Kidero:We need more democracy, not less, to get Nairobi to run as an efficient city

The Nyayo Bus Service was established in 1986 to provide affordable transport to Kenyans and compete with the Kenya Bus Services, a company ran by the City Council of Nairobi. Nyayo was declared insolvent in 1995.

The Nyayo Bus Service was established in 1986 to provide affordable transport to Kenyans and compete with the Kenya Bus Services, a company ran by the City Council of Nairobi. Nyayo was declared insolvent in 1995. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By EVANS KIDERO

Writing in the Sunday Nation, Murithi Mutiga proclaimed that the answers to the challenges Nairobi faces will be found by returning our metropolis to central government control.

For the voters of our capital, who, in 2013 had, for the first time ever, the chance to decide who runs the place they call home, this is a curious argument. What Nairobians deserve, according to Mutiga, is to have no say in their own affairs.

International cities thrive when they have more devolution, not less. When 60 per cent of Kenya’s national income and half of its labour force is to be found in Nairobi — making our city alone larger in terms of economic power than many African countries — it is clear that city government needs democratic legitimacy.

The serious challenges Nairobi faces are, therefore, too important to be left in the hands of a group that is not accountable. Indeed, some of the problems we face today came about when the unelected were in charge.

Nairobi’s population has mushroomed from just 300,000 people in 1963 to nearly five million today, and it is projected to have as many as eight million residents by the end of the decade.

This number will continue to rise and it is projected that by 2050, there will be a staggering 14 million people, and 27 million by 2100.

Sadly, the central government never invested in the infrastructure and services necessary to cope with this growing demand. Nairobi’s colonial era water and sewer system was designed for just a few hundred thousand residents, not millions, and our road network was built to accommodate just 50,000 vehicles, not today’s 350,000.

When I was elected governor, I was given the mandate to bring business-like leadership to solve our city’s challenges. After years of neglect, this was never going to be achieved overnight. Nairobi needs long-term planning and investment.

Tackling crime requires both more police officers on our streets and massive reduction in poverty. Unlike New York or London, where strong city mayors have control over the local police and have managed to slash urban crime rates, here, security and policing remains the responsibility of the national government.

IMPATIENT FOR PROGRESS

The United Nations recommends that there should be one police officer for every 450 citizens, yet in Nairobi we have one officer for every 1,150 citizens.

We can beat rising crime by increasing the number of police officers while at the same time striving to win the confidence of local communities and tackling youth unemployment. This can be best achieved through their management by devolved government.

Crime is a symptom of our city’s challenges, but not the only cause. To solve these challenges, we have to reverse three decades of neglect. As governor, I am impatient for progress: this is my city too. I will accept no excuses for underperformance, but we cannot run before we can walk.

We must first get the basics right. That means improving Nairobi’s creaking infrastructure, especially our transport, energy, housing, and communication networks in order to attract more investment and create jobs.

Nairobi has never had a strategic plan, or even an urban master plan. That is why last May I launched a new city master plan — the first one in nearly 40 years.

Now I am devoting time to raising the investment to deliver this vision of a new Nairobi and finding the right, trusted partners to help deliver this change.

Last week I was in Japan to discuss various projects, one of which is the dualling of Ngong Road, which will take a bus rapid transit system.

My plans to turn the Dandora dumpsite into a power plant and to rebuild the city’s aging water and sewerage system are at an advanced stage, as is the Eastlands’ urban regeneration. Nairobi is on the move after suffering for decades as an afterthought of successive national governments.

Some people may not like my decisions or management style, but under the devolved system, they have the power to pass judgment on my record at the next election.

What our city needs is more funding and power to get the job done and make sure that Nairobi can once again be proud to reclaim its nickname, “Green City in the Sun”.

Dr Kidero is the governor of Nairobi County.

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