Kaloleni estate was constructed in the 1940s at the height of World War II. Unlike Jericho and other such quarters for bachelors, Kaloleni or ‘Oloolo’ as it’s famously known, was specifically built to house African families, most of them headed by men. The men either worked for East African Railways and Harbours, the colonial civil service, or Carrier Corps returning from the war.
For leisure, the colonial government also included social amenities like the Kaloleni Social Hall which became not only the centre of sporting and music activities, but also attracted future politicians like Charles Rubia, the first African Mayor of Nairobi.
Built by Italian prisoners of war but modelled after the Patrick Geddes City Concept, Kaloleni also had a tearoom, social club and library that punctuated the neat gardens of tree-lined bungalows meant to ‘civilise and urbanise’ the ‘natives.’
The concept was named after Scottish planner Sir Patrick Geddes whose urban planning ideas were duplicated all over the British Empire of which the Kenya colony was part. Sir Geddes’ garden cities comprised residential houses surrounded by ‘greenbelts’, agricultural estates and industries. In the case of Kaloleni, there was the Industrial Area, and inhabitants could grow crops as is evident in the many backyard shambas there.
Did you know ‘garden city planning’ was part of colonial government’s effort to ‘domesticate’ its subjects? Kaloleni encouraged nuclear families to co-exist in communities in which the British had direct control in the routine of urban life in which passports and letters of authority from a rural chief were required for one to be in Nairobi.
But Kaloleni Social Hall morphed into something different. It was here that the late South African songbird, Miriam Makeba, performed Hapo Zamani when she was invited to grace uhuru celebrations in 1963 alongside American Harry Belafonte. The duo were taught Kiswahili, while here, to enable them perform Fadhili Williams’ Malaika. It was these two who gave the song its global popularity and not Fadhili Williams!
Did you know one-time Ugandan President Milton Obote headed the Kaloleni Estate Residents Association? Obote was a common figure at Kaloleni Social Hall alongside Barack Obama Snr and nationalist Tom Mboya who also lived there before moving to Ziwani estate.
Funny how Obote was later housed by politician Nyiva Mwendwa and her family after being overthrown by Idi Amin in a military coup in 1971. By the way, flamboyant Nyiva, later the first woman Cabinet Minister in Kenya, had been hired by the state to style countrified rural wives of independent era politicians including Mama Ngina Kenyatta!
Other famous residents of Kaloleni included former Vice President Moody Awori, the late politician Gerishon Kirima, Second Liberation’ hero George Nthenge, one-time Westlands MP Fred Gumo and renowned Government Pathologist, Dr Kirasi Olumbe as well as former media honcho Wangethi Mwangi also lived here.
But did you know that besides political meetings, the Kaloleni Social Hall also hosted the Legislative Council (Legco) proceedings during the extension of the current Parliament from 1952? The hall was converted into a chamber of Parliament before extensions were completed in 1954.