Down came the market

Michael Onsando
29 May ,2018

“The curio shops near the Sarit Centre in Westlands will be demolished next week.”

  • Curio shops in westlands to be demolished, The Star, Feb 1 2016

It was not until May 10th2018 that the curio shops in Westlands were demolished. On the day of the demolition roads were closed and the internet was abuzz with questions on nostalgia, culture and gentrification.

Amidst the continuous labour we see on the streets these days, it is increasingly easier to make peace with the transient nature of things. The feeling of coming up against a familiar landscape and finding it different is now one we are all accustomed to – whether it is taking a wrong turn on a bypass, or driving into a ditch somewhere.

“For more than 40 years, 73-years-old Mzee David Waweru traded at the recently demolished Westlands Curio Market, selling African curios, carvings and Maasai jewellery, like hundreds of other traders who worked there.”




It takes a certain naiveté to believe in glorified narratives. Your dad is the biggest and strongest – until you see him as another man. Or santa claus is real, until you are the one who has to buy the gifts. Sometimes believing in the dream is a product of distance from it – from what it means to labour towards its actualization. And from the circumstances that make its actualization impossible.

“Growing up in the village back in the 80’s, we often used to hear stories of this place called Nairobi better known then as the ‘city in the sun’. According to the stories the city was this fabulous place which was clean, well organized and everything worked like clock work. The buses were always on time, garbage was always collected, newspapers and even milk was delivered to your door step just like in the movies and most importantly there was no water rationing. You have to understand that back then in the village these things sounded foreign to us and made us long to visit this place called Nairobi.”

Eventually, it becomes easy to forget the fragile nature of freedom actualizing circumstances.

“I lost my innocence of a predictable and certain world in 1982 on the first day of August. I was 8 years old. My elder brother returned from a party on the 31st July and had turned on his portable transistor radio to catch the 6 am news. That Sunday morning, the hesitant voice of radio veteran Leonard Mambo Mbotela on VOK’s national service announced that the government of Daniel Arap Moi had been overthrown.”

And, with a little of romanticisation, it is easy to re-member concepts that had been put aside

“To be a millennial is to believe in freedom. To acknowledge that the ideals that make up the society should not erase or ignore certain people whose existence are in/within/revolve around the same society”



“This type of informal market is vital in Kenya, where so many people lack the education needed for skilled jobs. Money spent here helps support the artisans’ families.”

Narratives are sticky. What has been said will remain as what has been said, and what is done can never come undone.

 “Life is a lived experience. There is only one way to do that, to live it. To seek. To find, sometimes. To accept Trump as the clarion call to the next phase of American aggression, which might just drive us to the next war we historians will describe as the war of our generation. To accept that each generation has a purpose, and ours isn’t defined by colonialism and independence, as much as it is defined by our need for jobs, better Internet, fewer wars, more inclusion, and a more humanist approach to social problems. By rapid political transitions, a debt bomb, the traumas we inherited, and those we are inflicting on ourselves. Those are our wars, so far, and they are real. If the next generation has different wars, then so be it.”


And freedom is a multifaceted concept. What can look like revolutionary reclamation of a space in one era can serve to its own detriment in another. As the world changes, so we must change with it.

“I came here around 1976 to start my business. I found this Market here. There were traders here already.”

  • David Waweru, Westlands curios market was my life


There’s something cyclical about the reclamation of reclaimed space. The city takes back to give what had been taken back because it couldn’t give.

The first time I walked past the curio space after it was demolished, I couldn’t help but feel like something significant had died. Then I remembered it was just another shade of the sunset.

(they better build that road)

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