• Nairobi has serious issues of urban poverty.
• With a combined population of about seven million residents, it needs serious leaders if only to provide the most basic of essential services.
This week, I had the privilege of spending time with Nairobi Metropolitan Services director general Major Gen (Rtd) Mohamed Badi, visiting some works his agency has undertaken to transform the Mukuru slums into a formal urban settlement.
The area is inhabited by more than 500,000 people, accounting for 11.3 per cent of the Nairobi county night population, according to the 2009 Census. The informal settlement has for a very long time lacked water and sanitation infrastructure, with human waste being channelled into the Mukuru River.
The majority of people live in mabati structures built on top of each other and there are literary no roads.
My aim was to see how NMS is regenerating the capital, and in particular, how it is improving the lives of people living with disabilities.
On site, we found people voluntarily demolishing their own houses to pave way for road construction, which was underway in various sections. I asked Badi how this had happened and it was very revealing that they were deploying a spatial plan agreed upon by the community.
It was jointly developed by the community with the help of Kenyatta University and the Universities of Nairobi and Manchester. It emphasises the critical role of community engagement in its own development.
The NMS got the support of the community first by restoring power by replacing two transforms to avoid power shortage and theft in the dark. Then it repaired and installed the sewerage system, employing more than 1,000 youths, including street families.
The NMS also created parallel wayleaves for water ducts, sewerage and other connections for basic services alongside road tarmaking and building walkways.
Street lighting has also transformed sections of the proposed 53km road network to usher in a night economy. Open spaces have been created where children are playing.
We visited four families of disabled persons, whose houses were demolished in the process, with a view to helping them build new ones through the personal support of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mwende, Ann, Jane and Mwaura will benefit from temporary structures, even as the government intends to build more than 18,000 low-cost houses in the next two years, to clear up the slum.
My office will provide a wheelchair for Jane and help Mwende get a new prosthetic. We are seeking compensation for Ann whose legs were severed by a city council lorry eight yeas ago. She was working for the city council then but never got any compensation.
The transformation in a few months since the transfer of four key county functions to the national government in February puts a sharp focus on the role of counties in devolution, especially within the capital city.
It is to be noted Badi is an appointed official, while Governor Mike Sonko an elected official who has failed to deliver to the people of Nairobi. He is facing corruption charges, which he denies.
Interestingly, the passions and incitement of the masses, coupled with the need to maintain popularity, cannot facilitate the transformation of any given county or country.
This is the easier option, coupled with instant gratification that comes with providing hand-to-mouth solutions, with no follow-throug, to address the causative systemic challenges.
Nairobi has serious issues of urban poverty and the metropolitan area, with a combined population of about seven million residents, needs serious leaders if only to provide the most basic of services.
We need to rethink how we allocate budgets, if we are to unlock the economy and development potential of our country since this area is the biggest contributor to our revenue and GDP.
Do we need to have the seat of governor of the county government? Or do we retain the MPs and MCAs but have officials appointed by the national government to execute programmes such as mass public transport, collection of revenue, collection of garbage and the establishment of hospital facilities to serve the residents adequately?
For example, it’s shocking to realise that only one Catholic hospital with a bed capacity of 10, two of which are for maternity, serves half a million people in Mukuru!
Poor sanitation conditions haveled to higher rates of diseases in this area than elsewhere but the NMS has already dug five boreholes, over and above providing free water from 30 bowsers and water kiosks daily.
Ultimately, all these depend upon the quality of leaders Kenyans are willing to have since people get the leaders that they deserve.
However, this kind of transformation happening as a result of, amongst other factors, a well-thought out spatial plan, demonstrates that it’s possible to transform Nairobi and all our other cities since leadership almost invariably has got the capacity to transform society.