The six candidates for the seat of governor of Nairobi have promised in their campaigns to restore the lost glory of the city. Polycarp Igathe of the Jubilee Party, Johnson Sakaja (United Democratic Alliance), Kenneth Nyamwamu (United Progressive Alliance) and independent candidates Agnes Kagure, Nancy Mwadime and Esther Thairu pledge to make the city a better place to live and work.
Although each of the other four candidates exudes the confidence of winning, it is Igathe and Sakaja who are the favorites to succeed Ann Kananu as head of city hall.
Both men believe they hold the magic wand to solve the problems plaguing the city, as outlined in the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN) launched in 2014 by former Governor Dr Evans Kidero. The master plan has lofty ideas that if fully implemented, the city would become a paradise. The city has an ugly face as most of its infrastructure is either in ruins or obsolete.
Some of the facilities such as sewer and water supply systems, storm water drainage, fire stations, rental houses and waste management points need proper rehabilitation to bring them back to a desirable condition.
Among the key issues of NIUPLAN were the decentralization of commercial, administrative and commercial functions supported by a new urban transport network with a rail hub; and the expansion and renovation of the Central Business District (CBD). The master plan provided for the preservation of green spaces, the restoration of rivers and banks that were to be used for recreational activities. The restructuring of the industrial zone by allocating new industrial zones in the southern part of the city as well as the redevelopment of the current industrial zone was another priority idea for the authors of the plan.
Emphasis has also been placed on the need to beautify the city in an effort to restore its pride through regulation of the townscape and commitment to maintaining historic beauty.
NIUPLAN proposed an efficient transport system and pedestrian-friendly walking spaces in the city where public transport would be controlled by establishing terminals for buses and matatus. The Dandora landfill was to be moved and renewable energy to generate electricity was started. Stormwater drainage linking the Nairobi and Ngong rivers needed to be developed as the Kidero administration promised to turn the city into an economic hub.
“I will personally be on the front line to ensure that legislative, legal and institutional capacity building requirements are met,” Kidero said at the launch of the master plan. However, little was heard of the master plan after its release.
Even as the city suffocates under a myriad of challenges, Athi Water Works Development Agency (AWWDA), Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and Kenya Railways (KR) have undertaken several activities and developments aligned with NIUPLAN.
As for the city’s water supply, the North Collector Tunnel Phase 1 (NCT1) is expected to provide an additional 140 million liters of drinking water per day, according to AWWDA. The project, which is part of Nairobi’s fourth largest water supply scheme, is expected to be completed by the end of this month.
Nairobi’s water demand currently stands at 810 million liters per day against a supply of 550 million liters per day with a deficit of 260 million liters.
The NCT 1 project will supply an additional 140 million liters per day to the existing water distribution network, reducing the water rationing that affects most households.
Besides improving homes and inter-estate roads, NMS attempted to upgrade the city’s non-motorized transportation infrastructure by opening pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes.
The NMS has also re-carpeted roads in the CBD and dug boreholes in informal settlements to improve water supply.
At the same time, NMS is racing against time to eliminate old houses and replace them with 60,000 modern, affordable houses in the second phase of the exercise. Renovation is underway in the colonial era areas of Bahati, Maringo, Jericho, Lumumba, Ziwani, Embakasi, California, Kariobangi, Bondeni and Woodley.
The first phase of the project covered the area of Uhuru, New Ngara, Old Ngara, Suna Road, Pangani, Ngong Phase I and Ngong Phase II. NMS, which was formed to bring order to the city, is in charge of health services, transport, public works, utilities and auxiliary services, as well as planning and development.
On the other hand, KR is establishing Nairobi Railway City, an iconic multi-modal urban development located on 425 acres between Haile Sellasie Avenue, Uhuru Highway, Landhies Road and Bunyala Road.
The Nairobi Railway City, which seeks to expand and decongest the CBD, was developed by British company Atkins Global. The 32 billion shillings project aims to revamp rail services in the capital and upgrade infrastructure to improve connectivity in the city.
And with elections, which will herald new leadership in the city, around the corner, the main contenders promise to give the city a new face.
In his campaigns, Igathe pledged to address the challenges of water supply, uncollected garbage, broken sewage system, clogged drains, endless traffic jams, dysfunctional public transport service and uncontrolled urban development. “I’m going to focus on the things that locals have been complaining about for a long time, my priority is to relieve them of the pain they’re going through trying to make a living,” Igathe said.
For his part, Sakaja promises to make the city an economic hub where the cost of doing business will be affordable with a single electronic license.
“My administration will ensure that there is a one-stop-shop for investors to obtain information about the county, its master plan and what is needed to do business. We will have an easily accessible electronic license,” promised Sakaja.
Traders complain that they are being asked to obtain multiple licenses – a requirement which they say increases the cost of doing business.
But it remains to be seen whether Igathe and Sakaja are serious about their promises.
Politicians, leaders and administrators who came before them made similar promises to improve Nairobi, which was founded in 1899.
From 380,000 people in 1965, the city’s population now stands at around 4.3 million people according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census (KPHC) conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
The high population puts pressure on existing physical facilities such as housing, road network, sewage lines and water supply infrastructure. The constant rural-urban migration has further aggravated the pressure on an already dire situation.
Mairura Omwenga, an urban planner, says Nairobi will only reclaim its ‘green city in the sun’ label if residents hold leaders to account.
“It’s leadership that can transform this city; Unfortunately, as residents, we don’t bother to test the people who will be electing officers. When they commit to deliver, our duty should be to hold them to account,” says Mairura.
According to the lecturer at the University of Nairobi, NIUPLAN never took off due to lack of political will to implement the ideas in the paper.
“Most of the time we prepare plans but rarely implement them; it also involves policies and laws. We are very weak in implementing the plans, policies and laws that we come up with,” notes Mairura, who is also the chairman of the Kenya Town and County Planners Association.
In his opinion, NIUPLAN’s concepts on land use and human settlements were superb since there was a proposal on the need to stop the expansion of slums along rivers, roads and railways.
When Mike Sonko was sworn in after succeeding Dr Kidero, he promised to transform the capital by prioritizing a reliable water supply, well-maintained roads, better healthcare and a sewage system adequate.
“I have never made a promise that I have never kept, and today I wish to give you my personal assurance. Nairobi will never be the same from today,” Sonko pledged after being sworn in on August 20, 2017 in a ceremony graced by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Things soon got rough for the Governor as he got caught up in fights with MCAs. Three years later, Sonko was impeached.