Covid: It’s time to relocate capital city from Nairobi

An aerial view of Nairobi City from Ngara.[Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

Way back in 2007, the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) proposed that the capital of Kenya be moved from Nairobi. This was followed by another proposal by university lecturer Mumias Osaaji in 2014, who said that moving the capital could be a catalyst towards nation-state building.

With the growing city population now almost five million, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, these proposals have come to be vindicated.

The AAK said the justification of its proposal was that the master plan that guided the development of the city had expired. This had given way to poor and unplanned constructions.

Relocation, it argued, would enable an audit of all buildings in the city to help avert a catastrophe if an earthquake occurred in the region.

Fast forward to 2020, and the Covid-19 pandemic was not the kind of earthquake perhaps earlier envisaged in the region. However, the magnitude of the pandemic surpasses a stealthy earthquake! Kenya has now recorded almost 200,000 infections.

Out of these, Nairobi commands a large part of the total infections and is still a hot spot for coronavirus disease. There are different explanations for these.

Being the country’s international gateway, it was inevitable that Nairobi would be the first port of call for the pandemic. This is augmented by its population density of 4,850 residents per square kilometre, which is quite is high.

From a historical perspective, the capital city as space has hardly been cast in stone. Examples abound of ancient Egyptians, Romans and Chinese who changed their capitals frequently.

The United States also established a new capital (Washington DC) to assuage the northern and southern states. Next door, Canada had to establish Ottawa as the new capital to suppress the hostility between the English and French-speaking regions.

Other countries that have successfully moved their capital include Tanzania (Dodoma), Burundi (Gitega), Nigeria (Abuja), Cote D’Ivoire (Yamoussoukro) and Egypt ( Wedian).

Numerous advantages

The advantages of relocating the capital are numerous from a developmental perspective. One is to decongest the city through infrastructural development. Nairobi will inevitably remain the country’s commercial capital.

Second is to promote other regions’ growth and address the perennial insecurity that has affected certain areas for a long time.

In addition, the new capital city could tap into the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) Corridor, eastern Africa’s largest infrastructure project. The corridor would offer a great opportunity for the new city to enjoy infrastructure connectivity.

Also, delinking commerce from government institutions could stem corruption among business wheeler-dealers and State officials.

The most suitable location for the new capital would be in the corridor traversing northern Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo, which have vast land and the requisite topography. Essential amenities are within reach, including an international airport at Isiolo.

The food baskets of Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Nyandarua, Meru and Kirinyaga are also in close proximity while Samburu, Marsabit, Baringo, West Pokot and Wajir could be among the counties to provide livestock.

Ultimately, though, the decision on the location of the new capital city is best left to the stakeholders, the people of Kenya.

The writer is a policy and strategy adviser. [email protected]