Garbage collection in Nairobi’s 85 wards remains one of the biggest problems any leader at City Hall has to contend with.
Unknown to many Nairobi residents is that the garbage menace has created a multimillion-shilling industry over the years, one that is firmly in the hands of cartels that seem to operate above the law.
The Star has established that unfair competition, extortion and intimidation are among the strategies used to lock out new companies trying to venture into the business. Many of these have ended up closing shop, losing millions of shillings in investments.
Initially, garbage collection was in the hands of the Nairobi City Council, which collected 90 per cent of the waste generated in the city. This was later scrapped, with several amendments on the city by-laws between the mid-80s and early 90s.
Amid efforts to salvage the situation with the inception of county governments in 2013, the county, then under Governor Evans Kidero, adopted a public-private partnership model, where business entrepreneurs would bid for tenders to collect and transport the waste to Dandora dumpsite.
Those who made early entries into the business reaped massive profits and expanded their fleet. The now lucrative industry came under the control of a handful of companies and city politicians.
A source at City Hall claimed that the outlawed Mungiki sect, in an attempt to spread its wings, sneaked into the business. The source, who is familiar with their deals, said the group took over the Dandora dumpsite through extortion,
intimidation and violence.
“To date, the dumpsite is still under their control,” he said, adding that the cartel has locked out many companies with the capacity to collect garbage with effective systems.
City Hall further frustrates those who dare venture into the business, the source said. This is through the bureaucratic channels one follows to get a permit from City Hall. In some cases, people have had to
bribe their way through.
One has to contend with random inspections from council officials, who “most of the time extort and impose hefty fines that lead to losses and eventually bankruptcy”,
the source said.
But City Hall denied the claims, saying it provides a checklist to bidders, which includes a fleet of trucks specifically designed to collect and transport garbage.
The source said companies who dance to the tune of the cartels do not go through such stringent rules, and operate in blatant disregard of Nairobi City County by-laws.
Our investigations at the dumpsite established that most trucks disposing waste are broken down and unroadworthy, and end up spewing garbage on their way.
In fact, the bulldozers supposed to compress and move the garbage to create space at the dumpsite spend the day pulling these trucks, as they can rarely move on top of the already declared full site.
Due to unfair competition, these companies are paid on tonnage, irrespective of the zone of collection. In bid to be at the same tonnage with those collecting the waste in nearby zones to the site, some companies are forced to either load their trucks with soil and rocks and cover it with little garbage on top.
At other times, these trucks are not emptied at the dumpsite. They drive out with half-filled garbage and move in nearby estates to fill the remaining half before
lining up again.
Nairobi Environment executive Larry Wambua said the county generates 2,500 tonnes of garbage in a day. He said City Hall is still doing badly in terms of collection, as some 1,800 tonnes of garbage lie uncollected in the streets daily.
Wambua said initially, the county could only manage to collect between 700 and 800 tonnes of waste a day, but the capacity has increased to at least 1,500 tonnes daily, which is about 25 per cent.
"It should, however, be noted that some 150,000 tonnes of uncollected waste are still lying in the streets, in estates and a big chunk of it in Nairobi River," he said.
"This waste is increasing by 1,800 tonnes daily, and if stringent measures are not put in place, we shall end up walking on piles of waste in the near future."
The county spends between Sh70 million and Sh100 million a month on collecting this waste. This amounts to about Sh1.2 billion a year.
This is why perhaps the business has generated a big appetite, with all quarters running to have a stake.
Although now Governor Mike Sonko has shown good intentions to make Nairobi clean, the presence of entrenched cartels with a huge influence in the waste management chain have impeded his reforms in the sector as they benefit from the status quo.
Sonko has been on the spot several times over the garbage menace. But in his defence, the governor accused the previous administration of sabotaging garbage collection.
He said the companies collecting the garbage have been at City Hall since its inception, and it is not easy to root them out.
President Uhuru Kenyatta urged Sonko to ensure the garbage problem is sorted out within the
shortest time possible.
The Kenya Defence Forces and the National Youth Service took over major operations on garbage collection, which has reduced City Hall’s spending.
Wambua said by the time Sonko was taking over, the cartels were reaping big and made massive profits.
"We even had instances where some truck drivers could just fill the lorries with sand only to empty at the dumpsite," he said.
"It was crazy. How can a company with a fleet of one lorry claim a cheque of over Sh20 million in a month? How do you justify such payments in the first place?"
Wambua said the poor infrastructure at the dumpsite has left most of the county-owned trucks written off.
The Star established that there are no proper roads just from the dumpsite’s entrance, and truckers are forced to drive on top of the garbage.
Several bulldozers lie idle at the dumpsite due to lack of maintenance. Some are written off. Only three are functional.
Unroadworthy trucks are forced to empty the garbage somewhere in the site, which will later be picked by these bulldozers.
Wambua said the county owns about 60 garbage trucks, but out of these, only 26 are operational, with 34 having been completely written off.
"When the President gave the directive, the NYS gave us nine more trucks, which brings our current fleet to 35 trucks. We have 60 other trucks that are managed by private companies, making it a fleet of 95 trucks," Wambua said.
The executive said in drastic measures to weed out cartels, private companies have been reduced to only six, with each company having a fleet of not less than 10 trucks.
"We have reduced our monthly expenditure from between Sh70 million and Sh100 million a month to Sh15 million-20 million a month," Wambua said.
A dumpsite manager said in a day, only 150 trucks are served. "We have to weigh the tonnage when the lorries get in and when they get out, and with one gate serving as an exit and entrance, these are some of the problems we have in terms of clearing the jam," he said.
Moreover, county efforts to control movement mean only five trucks are allowed access at a go. This leaves many trucks on the queue to the main road, which, as a result, creates huge traffic, inconveniencing other road users.
Some trucks even spend up to two days before they finally get to the site, which makes the already tired drivers opt to empty the garbage carelessly.
In our interview, City Hall admitted that what is crippling services is the many illegal dumpsites .
Wambua said many of these sites are located in the slums of Kibera, Mathare, Kawangware and Mukuru kwa Njenga. Other dumps are in Kiambio, Kayole and Ngomongo.