Return of garbage: Nairobi city choking in filth

Uncollected garbage sits outside the City market in Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A day after taking the oath of office in August 2022, Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja pledged not to waste time so as to instill order in the capital city.

To prove the naysayers wrong, immediately after his swearing-in, Sakaja toured the city, making stops within the Mukuru slums and selected estates that were choking in garbage.

“I have given firm directions on resolving the current garbage problem across Nairobi in the next few days,” Sakaja said while at Mukuru slums.

While a lot has happened about eight months later, a spot check by The Standard around the estates and city center confirms that the fight against the garbage menace is far from being won.

In fact, the city is fast losing its lustre to stinking garbage strewn all over the streets, walkways, bridges, and markets. The heaps are an eye sore and pose a health risk.

And for the past week, some of the city streets are still holding uncollected sand construction debris left uncleared on site by contractors.

In Mukuru slums, for instance, heaps of uncollected garbage have been lying there for several weeks mostly around Mang’eti church.

“It is a terrible situation because the sludge from the garbage is now spilling to the nearby houses,” Eric Ambuche, a slums activist noted.

A camel feeds on garbage around Muthurwa market in Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The situation is the same around Maringo area where residents have turned a footbridge into a dumping site, forcing pedestrians to avoid the lane due to the stench emanating from the pilling garbage.

Along Juja road, some areas behind the police station and nearby homes attract scavengers like pigs and mongrels.

In an attempt to fix the garbage, the County boss promised to put up dumping sites at ward levels where residents will dump before being ferried to Dandora dumpsite, but there is not much to write home yet.

However, Dandora Phase 1 Ward Representative Allan Maina Gathuku whose ward covers the larger Dandora dumpsite says “No one is at fault.”

“We cannot blame Sakaja yet because the Governors who were there before did not have a place to take the garbage. The problem has never been solved, the main Dandora dumpsite is now full,” Maina explained.

“In fact, the garbage has spilled to the entrance of a church called Rehoboth in Dandora 41 where I worship,” he added.

Maina said the best option is to come up with a waste recycling machine even as the county is planning to recruit laborers.

“I am the Chairman of the Labour Committee in the assembly and I know that for decades the County has never employed workers to collect garbage around,” he said, adding: “There is an ongoing process to recruit about 3000 labourers who will help in garbage collection if the machine comes in time too it will be of great help to city residents.”

A survey by The Standard at Burma, Muthurwa, Wakulima Retail, and Ngara exposed the rot in the markets overwhelmed with filth and odor.

Currently, the deplorable conditions have seen some customers concerned about their health, shun the areas completely.

Another factor that has put off city residents who frequent the market is poor sanitation, mostly during the rainy season where sludge in the drainage finds its way into food items displayed on the floor.

At the city centre, some contractors working on pavement left rubbles for nearly a week without collecting them, as is the case outside I&M buildings along Muindi Mbingu Street and some areas along Kenya Cinema.

Some lanes in downtown areas are also turned into overnight dumpsites.

Garbage pilling up on the Makadara footbridge, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

In January 2023, the county opened a 21-day grace period for willing local and international companies to come up with high-tech means to set up a plant at the Dandora dumpsite.

Environment Chief Officer Ibrahim Otieno said: “We are looking for a scenario where we will end open dumping which results in carbon emissions that are not friendly to the environment."

But Festus Ngari, acting Secretary-General of the Workers Union in Nairobi explained that the situation has been compounded since the county does not have enough labourers mostly in the environment sector. “They are very few and the last time they were employed was around 1999. SRC failed to carry out job harmonization between the three payrolls in 2016 after transition authority handed over functions to governors,” said Ngari.

He advised that for the situation to subside, Sakaja must recruit afresh to bring the required ratio of employees and pay market salary without discrimination.