A Road Story

This story is dedicated to my Mombasa people. Hawayuniii!

Abdel Nasser Rd stretches from just beyond Allidina Visram to the Mwembe Tayari roundabout where I remember drinking the most quenching fantas as a child meandering through the drenching Mombasa heat. The air in Mwember Tayari was always sweetened with the smells of the day’s fresh fruit, vegetables and the whiff of ceaseless spices escaping from.. what was the name of that hotel?

But I don’t know what Mwembe Tayari looked like in 1914 when the then deputy governor of Mombasa, Ali Bin Salem, built that road and named it for his father, Salem Bin Khalfan Rd.

See, Ali was a kikaragozi (puppet) of the British colonizers then. They had groomed him from a young age, educated him in England, put him in power in Mombasa, and awarded him medals for fighting on their side against the Mazrui. Ok historians, I leave that part of the story to you.. because whew! It’s intense. The whole kitchen sink of Omani rule has knives and broken glass in it.

After eating biryani right around the corner from where Msa-Voi matatus stop, walk towards Abdel Nasser, past Bawazir Plaza, nenda moja kwa moja until Bondeni Junction. If you go left you’re lost, you will get to Tononoka, halafu huyo Baxtani, we can’t find you. Unless you stop before Nyali Bridge and wait for us there tutapatana jioni.

Stay on course at Abdel Nasser halafu upite Msikitini. Up ahead, kulia ni Allidina. Beta kushoto. Hapohapo. You have reached the end of the almost a kilometer-long road that Ali finished building for his father 110 years ago. Ali was known for his infrastructural development in Mombasa, but his legacy was complicated. I don’t know if he’s related to Joho. Huenda ikawa.

So how did that road change from an Omani to an Egyptian’s name? Ah, now you ask.

Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, was one of the most passionate Pan-Africanists. He followed the Mau Mau struggle and opened doors to Kenyan scholars to study at the University of Cairo.

My Uncle was one of them. Uncle K (1942 – 2010), returned to serve in the young Kenya government as an Economist. A lot of the Airlifts that gifted newly independent African countries with University brain-gain were within Africa itself. West Africa educated quite a number.

In Egypt, Abdel Nasser also allowed an underground radio station to broadcast in Swahili – “Sauti ya Afrika”. It provided updates on Mau Mau and the details of their struggle against the British internationally. Get this: Kenyans living and studying in Egypt composed songs of freedom and struggle that were played on that radio station. *Ref- Fayek, Mohamed (2013).

What the world knows about the heroism of Kenya’s struggle for independence was, thanks in large part, to Abdel Nasser. So when Kenya got independence, Mombasa welcomed the opportunity to honor this great friend and renamed Salem Bin Khalfan Rd to Abdel Nasser Rd.

*For more history on the above subject and the connection between Egypt’s Pan-Africanism, please read Prof. Mohamed Fayek’s book, Abdel Nasser and the African Revolution (2013).

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