Of the many things that make life in Nairobi, unbearable are traffic jams, power blackouts, water shortages, and landlords. Among the latter, there is a very obnoxious and vile breed that gets its kicks from persecuting hapless tenants.
Nairobi is rated the second most congested city in the world after India’s Kolkata. Thus, Nairobians understand the anguish and risks of sitting in traffic jams for hours on end. Yet with proper planning to facilitate the free flow of traffic, it should take an average of 30 minutes’ drive to reach the furthest residential areas outside the city centre and vice versa. On a good day, though, it takes two hours to complete that journey.
Whether one is using a private car or public transport, it is a nightmare. For private car users, a paucity of parking spaces and high charges thereof serve to compound an already bad situation. And this, after the option of lowering your car window and have hawkers poke every available merchandise in your face while you wait for the green light to proceed or suffocating in the interior of your locked car because the air conditioner, if any, is on a boycott.
If you use public transport, by the time you make it for work, you are in a foul mood and dehydrated. Not only does the heat inside buses whose windows are closed and immovable suck the fluids out of your body, but the chance you could catch tuberculosis or a particularly viral strain of flu or cough also increases exponentially. The World Bank pegs losses occasioned by traffic jams in Nairobi at Sh50 million each working day. Yet despite such statistics, it is amazing that government strategists and planners have not been able to figure out how to alleviate the misery of commuters in Nairobi.
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Nairobi’s first governor came up with a half baked solution that backfired so hard, it was a spectacle. The experiment was withdrawn within hours of implementation. Early this year, the CS for Transport came up with a suggestion for 'car-less' days that was, at best, ridiculous because it had no foundation on feasibility studies. The idea died as fast as it was impulsively mooted. While smaller economies than ours, in particular, Rwanda and Tanzania, have the Bus Rapid Transport up and about, ours remains a concept on the draft paper.
While intra-city train services can greatly reduce traffic jams without necessarily involving the purchase of huge tracts of land at exorbitant prices, the government would rather invest in grandiose plans to build super expressways that would only serve the affluent but still have no return on investment. Indeed, these gargantuan investments have the potential of mortgaging Kenya to China which, for years, will manage the superhighways to try and recoup loans given to us. On the other hand, it will take the much-vaunted Standard Gauge Railway aeons to break even and meanwhile, the Chinese will be riding roughshod over us.
The overflow duct on the Ndakaini dam was opened recently after the dam reached a maximum 70 metres of water. While all along water shortages in Nairobi have been blamed on low levels of water in the dam, water shortages continue to bite in Nairobi. Ndakaini dam is no longer the culprit so, who is? Is it Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company, the Nairobi County government, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the Water Services Regulatory Board, or powerful, highly connected water cartels? Nairobians deserve to know the source of their problems.
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Part of the blame should be apportioned to the Nairobi County government for the haphazard manner in which residential houses are constructed. The tragedy is that 70 per cent of these buildings are illegal and lack requisite approvals from relevant bodies. The haphazard manner of construction means such houses are not connected to water and sewage lines or the national power grid. Too many houses have collapsed in recent years within Nairobi, but authorities see no urgency in bringing down houses that fail to meet safety standards. Some of these houses are built on riparian land. In a way, this contributes to flooding during the rainy seasons.
In the recent Tassia house collapse tragedy, it is alleged the landlord lured poor Kenyans to their deaths with the offer of cheap rent without paying deposit upfront. He knew the danger his building posed, but greed for money overcame caution and regard for fellow human beings.
It does not end there. The plumbing systems in most houses are so shoddy from poor, cheap workmanship, blockages are a daily occurrence. The most annoying thing is that landlords go missing in action when repair work demands but never miss to show up when rent is due, and they can be foul too. Let’s keep them in prayers this season and hope the Damascus moment will happen to them.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent for The [email protected]