Why Nakuru’s city status will not be as easy as sold

An aerial view of Nakuru Town.
The debate on whether Nakuru town deserves to be elevated to city status has divided key stakeholders.

Discussion around the issue started late last year when President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the Urban Areas and Cities (Amendment) Bill 2017, which paved way for an additional two cities; Nakuru and Eldoret.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui, who ardently supports the elevation, acknowledges that Nakuru has its deficiencies, “but even Rome was not built like how instant coffee is made. We only need to come together and improve as we build our city.”

Mr Kinyanjui has already signed the charter for establishment of Nakuru and Naivasha municipalities, a key requirement to buttress the city status.

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“That the central government will be a partner in this elevation, it means we will be considered for funding to expand our roads, have at least an airstrip that links us to the international airspace and improvement of infrastructure and sanitation,” he says.

But not everyone is convinced that this is the way to go. Kariuki Ndung’u, a real estate economy analyst from the county, insists that the push for Nakuru's elevation is premature.

“Nakuru is not ready for a city status,” he says.

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“A majority of us would rather push for improved service delivery from the existing town status and cease this circus of fancying a status we are least qualified for.”

Mairura Omwenga, the chairman of the Town and County Planners Association of Kenya, is also cautious.

He says he supports the elevation “but after some bare minimum upgrades are enacted.”

2031 forecast

He says Nakuru town has no development plan.

“The town is confused. It will need at least a Sh50 billion facelift budget to make it an example of a city. And then build it gradually for at least the next 10 years at a cost of not less than Sh500 billion so it attains the status of a city,” Mr Omwenga says, adding that with such financial considerations, the earliest it can be named a city is 2031.

He says Nakuru also needs to plan its central business district.

“Its CBD is congested and has no planning. You find general merchandise hawkers competing for space with fresh produce traders in matatu stages … Some parts of the town become impassable when it rains. But these are not serious hindrances, anyway, since even Nairobi, the capital city, suffers similar challenges.”

Omwenga says geographically, Nakuru makes a strong case. As the fourth-largest town after Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu with over a million people, it is the obvious town to be elevated on the waiting list.

Under the new Urban Areas and Cities (Amendment) law of 2017, the number of inhabitants required for a town to become a city has been halved to 250,000 people.

Nakuru Town East MP David Gikaria says: “We will oppose the elevation if it seeks to make it hard for our small and medium entrepreneurs in terms of taxation.”

He says residents should not be hoodwinked to believe that city status for their town will not come without taxation burden.

“We should be given guarantees that our SMEs will not be distabilised; that our existing social and economic life will not be made harder,” Mr Gikaria says.

These sentiments are shared by Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, who says: “A city is good but if it will come to make life harder for the common mwananchi, then we can wait.”

He fears that nearly 40 per cent of the town’s tenants will be pushed out of affordable houses and 50 per cent of businesses pushed out of their current locations.

Taxation fears

Mr Ngunjiri says the requirements to generate sufficient revenue to sustain operations and have key infrastructure are the problematic aspect in the chase for city status.

“To generate sufficient revenue, you must talk of a taxation regime. Any move to tax our people more is not welcome. The town must also have a city development plan, which will call for a budget to develop and implement. This will further burden residents and businesses,” he says.  

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Nakuru CityCity StatusPresident Uhuru KenyattaNakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui