“If you want to go for shopping in Nairobi, then think of a place called Eastleigh. Things, especially clothes are sold cheaply. That is why many shoppers flock the centre for shopping. There are Somali, many of whom are of Kenyan origin, booming in the business, which is why they are threatening to buy all plots in Nairobi-they have a lot of money,” remarks Karen Anyika, a resident of Nairobi South C.
Eastleigh is a big shopping centre and one of the busiest suburbs in Nairobi. For a stranger in Nairobi, it would be difficult to tell whether you are in Nairobi-Kenya or Mogadishu in Somalia. The Somalis on the surface evaluation form 80 percent of the population. It is just a silent Mogadishu in Nairobi.
Before you go to the business centre, as a stranger you will be filled with a mixture of anxiety and fear. Anxiety to see the ‘Mogadishu in Nairobi’ and its booming business on one hand, while on the other hand you will be fearing to be robbed of your cash, on the way before you pay for your favourites in Eastleigh.
It is now common knowledge that moving around Nairobi with money in your pocket, is a big risk. Thieves will take it away with ease and that is Nairobi. In fact, some Kenyans have nicknamed the city ‘Nairobbery’ due to escalating insecurity.
“The things in Eastleigh are very cheap, but when I think of what I will go through before getting what I want, I change my mind. There is virtually, no parking space-this compels one to use a ‘Matatu’ (taxi). In a Matatu, it is easy for thieves to take your money,” remarks Jennifer Odera.
But if you brush off all the fears and pick a Matatu, you will find the most interesting experience in your life. Entering in these Matatus is like entering into a recreation hall with best movies on show. Forget about the Nyamirabo-Kigali ‘entertainment music’, there is full volume music accompanied by a variety of movies. Pictures of popular reggae stars, decorate the Matatus.
In addition, there are two conductors commanding the Matutu to stop, and start off from time to time. One conductor is in charge of collecting money, while the other picks passengers all the way. The courage with which the ‘commanders’ work, is so interesting.
The driver will always be rebuked for being slow, yet this is a person driving at a ‘neck breaking’ speed. Faster, faster! What is embarrassing though, is the fact that you may not know how much to pay, because of the language the conductors use.
They have different street names for different currency denominations. This will inevitably call for you to consult a Kenyan, hence making you vulnerable for it will be discovered that you are a stranger. Otherwise, the Matatu will give you maximum entertainment all the way to Eastleigh.
In fact the entertainment makes it a very short distance from wherever you come from. Your eyes will immediately meet Somali women clad in their traditional dresses.
“Hapa ni area ya wa Somali na business yao.” This Sheng language can be loosely translated as- “Eastleigh is a place for Somalis and all the business is owned by them,” says Mururu John, a resident of Nairobi.
Eastleigh is indeed a very busy trading centre that attracts people from all parts of the region and beyond. You will find people from various countries including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi struggling to bargain their way into the business.
The important language one needs to know is one similar to Kiswahili. The business people do not speak proper Kiswahili and neither do they use the popular Sheng– the ‘Nairobi language’.
Shengi is a mixture of English and Kiswahili with a ‘corporate pronunciation’. Another tough alternative, of course, is the Somali language(s).
“These Somalis rarely use English, so you have to struggle with their poor Kiswahili to communicate with them,” complains Mpandugi Jackson, a Tanzanian businessman based in Mwanza.
Another amazing phenomenon is that the business in the area is run mostly by young Somalis of between twenty and thirty years of age. You will move from shop to shop, only to find the youth doing the business.
This offers a unique and contrasting scenario, because in Biashara Street, on the other side of Nairobi city, business is almost dominated by the aged.
These young men are however, very troublesome – they do not offer customers time to bargain to the last minute. They will get angry before the haggling process ends to the dismay of many customers. This in business sets a very bad example for it may scare away some potential clients.
“Utu tugabo twarasaze (these men are mad) they get angry so quickly, a thing that sickens me,” complained a Rwandan doing shopping. All notwithstanding, Eastleigh is indeed Mogadishu silently embedded in Nairobi.