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Why the city should relocate from Nairobi

By By MUMIA OSAAJI | April 28th 2014


Moving a nation’s capital can either be viewed as bizarre, extravagant, misguided and mystifying or it could be an effective tool of nation-building. Between 1950 and 1990, 13 countries worldwide have moved their capitals.

In discharging its traditional functions, a capital city must be defined by the principles of cleanliness, aesthetics, efficiency and effectiveness. Our much-vaunted Nairobi is helplessly bottled up: the city is creaking from the inertia of over-centralisation and over-concentration. Nairobi has no sense of style. 

It is perpetually strangled by endless traffic and habitually held to ransom by brute criminals. It is not only a confused, mangled sprawling concrete wasteland, but a dumpsite for human bodies and souls!

And this is the reason why the seat of government should be relocated from Nairobi. In doing so, perhaps, a hint of fresh thinking could seep into the hardened skull of government. A woken government may then establish a handshake with the real business of leadership – the cultivated art of heaving the country up to the enduring climes of a successful nation-state. 

From history, we learn that the capital city as a space has hardly been cast in stone: governments have regularly moved the capital from one city to another. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese changed their capitals frequently.

Edward Schatz has noted that in some cases, “there is a noticeable connection between the relocation of the capital city and state - and nation-building efforts. Capital relocation is an attractive strategy to political élites when effective state bureaucracies and broad national loyalties are wanting, particularly in post-colonial situations”.

The daunting challenges of nation-and-state formation that faced the emergent United States of America informed the establishment of Washington D.C as the capital, such being the compromise between the Northern and Southern States. In the former USSR, political and ideological reasons underpinned the return of the capital to Moscow from St. Petersburg, after the Bolshevik revolution in 1918.

To quell the feud between the English speaking and French speaking regions, Canada had to establish Ottawa as the new capital. A similar compromise was reached in Australia when Canberra became the capital to deflate the ballooning rivalry for this prize between the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne.  

Nigeria, in spite of the habitual chaos, appears to have acquitted herself well by successfully relocating the capital from the mad house (Lagos) to Abuja.

Other states that successfully shifted their capitals include Kazakhstan (from Almaty to Astana/Aqmola), Myanmar (from Rangoon/Yangon to Naypyidaw), India (from Calcutta to Delhi), Belize (from Belize City to Belmopan) and Brazil (from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia). 

Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire are examples of countries that have made only half-hearted attempts to shift their capitals. South Sudan and Iran are planning to shift their capitals.  

Over the last two decades, Nairobi has defied efforts to sanitise. Even the many by-passes skirting around the conurbation have achieved zilch! 

Moving this city to, say Isiolo or Gilgil or Konza or any other acceptable location, is a feat that can be achieved within our current budget. It can be done partially to solidify the nation state and to decongest. If we set aside, say, Sh10 billion  annually for this project, we can have a new city in less than ten years.

I am simply driven by the net dividends of this relocation: Nairobi would wear a new, refreshing aspect - a purely commercial city.


Mr Osaaji teaches at the University of Nairobi

[email protected]; [email protected]

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