Letter to Sakaja: You need to start with city planning, waste problem

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja inspects motorbikes belonging to bodaboda riders that were impounded since 2012.

Governor, allow me to address you. First, congratulations on your election as the third governor of this great city. Indeed, this letter would have come sooner but I was mindful not have it crowded in your election celebrations. I have some fundamental issues to address as you take the reign at City Hall. I posit we all share the responsibility history has placed in your hands. Like your predecessors, you have been handed the opportunity to be legendary. Nairobi City is in your hands; seize this historical moment in stride.

It would be a mockery if I do not remind you of the sins of your predecessors. You must learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before you. The human tongue is a ravenous beast that few can master. It is in a constant strife to break from the yoke, and if not tamed, its consequence is grief. Simply put, power cannot accrue to those who squander their treasure of words. You must walk the talk. At the guillotine, your predecessors confessed to many sins but fundamentally, what still echoes in the ears of most city residents is their vain words – their vain promises.

The rot at City Hall stinks to our living rooms. Probably you already know that if you show your willingness to compromise or retreat, you will bring out the lion even in those not necessarily bloodthirsty. Be a veritable garden of rules. There can be no pity, show no clemency to the oppressors of city residents. As Robespierre says: “Pity is treason.” Your predecessors were pseudo reformists and master conformists, they refused to righteously draw the sword even after diplomacy failed them. The consequences of their wasted decade leadership will unfortunately unravel in your term.

Governor, you will not solve Nairobi County’s problems in five years. Some of the issues bedeviling this city have a colonial foundation anchored in sacred beams and columns, you won’t be able to address them in this term, be at peace with that. However, administrations are known for certain things, choose one or two issues to be your administration's legacy in this first term. I have an idea of what that could be, I will address you on it in a short while. Let me just remind you that you have no time for granular planning. There are certain things in this city that require emergency operation, you have no time to wonder in the Disney of multiple overreaches of your predecessors. If you can conduct the emergency operations alone in this first term, I’m persuaded that a majority of the city residents will be on your side, once again, in five years’ time.

Governor, it is the Goliath that you must attack first. In 1514, Pietro Aretino, son of a poor shoemaker, hurled himself to fame in Rome using this strategy; when you are as small and as obscure as David was, you must find a Goliath to attack to secure a lasting legacy; something others have shied away from. Schopenhauer too wrote about it: "Intellect is a magnitude of intensity, not a magnitude of extensity.” Embark on city planning and waste management. This city is chocking literally with no clear plan to save it. This has to be your utmost single focus.

Governor, in 2000 Nairobi had 2.1 million residents, and this has doubled, as per the 2019 population census, to 4.2 million. Our urbanisation rate, 4.4 per cent, is one of the highest in Africa, that’s about 500,000 people into our cities, more so Nairobi, yearly. In 10 years of your term, I’m hopeful of it, we could be having an additional five or so million people, and we haven’t even considered our high population growth rate. The recent flood disasters in Pakistan and India will be a joke if you don’t begin to properly plan for this expansion path. Already, nature is giving us glimpses of what is coming.

We have lost the Nairobi Eastlands areas through unplanned and uncoordinated development that have no regard, at all, to humanity. Imagine the generation of children we are destroying through rickets disease due to buildings having poor or no sunlight. We need sanity restored pronto. The rest of city areas: Kilimani, Kileleshwa, Westlands, Pangani, South C, etc, are squarely headed the same way. Yet the infrastructure system; storm water, sewer, roads, water, power have largely remained the same. Governor, we are facing a disaster. Unprecedented flooding, traffic jams, sewer bursts, water rationing will be the emblem of our pain and suffering.

Governor, I implore you to fire or transfer the entire Planning Department at City Hall. When city leaders before you were confronted with this animal, they opted to be blindly wedded to conformity and married to the shackles of expediency. You do not have that luxury. The city planning rot is rooted at this department, and you will not be able to bend these mature trees – let them go. Get a fresh team to lead your city planning. On waste management, have the assembly pass a bylaw making it mandatory for all new developments to have modern waste management systems, then give two years to all existing buildings to comply with the same. For informal settlement areas, have a programme for the county to install the same. It is not enough to clean waste, you must deal with its source first.

Abundance is nature’s way and I believe you have received much advice already. I have always viewed bragging as a defect in character so I will not shove my advice down your throat. But five years is a limited time to be trapped in dogma. Filling your valuable hours with meaningless proportions of work was the drug of choice of your predecessors. Flee from it. Focus on establishing the city blueprint plan and walk away. You can fit in or change the city but you won’t be permitted to do both. Vamos!