We must strategise to achieve new-look cities
Kenya’s three cities have serious political and administrative governance problems.
From the skyscrapers of Upper Hill overlooking Kibra, Nyali’s beachfront properties are barely 30 minutes from Owino Ouru’s shanties, to Kisumu’s Nyalenda slums abutting Milimani, our cities are a study in contrasts.
Nakuru is set to be Kenya’s fourth city after the Senate approved its bid in June. We hope, it will learn from other cities’ mistakes.
The story of how we descended into the current chaotic state has been told before.
Nairobi’s issues stem from the failure of the city’s post-independence 1973 master plan.
Mombasa’s 1971 masterplan also failed to guide city development. Kisumu is seeking to repossess parcels of public land, institutional houses, markets and industrial parks lost to a grabbing frenzy dating back to the eighties.
City residents across the country are besieged by all manner of water, land, planning, parking, garbage and transport cartels.
These have arisen because of a void in the provision of reliable public services, as a result of our appetite for graft and attendant revenue leakage.
For our cities to be habitable beyond 2030, we need to prioritise three key issues urgently.
The first is water and sanitation. Just 40 per cent of Nairobi residents have direct access to piped water on a 24-hour basis while Mombasa satisfies a measly 15 per cent of demand. Kisumu is not much better.
Lack of this precious commodity results in deadly food borne diseases, stunted industrial growth, irregular river water use and a drop in property values.
In the short term, cities need to implement equitable water distribution programs that are followed to the letter.
The biggest challenge is to break the cartels that allegedly sabotage water supply which requires strong political commitment.
City policies should strongly encourage water saving. Longer-term, infrastructure upgrades, including seawater desalination in Mombasa, Kisumu’s Soin-Koru Dam and Nairobi’s Northern Collector Tunnel need to be expedited.
Dilapidated sewer systems and poor stormwater drainage infrastructure that lead to flooding must also be addressed.
Traffic congestion in our cities particularly Nairobi and Mombasa is legendary.
Projects like the Nairobi Expressway, the Dongo Kundu bypass and various link roads may ease short term congestion, but no modern city can thrive without a functional mass transit system.
Mass transit is composed of interconnected pedestrian walkways, buses and trains.
The city of Bogota in Colombia implemented a model Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in three years.
It currently moves close to 2.5 million passengers a day! That’s over half of Nairobi’s population.
Such a BRT system should be partnered with a rail system, so that system growth is not outpaced by demand. We have the capacity to do it.
Finally, we must address security. Not just physical security, but security of property, livelihoods and the future of our youth. Rising crime rates are a direct consequence of lack of income and hopelessness.
Marauding gangs in places like Kisauni and Kondele are a recipe for disaster.
That resident of upmarket suburbs like Kilimani and Kileleshwa in Nairobi often fall victim to violent crime, indicates that insecurity does not discriminate.
Cities must recast themselves as vibrant innovation hubs that put their youth at the centre of policy making to encourage job creation.
The informal sector generates the most job opportunities but is the most harassed under various city policies.
Put simply, our youth need stable incomes or we will soon be competing with South America countries, for the title of the world’s most violent cities.
Our cities are synonymous with wanton destruction of property and livelihoods like Nairobi’s infamous “Bomoa Bomoa” demolitions.
These are particularly terrible when they result from a convoluted process where one arm of government approves and another destroys.
On the political front, every five years’ residents get a chance to choose the right representation.
Let’s do that in 2022 and we can have some of the most livable cities in Africa by 2030. — The writer is a policy and governance analyst