. Rhino, Cheetah, and a large number of Lions are all found here, living wild within 20 minutes of the centre of town.
Pressure exerted from the local people on the British resulted in Kenyan independence in 1963, with Nairobi as the capital of the new republic. Nairobi grew rapidly and this growth put pressure on the city's infrastructure. Power cuts and water shortages were a common occurrence, though in the past few years better city planning has helped to put some of these problems in check.
The U.S. embassy in the heart of Nairobi was bombed on August 7, 1998 by Al-Qaida, as one of a series of U.S. embassy bombings. Over two hundred civilians were killed in the embassy and another 213 persons in the surrounding area with more than 5,000 people injured.
Modern Nairobi is still the safari capital of the Africa, but the modern world has quickly caught up with the city. A frontier town no more, Nairobi has become one of Africa’s largest, and most interesting cities. Nairobi, like New York City, is a city that never seems to sleep. The entire town has a boundless energy, and is thriving place where all of human life can be found. This is a place of great contrasts where race, tribe and origin all become facets of a unique Nairobi character.