Nairobi's Never-Ending Traffic Nightmare

by Nanjala Nyabola

Woe unto you if any part of your day involves getting from one side of the city to the other.

On paper, Lang’ata is just 7km from Nairobi’s Central Business District. This factoid has long been a major selling point for the middle-class suburb, nestled between the super-rich mansions of Karen and the vast informal settlement in Kibera.

Anywhere else in the world, this rare cluster of relatively affordable houses overlooking the only national park in a capital city and served by at least four public transport routes would be a major housing market. But for most of its lifetime, the neighbourhood has been blighted by its notoriously poor water supply and legendary traffic.

It’s hard to impress upon a visitor just how bad Nairobi’s traffic is, and how much worse it is now than it’s ever been. Journeys that take five to ten minutes off-peak can take up to an hour during peak hours. That’s an hour of angrily watching as individuals flout even the most basic traffic rules, matatus drive on the sidewalks, pedestrians jaywalk, and policemen solicit bribes as the worst side of a normally pleasant people surfaces. And all despite improvements to the ailing road network, including the bypass system designed to reduce the need to enter the city centre in order to cross Nairobi.