Nairobi’s Central Business District, or CBD, was once the hottest spot for East Africa’s entrepreneurs. A small shop on the corner of Kenyatta Avenue or an office in one of the cities modest skyscrapers was prime real estate in one of the continent’s most sophisticated commercial hubs. Recently, however, the downtown area has started to wither in both appearance and esteem.
Rapid rates of urbanization have clogged the CBD’s narrow, colonial-era streets. Thousands of minivans, called “matatus,” dominate the city’s informal transit system, flooding the city center each minute. Infrastructure woes funnel matatus into bottleneck traffic throughout the day. Nairobi’s most revered businesses have responded to the decay in unison: They’re simply leaving. Emblematic of the area’s eroding climate was the Nairobi Stock Exchange’s relocation last year to Westlands, a leafy residential area that has quickly become the city’s club district.
One Kenyan photographer, however, has captured the subtle beauty that lingers in the depreciating commercial hub. Nairobi Noir is the project of Msingi Sasis, a 35-year-old artist who was struck by the odd allure of the fading CBD.
“One night I noticed how beautiful the city looked after dark, and it caught my fancy to take a few photographs,” Sasis says. “This became a habit, and in time I found myself wandering more and more into Nairobi’s streets in search of its scenes and stories.”
The CBD is the background for most of Sasis’ photos, but the nighttime’s sundry occupiers are the subjects. Concerned business owners, underpaid security guards, the homeless, and youthful passers-by all occupy unique roles. “Nairobi Noir is mostly about people,” he says. And the CBD’s enduring humanism will outlive its fleeing businesses.