Politicians need a better grasp of 'legacy projects'

We can save money by building things that last. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

Elections are barely four months away. Which means that a lot of politicians are either thinking of how to showcase what they have done to earn another term in office, or legacy achievements for those retiring.

Many will look to physical civic and monumental architecture, because they are easily visible and attributable from the perspective of the public. Given the reliance on physical markers of effort, it is remarkable how little our politicians think about the importance of building things to last.

From the dilapidated Tom Mboya statue on Moi Avenue in Nairobi to ramshackle county assemblies across the country, we have ample evidence that our leaders have questionable aesthetics, and lack an understanding of the functionality of the civic structures they build, and have no shame linking their names to these eyesores.

Why should we care about our leaders’ ability to secure their legacy through impressive civic and monumental architecture? For the simple reason that it has real financial implications. Consider the Nairobi Expressway, whose critics derisively call the Expressway Monument. It is common knowledge that the outgoing president views it as a legacy achievement – a monument of sorts to remind posterity of his rule.

Given this reality, how should he have approached its design, financing, construction, and operation? What will future generations make of the fact that the construction effort may have permanently destroyed motorists’ ability to safely use the road below it? How will the expressway be maintained?

The same questions apply to governors, Members of Parliament, and MCAs. They have spent billions of shillings putting up structures that are not only offensive to the eye, but also deliberately not built to last. Indeed, many of these “projects” were abandoned before completion.

This is all money down the drain, with the taxpayer left holding the bag. In addition to questions about procurement practices, it is also time we had a serious public discussion about the standards of civic architecture and monuments. We can save money by building things that last.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University