Full in-tray, heavy expectations await Sakaja as he takes on Nairobi city

Governor-elect Johnson Sakaja wowed residents by promising to transform Nairobi into a city of order, dignity and opportunity.

And a full in-tray awaits him.

For long, service delivery has remained pathetic, with the failures blamed on broken or dysfunctional infrastructure and facilities. Sakaja faces the daunting task of turning things around to return the city’s lost glory.

Apart from giving the city a facelift, residents expect their new governor to ensure they have efficient water supply, a clean environment and an organised public transport system.

Water for most residents is a luxury. If not rationed by authorities, the commodity is sold by vendors. Many residents also have to contend with garbage, burst sewers and clogged drains in their estates.

Add a chaotic public transport system and the entrenched cartels that control the public transport sub-sector where matatu crews and boda boda riders have no qualms breaking the law and you get a clear picture of what awaits Sakaja.

The governor-elect has now been given power to ensure sufficient water supply, clear choking garbage, seal leaking sewer channels, open drains and streamline the public transport system.

Henry Ochieng, Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA), expects Sakaja to pay attention to pressing issues as he delivers on his manifesto pledges.

“Remember he ran on a platform of working with resident associations and he was passionate about the need for collaboration. So we expect him to keep his word by incorporating our representatives in his administration,” says Ochieng.

According to Ochieng, the problems the city faces are a result of county officials failing to recognise the role played by resident associations, which he says clearly understand people’s challenges.

He expects his representatives to sit on crucial committees like that of planning, saying: “We need this problem of uncontrolled buildings dealt with through the implementation of Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN) that has laid down a proper roadmap.”

Apart from expecting Sakaja to prioritise water, sanitation and environment, Ochieng hopes the new governor will adopt an open-door policy to allow collective planning.

“Lastly, we look forward to quarterly governor’s roundtable meetings to take stock of what has been achieved and where we are heading,” adds Ochieng.

Though Sakaja is confident of delivering where his three predecessors failed, residents are wary he might be held hostage by cartels, leading to disorder.

“We know cartels with vested interests run the show in this town; they are powerful and usually pull strings from the sidelines. Sakaja might find the going tough, it won’t be an easy ride,” said Nixon Lemeyan.

Up to 2014 when a new masterplan was unveiled to address some of these challenges, city planners watched for many years as the problems multiplied.

Some of the key highlights in the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIU-PLAN) were provision of adequate water, expansion of the road network and closure of Dandora dumpsite.

In a recent interview, Mairura Omwenga, an urban planner, said Nairobi can reclaim its tag of the ‘Green City in the Sun’ if residents hold leaders to account.

“It is the leadership that can transform this city; regrettably we as residents don’t bother putting to task the people we elect. When they pledge to deliver, our duty should be to hold them to account,” said Mairura.

According to the lecturer at University of Nairobi, NIU-PLAN never took off due to lack of political goodwill.

“Most of the time we prepare plans but rarely implement them; this also implies to policies and laws. We are very weak in implementing the plans, policies and laws we make,” notes Mairura who is also chairman, Town and County Planners Association of Kenya.

Sakaja in his manifesto promised to increase water supply, end traffic jams, clear garbage, construct additional markets, split the city into boroughs, create a single automated licence for doing business and introduce a feeding programme in public primary schools.

Part of the solution to the perennial water scarcity is repairing dilapidated supply infrastructure, pledged Sakaja.

With a population of about 4.3 million people, water supply does not meet demands of the high population that has been accustomed to rationing. The city’s water demand is 790,000m3 against the installed production capacity of 525,000m3/day, according to Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC).

Leakages due to old and rusty pipes, illegal connections, vandalism and catchment degradation contribute to the water woes.

The city is notorious for endless traffic gridlocks. Travellers get stuck in the jams, missing on important engagements.  Sakaja hopes to clean the traffic mess by introducing an efficient, affordable, reliable and orderly mass transit system.

“If there is a reliable transit system, there will be less need to use personal cars,” he said in his manifesto. Although the Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Authority (NAMATA) had initiated the Bus Rapid Transit, the project envisaged to connect the city to Kiambu, Murang’a, Machakos and Kajiado counties, seem to have stalled.

A study conducted in 2014 by Transport and Urban Decongestion Committee (TUDC), found that gridlocks cost the city approximately Sh50 million daily in fuel consumption, lost productivity and pollution.

Matatu crews, boda riders, handcart pushers, taxi operators and hawkers competing for space on streets and lanes further contribute to the mobility challenge.

Simon Kimutai, Chairman, Matatu Owners Association (MOA), blames corrupt county government officials for the disorderly town.

“The problem starts at City Hall where unscrupulous county government officials receive huge bribes and allocate streets, lanes and alleys to matatu saccos,” says Kimutai.

He says Sakaja’s proposed Mass Transit System will not be practicable since it will amount to duplication of what NAMATA is doing. According to Kimutai, previous attempts to streamline the sub-sector have failed because decisions are made elsewhere and pushed down the throat of stakeholders.

“We welcome the new governor but we are appealing to him to consult first with stakeholders who understand the industry. I hope the era of issuing conflicting directives that cause disorder in town will end,” notes the MOA chairman.