The Fixers Who Helped Tell the Story of the Informal City, and Live It Every Day

Covering the news in Nairobi would not be possible without the help of our writer’s indispensible fixers. Photo credit: Sam Sturgis

Jua kali is a Swahili phrase meaning “hot sun” and refers to the open-air businesses that line Nairobi’s streets. The jua kali sector provides informal employment to hundreds of thousands in Kenya’s capital, from welders to carpenters to mechanics to hairdressers. But jua kali is also a term for the improvisational spirit that all Nairobians must draw on to get by in a city crushed by corruption, poverty and bad infrastructure. Indeed, Nairobi, the capital of East Africa’s biggest economy, runs on jua kali.

It’s been my task to write about that jua kali spirit for the Informal City Dialogues, to show how Nairobians improvise to get everything from water and electricity to education and recycling. Any success I’ve had here, however, is due in large part to the help of a few good friends, my fixers. Fixers are knowledgeable locals hired by journalists to take care of logistics. They are as vital to journalism as reporters and editors, engaged in the unsung work of arranging meetings, translating interviews and occasionally talking officials out of bribes. Without fixers, there is no news.

I’d like to honor two fixers, Josh and Fred, who have helped me the most, and let them to tell you about themselves and their city. I first met Josh last year while writing a story about citizen journalists in Kibera, and interviewed him a couple weeks ago in the offices of the Kibera News Network, where he works. I met Fred about a year ago as well, during a riot after a bus bombing — I interviewed him recently in his new home in Mathare. I think their stories show the struggles and realities of being a Nairobian. Thanks for your help, guys.

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