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Will Two Rivers Survive?


Well, of course it will. What we don’t know yet is whether it will thrive.

More than four months after its Valentine’s Day opening,  I finally deigned to venture down the first time. A friend and I went on a Sunday night.

There was not too much business, but I do remember Nove Coffee was packed. There was a decent crowd  around CK Square (haha!), but they were attracted by the football on the large screen, and below, the fountain lights.

I decided to hold off on an opinion and returned later, this time alone.

It happened to be Idd that night.  You knew right from the main entrance, with the surging throng of excitable Somali boys. For Idd, Two Rivers was the destination,  and the place was heaving.

At the entrance were these two Nissan matatus these young men had rented which couldn’t get any further, because security. Inside was a total bedlam, with one halal restaurant doing a roaring trade by the water. The escalators also got a thorough structural test, with all the children climbing, stamping, hiking up and down.

But what about business on a typical, non-Idd day?  What will happen when the new sheen wears off ? A couple of things.

Right off the bat, a couple of stores showed promise, including LC Waikiki, the Turkish clothing company, Carrefour and Nove Coffee. They did a brisk trade, and I particularly loved Carrefour’s fish selection, including octopus, squid and salmon from Norway. Great stuff.

Anyone who manages to sell both halal meat and pork in the same shop understands what business is about; catering to your customers and giving them choices, not forcing them to live the way you want.

Supermarkets have caught on to this, but restaurants are failing. Going sneaky halal behind your customers’ backs is not giving choice, but dictating. If halal customers are that many, then it’s totally worth your while to set up a separate halal kitchen.  Pizza Inn and Debonairs, I’m looking at you. But I digress.

Some stores weren’t doing too well. Chandarana Food Plus, which can also be found at Rosslyn, was a bit emptier than Carrefour,with some empty shelves and it’s difficult to see how they won’t struggle. They have a good booze section, but they have to compete with Liquor Barrels.

So there are these big name stores that will attract traffic from elsewhere, but then also smaller retailers, who will struggle. I spoke to a retailer with a stall who told me businesses was “alright”, but that their other locations, such Westlands, were more profitable.

The problem at the moment is that Two Rivers has no fixed urban population that depends on it. Before you get there, you must have passed, and passed up, both Village Market and Rosslyn Riviera, which are more immediately accessible to Rosslyn, Runda and Gigiri. Bars, like the Btzek Lounge, which was practically empty when I went will struggle without those resident customers. Banks will survive, since they have customers already.

Then there are threats from neighbours.  Rosslyn Riviera has a screaming Java sign, and will be particularly difficult to ignore. But we know an Artcaffe is coming to Two Rivers so we will watch and wait. Also, with the exception of Carrefour, there is very little signage visible from the road that screams brands people know. The dark cladding  on the outside is boring to look at.

Another reason to worry is that Two Rivers is unfriendly to foot traffic in the extreme, unlike other malls.  There is no proper footpath that acknowledges the pedestrian as a customer, more like “We know you want to come, but we’re cool if you don’t”.  Javs disgorge customers at Village Market and it’s a shorter walk to the shops.

There is just something awkward about a person who arrived on foot entering through an underground parking lot, though that won’t bug most people.

Quite a few stores that remain unopened (with the larger-than-life CK smiling at you), and time will tell with these. The launch of BlackUp is a good sign.

Ultimately, the place needs a captive market, some residents. So we’ll have to wait for Two Rivers Apartments to really see.




The Treasure

Follow  the ‘Countdown to 50’ Campaign!


Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.

This week we visit  Ukambani: The Mysterious Marvel

Kamba Land or Ukambani is divided in to three administrative county regions namely, Machakos, Makueni and Kitui counties, stretching east of Nairobi along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway towards Tsavo National park and North East to Embu.  It is widely perceived as a region regularly haunted by long drought seasons. Far from this notion, there are green and fertile stretches which make up for a wonderful destination outside Nairobi. Machakos for example, which was actually Kenya’s first inland capital, is surrounded by green hills. The Makongo Valley…

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Nairobi Westgate Mall Terror Attack, And The Folly Of ‘Otherness’ – What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us



USE -westgate-shopping-mall_kenya2_mainAROUND noon on Saturday September 21, a group of terrorists believed to number 10 to 18 stormed the Westgate Mall in western Nairobi.

By the third day, 69 had been killed during the attack, or died later in hospital. Another 175 had been injured. Today the crisis entered its fourth day. In the evening a downcast President Uhuru Kenyatta, came on TV to give heartbreaking news. The crisis had come to an end, but the three floors of the mall had collapsed from explosions, and the terrorists and an unknown number of people were trapped in the rubble.

Amidst the tragedy, we are about to forget that the first day of the crisis offered quite troubling insights about how we the media view the world.

Some Kenyan journalists, especially TV presenters, inundated their audiences with references to Westgate mall being popular with “wealthy Kenyans, expatriates and diplomats”. It was also…

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Don‘t imitate New York. Fix Nairobi


Wishing Nairobi were more like the affluent cities of the world is good and expected. However, I would urge caution when dealing with best practice vignettes and success stories . The major lesson from examples such as Mr. Penalosa of Bogota and Mr. Bloomberg of New York, is that people-friendly projects are, by nature, inclusive. They flow from a political decision to invest in all urban residents, rich and poor alike, and not from urban envy, or a mere desire to imitate more affluent cities.

Many cities we may seek to emulate have long taken care of both the physical fundamentals, including firefighting, building safety and sewerage, and the political fundamentals, including finances, fair electoral representation of urban residents and executive powers of elected officials. If these things are not in place, then Bloomberg-type inspirational leadership becomes almost impossible to achieve.

Nairobi, viewed through this lens has a wonderful opportunity, through the election of a governor with executive powers and some presumably predictable financing, to effect change. Making this city more liveable and people-friendly involves, first, including the less fortunate in improvements of fire safety, living conditions, transportation, education and wherever else the city has a mandate, and second, increasing public participation and transparency in governance.

We should ensure adequate firefighting for the whole city, because we believe that Eastlands matters as much as Westlands, that safety from fire in 2012 should not depend on our ability to afford G4S. Our firefighting mess is a shame and this city’s business potential, much of which lies east of Tom Mboya Street, shall continue to smoulder until fire is effectively controlled.

Whereas the loudest complaints about our traffic jams typically come from drivers and and matatu users, 47% of this city’s commuters walk to work. In addition to buses and trains, an adequate public transportation system should specifically target this group with safe bicycle paths closed to cars, throughout the city, because they also matter. Similarly, we should provide parks in Kayole, South B, Embakasi and elsewhere not just because New York is providing parks, but because we do, or ought to recognize, that every Nairobian is deserving of green space, yet hardly any can routinely access Karurua Forest, the Nairobi Aboretum or Uhuru Park, which looks rather dry at the moment.

Creating people-friendly cities also goes beyond revitalizing town centres to attract creatives a la Richard Florida, whose name is rarely mentioned in Kenyan newspapers, but whose creative class theory is writ large in planned developments such as Tatu City and Konza. To invest tax shillings in the less fortunate represents significant government spending, and so a leader is required who believes that all Nairobians are worthy of investments in basic livability and can make a case for such spending in the face of more fiscally conservative opposition. Such a leader should also be willing to take on those who profit from our shortcomings in public infrastructure in defence of the public interest.

Transparent governance, the other requirement of a liveable city, does not just involve public participation as set out in the Cities and Urban Areas Act of 2011, but also the right to observe local government as it executes substantive business. In Nairobi, the public is not allowed to witness municipal decision-making around development control, zoning and other otherwise public decisions. If Parliament allows the public to observe debate and motions, if the courts allow the public to observe acquittals and convictions, then city hall should allow the public to observe zoning, development, and other approvals. The effective Official Plan and Zoning By-law, which currently decide how land should be used in Nairobi, ought to be on the website of the Nairobi City Council today.

A city that values all its residents, cares for the most vulnerable, and is not afraid to transact business in the public eye is far more likely to be people-friendly. We must learn this lesson if we are to successfully emulate Enrique Penalosa and Michael Bloomberg. Merely wanting a better city won’t get us there.