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Behold! A city of hunters and gatherers

By | November 3rd 2010

Andrew Kipkemboi

On an FM radio station, three hosts of a breakfast show zealously look for Nairobi Town Clerk Philip Kisia to bring to his attention a burst sewer and a pothole on one of the major roads so he can help fix them.

Kisia’s phone goes unanswered. The anger and frustration in the studio is palpable. The same hosts have been haranguing motorists who overlap during rush hour causing endless traffic snarl-ups though occasionally making jokes about the expected rise in parking charges.

Unusually stung, city residents last week rushed to court where they got an order suspending new parking charges introduced by City Hall for a month.

For fear of being in contempt of court, I will not dwell on that.

Other than the diabolical gridlock that shuts down the city for most of the day, City Hall scores badly in other areas.

The lack of a modern intra-city transport system, poor or inadequate housing, water and sewerage crisis has come to exemplify the inexorable decline of Nairobi. Most of the city straggles into that familiar higgledy–piggledy of informal settlement where security, sanitation and hygiene is compromised.

There have been splendid attempts to upgrade the settlements, but not enough to stop the threat of slums turning the capital into one big slum city. Nor has much been done to address the stratospheric cost of land and housing. Nairobi is one of the costliest cities in the world’s poorest countries. Over-pricing of commodities is mind-boggling. City Hall might want to shrug it off as the consequence of a liberalized economy. Yet in truth, this is because the city administration has encouraged and abated it.

Most city dwellers just get by grappling with the bare necessities of life; food, clothing and housing. A third of that is actually spent looking for water and for others in slums, looking for where to relief oneself.

An average Nairobian will spend about half his salary on rent, transport and food gobbles up the rest leaving him with little or nothing for entertainment a key ingredient in human development.

Gross incompetence

The situation is dire in slums where answering a call of nature is a matter of life and death. You risk running into the marauding gangs.

The paralysis and the apparent helplessness of City Hall mandarins is becoming numbingly familiar with a repulsive dÈj‡ vu and its benighted dwellers reduced to a hunter/gatherer community.

It behoves a functioning city administration to provide utility services for its dwellers at a subsidised cost if not, the provision of the services should be guaranteed.

Its priority should be to make it easy for the people to do commerce and create wealth. At best, the face of the City Council of Nairobi is that of its askaris engaging in running battles with hawkers down the streets.

A city whose key infrastructure is falling apart is not worth its salt. So do the City fathers expect us to lay a rail network so it can decongest the city? Or to dig up boreholes to get water? Or buy generators to access electricity?

Why would anyone in the world think that deterring motorists from venturing into the CBD is viable especially where a modern intra-city transport is non-existent? In truth, a city without a modern transport system this century is laughable. It is also pitiable that parts of the city still go without water, a phenomenon that can be attributed to city fathers’ failure to conquer nature.

Despite the heavy rains last year, water rationing in most parts of the city has been going on even in areas that previously did not experience shortage. This, has in turn, fed the growing feeling that the claim that the water levels at the major water reservoirs is to blame for the incessant shortage is a ruse to hide gross incompetence at the water provider and lack of planning at City Hall.

For one, to draw up the water needs of a city as big as Nairobi on unpredictable weather patterns is to plumb the depths of incompetence and inefficiency.

Things should be better than they are or than they were before.

But it is as if Kisia has made a heavy weather of things at City Hall. For all his faults, the former Nairobi Town Clerk, the indefatigable John Gakuo inherited a dysfunctional, disorderly, lightless and unsafe city and transformed it to a semblance of a modern city.

Noxious glue

Before then, city streets exuded the stench of litter, urine, human waste and the alleys in major streets were teeming with hordes of street families half-conscious from inhaling noxious glue. Muggers roamed most streets. No Street was safe.

Yet when Kisia was appointed, many hailed him as the new broom who knew what to do to fix the city. Kisia was previously a top official of the Nairobi Central Business District, a non-governmental group.

However, two years later, Kisia has been floundering.

His aversion for the media accentuated by the recent Freudian slip about whisky and busaa drinkers is making a bad situation worse.

City Hall should endeavour to staunch the leakages precipitated by endemic pilfering in revenue collection and try to make the City in the Sun a better place for all of us.

The writer is Foreign News Editor at The Standard.

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