It’s another Wednesday where we focus on the men who live and work in Nairobi. Our Man Around Nairobi today is Jesse Masai. Jesse Masai is currently the Head of Communications and Public Relations in Nyandarua County, in Central Kenya. He is presently finalizing his MA studies in Development Communication at Daystar’s Nairobi Campus. In his eleventh year in journalism and mass communications, Jesse has extensive local and international experience in media and public relations.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi? If you did where and how was it growing up here?
No, but I could say 16 of my adult years were spent here. I came to Nairobi after high school. The rest, as they say, is history. In a sense, I have been born here intellectually and professionally. Intellectually, because of Daystar University’s Communications programme, but professionally, because of the doors that would later open for local and global engagements in media and development communication as a whole.
I grew up all over the country. My dad is a pastor, so we moved around quite a bit. I first traveled to Nairobi in August 1995. The heavy traffic, fast-moving people and dazzling lights were quite a sight. The idea of having numbered Matatus for particular routes was something else altogether. Eldoret, the town in which I had lived for a while before then, paled in comparison.
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
Its cosmopolitan nature as a melting-pot of competing local and global identities. One moment you are with your tribesman, the next with this East African in town for this big meet. One moment you are munching nyama choma, the next having a meal that will ordinarily not be on most local menus. One moment you are watching a local production, the next buying the latest drama or comedy from the West for Kshs. 50. In Nairobi, shades of the local and global both meet at once.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
The poor sanitation, insecurity, dilapidated roads and lighting. Save for Upper Hill, Kilimani, Westlands and other leafy suburbs, parts of the city immediately remind both a resident and visitor that some Third World problems are real.
Kigali, some civil rights groups argue, has achieved its cleanliness and order by locking away its poor and destitute. I hope Nairobi can still get there, without killing its own soul: the free spirit of its many, diverse people.
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Merit often counts for nothing. Who, rather than what you know, disadvantages most who desire a more professional city. The old boy networks that oil historic Kenyan patronage must give way to a future in which people are judged not on the basis of their tribe, bribes they give or intimate favours provided but the content of their character and academic qualifications.
We have arguably the region’s best trained human resource. We play small when we trample over it.
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting.
Nairobi is the only city in the world with a game park at its heart.
It is the economic and communications hub for East and Central Africa.
A vibrant high and inner-city culture, backed up by a vibrant media, means one will always be at the center of the most topical discussions in and outside Kenya.
If you would like to interact with Jesse Masai check him out at @JesseMasai.