They say the Capital tells so much about a country. So if you want to know how a country is fairing - socially, economically and politically- look no further than the city. Thus to know more about Nigeria, look at Lagos; to know more about China, Beijing; the UK, London; France, Paris; the US, New York. It is no wonder then that mayors of such renowned cities go on to effortlessly run countries.
Many Kenyans will laugh off the thought of the past mayors of Nairobi - even the current administrators- gunning for big office. And not for any reason other than that Nairobi, the business hub of the region, has refused to live up to its billing. Nairobi’s problem is simply that its resources have either been stolen or mismanaged.
It couldn’t have surprised many then that despite assurances from the County Government and despite hundreds of workers spending time and money unclogging the waterways, motorists in the city were caught up in horrendous traffic after the roads flooded following a deluge on Friday last week. Indeed it is not unusual for East Africa’s biggest city to grind to a halt after a few droplets of rain.
Why does Nairobi matter, you might ask? Generating three-quarters of the country’s annual GDP ($70 billion), Nairobi is the locomotive to which the rest of the country is hitched. So it slows down, and the entire country slows down.
Like all cities, Nairobi offers people opportunities to grow and prosper. These cannot be found in the countryside.
But to facilitate that, cities should provide reliable and affordable transport, power, water and sanitation and security. The problems in Nairobi have largely been brought about by a rapidly expanding population (estimated at 3.36 million in 2017).
Yet it is because the administrators have failed to plan for this that the city is bursting at the seams.
Working in the city should be pleasurable and worth the high costs those who reside in it cough out for housing, water, transport and other amenities. Not in Nairobi. A working drainage system should be the least of worries for them.
Surely, the long-suffering city residents deserve better. And it is not only the drainage system that needs fixing. Lawlessness, corruption and conflicts of interest have conspired to deny city residents a decent life. Investors keep off cities where the most basic of service are scarce and where runaway insecurity is the rule rather than the exception.
It is a pity that city administrators, with all the funding at their disposal, have failed or refused to conjure up solutions that will make life better for the people they govern. Some of the challenges those who live in Nairobi must confront include; crime, housing, decrepit infrastructure and lack of recreational facilities.
Because of the failures of previous administrators, city residents have devised their own means of survival: To have an uninterrupted water supply, one must bribe the water company officials, or better still, sink a borehole; faced with erratic power supply, they buy generators; to be secure, one must hire private guards and deploy the latest security gadgets around their compound; if they wish to go to work comfortably “in one piece”, they buy their own cars because the public means is unsafe, unreliable and the experience is agonising.
The litany of problems facing Nairobians is not just an indictment of the local governments that have run the city. It is also a failure of the national government to bridge the gap between the bottom millions and the minority that patronize shopping malls.
It was reassuring to see the Executive step to get the city working. But then they should go the whole hog. The formation of the Nairobi Regeneration Committee is the first step.
More needs to be done like ensuring that job opportunities that lead to wealth creation come along.
Residents will draw cold comfort that Governor Mike Sonko has appointed former Nairobi Town Clerk John Gakuo as the co-chair of the Regeneration Committee. As a Town Clerk, Mr Gakuo had the reputation of banging heads together and generally getting things done. He doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel.
But as a start, he needs to forge alliances with the private sector, the National Government, residence associations and go for international best practice to drive his agenda. Most importantly, he must eschew the cartels that have had a stranglehold over the city. An old hand, he must know better.