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Tales from the Kenyan capital

By Emily Wither for CNN
  • Daily Dispatches project aims to produce a story about Nairobi every day in April
  • Stories are sent to U.S. universities to produce an exhibition of life in the city
  • Project is trying to give a "balanced view" of life in a "21st century African city"

(CNN) -- Nairobi, the bustling Kenyan capital, is home to some three million people, each with their own story to tell. Now, a month-long project aims to record some of the untold stories behind the city.

Throughout April, journalist Mike Pflanz and photographer Brendan Bannon will be on a mission to educate Americans about Nairobi, capturing the city's complexities, and the struggles and victories of the people who live there.

The pair's Daily Dispatches project aims to produce 30 stories about Nairobi -- one for every day in April.

"I would say that Nairobi in and of itself is emblematic of the developing world's perilous rush to urbanization, and the stories we feature are likely to resonate with people in any number of other African cities, or those across the developing world," said Pflanz.

"Nairobi is fast-growing and fast-evolving, with a constant influx and outflow of people and ideas which give it energy and contrast," he added.

The team spends all day exploring the city, interviewing and photographing people. At night they dispatch their stories to a series of American universities.

The universities then print out the stories and mount them on their walls in an exhibition that grows larger by the day. Each wall space is slowly building a portrait of what it's like to live in the capital of Kenya.

Pflanz and Bannon say they are trying to show people a balanced and informative view of what it is like to live in a fast-evolving 21st century African city.

"It's as if Nairobians succeed not because someone tells them what to do, but because no one does.
--Mike Pflanz, Daily Dispatches
  • Nairobi
  • Kenya
  • Africa

Pflanz said: "Both of us feel that the assignments that have interested editors on foreign desks in Europe or the U.S. rarely truly capture the diversity, energy, innovation and flourish that epitomize modern urban Africa.

"The focus of stories was often too narrow, and all too regularly conformed to what is seen from the West as 'Africa's story' -- difficulty, fear, conflict, powerlessness and struggle.

"These things are here, and we're not shying away from them with Daily Dispatches. But what's actually going on in Nairobi is so much more than that."

Among the Nairobians they have met and written about so far are Cynthia Achieng, owner of Olympic Beauty Shop, in Kibera, whose premises were burnt to the ground in Kenya's 2007/8 post-election violence. Achieng has since opened a new kiosk and is using her savings to start a refuge for AIDS widows in western Kenya.

Then there's Patrick Mungai, a young jockey who raced his first Derby earlier in the month against his father, Kenya's longest-competing jockey, and there's also Octopizzo, a 23-year-old Nairobi hip-hop artist, wildly popular in the slums, who aims to use his music to drive change in young people.

These Nairobians "survive, succeed, flourish or fail in the near-vacuum left by a lack of true city-wide central authority," said Pflanz.

"It's as if Nairobians succeed not because someone tells them what to do, but because no one does, that they thrive in spite of the authorities, not because of them, and it is perhaps this good-natured bustle and grab-the-quick-buck hustle that most defines this archetype of a 21st century African city," he said.

Pflanz added that he hopes Nairobi will be the first in a series of Dispatches projects, covering different cities, different groups of people, or different themes, from around the world.

He said he hopes that by the end of April Daily Dispatches will have created a realistic portrait of the city.

"In 30 days we'll never do more than scratch the surface," said Pflanz. "But I hope that when Nairobians read the blog, they'll for once see an accurate depiction of their city reflected back at them.

"And we hope the students and those seeing the exhibition in the U.S. will simply learn more, understand more, and appreciate more the realities of the lives lived here."