Erasing the City of Nairobi

Aug 04 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

Sadie M. sent in an example of the reproduction of the idea that “Africa” is an arid, desolate place where nature still dominates civilization.  The snapshot Sadie sent in was of Nairobi.  Nairobi is the 12th largest city on the continent of Africa with a population of over 3 million in the city and its surrounding suburbs.  It is the capital of Kenya and an economic, political, and financial hub in the region.

This is Nairobi on Google maps:

This is what comes up if you Google image Nairobi:

Nairobi is also not a desert plain.  The name, in Maasai, translates into ”the place of cool waters” and it is popularly known as “Green City in the Sun” (wikipedia).

Despite all of this, Sadie’s snapshot shows that an in flight magazine depicted Nairobi as a savanna full of elephants and bereft of people.  The other two destinations featured – New York and Sydney — are pictured as they are.

So there we have it: Another piece of advertising erasing the bustling, successful economies of Africa, and instead reproducing the idea that the entire continent is an uncivilized desert full of exotic animals.


See also: How Not to Write about Africa and The Single Story of “Africa.”

3 responses so far

  • becca says:

    In fairness, the picture with the giraffe and the city buildings is the one I think would be best. I have some sympathy for people trying to advertise what makes a city different. If you just showed me some of those cityscapes, I wouldn't know Narobi from Cleveland without looking at the caption. And really, who wants to go to Cleveland? They only have giraffes in zoos.

    And "bustling and successful economy" or no, some of those pictures do not make it look like an appealing place to visit. Though that's also true of NYC (although, not, curiously, Sydney, which appears to have its tourism bureau in charge of Google Images).
    If anything though, the Sydneyscapes have the most Untamed Nature in them... the oceans are less conquered than the savanna, by my reckoning.

  • Namnezia says:

    To me the picture implies that the interesting thing about visiting Nairobi is that you get to have access to some sort of savannah seemingly easily accessible, although outside, the city limits. Which is just as bad, because it also implies there is nothing of interest to see in Nairobi itself, which I would find hard to believe.

  • Zuska says:

    I've read a lot of those in flight magazines and the repetitive articles about the featured city of the month. They always show the shiniest skyscrapers, even if the city's tallest building is, like twenty stories. To me, that picture of Nairobi implies that there's no city there at all to speak of, or nothing worth looking at.