Nairobi needs more devolution, not less


Writing in the Sunday Nation, Murithi Mutiga proclaimed the answers to the challenges Nairobi faces as East Africa’s global city 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 Nairobian’s deserve, so says Mutiga, is to have no say over their own affairs.

Instead they should let unaccountable and faceless bureaucrats run the show. I can only wonder what our grandparents who fought for independence and the right to vote for their own government over the colonists would make of such a statement.

All the evidence from the rest of the world suggests international cities thrive when they have more devolution, not less. When 60 percent 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’s clear city government needs democratic legitimacy.

The serious challenges Nairobi faces are therefore too important to be addressed by those who are unaccountable. Indeed, those we face are ones that have come to pass when the unelected were in charge.

Just take our population growth. Nairobi has mushroomed from just 300,000 people in 1963 to nearly five million today, and is projected to have as many as eight million residents by end of decade. This number will continue to rise, and it is projected that by 2050, the number will be at a staggering 14 million, and by 2100 at 27 million.

Sadly, over those three decades central government never invested in the infrastructure and services necessary to cope with this growing demand. Nairobi’s colonial era water and sewage system was designed for just a few hundred thousand residents – not millions; our road network was built to accommodate just 50,000 vehicles not today’s 350,000, which rises monthly at a rate of 8,000.

I was elected Governor with a mandate to bring business-like leadership our city’s challenges. Solving these after Nairobi’s years of neglect while those do did not need to face re-election were in charge was never going to be achieved overnight. Nairobi needs long-term planning and investment – not just today, but for many years to come.

Look at the issue of rising insecurity. Tackling crime requires both more police on our streets and a massive reduction in poverty in our city. However, unlike New York or London where strong City Mayors have control of the local police and have managed to slash urban crime rates, here security and policing remains the responsibility of the national government. Police chiefs are appointed by Ministers not Governors.

The recent sacking of the Interior Cabinet Secretary showed they have failed across the country, just as they are currently doing in Nairobi. The United Nations recommends there should be one police officer for every 450 citizens, yet in Nairobi – under the control of central government – we have one officer for every 1150 citizens.

We can beat rising crime through increasing police numbers while at the same time winning the confidence of local communities and tackling youth unemployment – but this can be best achieved through their management by devolved Government, just as is the case in cities such as London and New York.

Crime is a symptom of our city’s challenges, but I would argue not the only cause. To solve them 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 it can walk: first must get basics right.

That means improving Nairobi’s creaking infrastructure, especially our transport, energy, housing and communications networks, in order to attract more investment and create new jobs.

Nairobi has never had a strategic plan, or an Urban Master plan. That’s why last May I launched a new city Master plan – the first for nearly 40 years – after the central bureaucrats thought there was no need for one at all. Now I am devoting as much time as possible to raise the investment to deliver this vision of a new Nairobi, and finding the right, trusted partners to help deliver this change.

We have designed nine transport corridors for the new Mass Transit System for Nairobi, the first one being Outer-ring road, whose construction was launched last month.

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 massive Dandora dump into a power plant for the city using gases from waste, and to rebuild city’s aging water and sewage system, which currently pours two-thirds of our waste untreated into the environment, are already far advanced. The Eastland’s urban regeneration is already at an advanced stage. Under my devolved administration Nairobi is on the move, after decades as an afterthought of national governments.

Some may not like my decisions, or my management of our great city, but they have under devolved powers at least the right to cast judgment on my record at the next election. What our city needs now is more funding and more powers to get the job done and make sure that Nairobi can once again be proud to call itself by its nickname, “Green City in the Sun”.

(Dr Kidero is the Governor of Nairobi County)

One Reply to “Nairobi needs more devolution, not less”

  1. I think Kidero’s desire for Nairobians is genuine… will be a tragedy if Nairobians don’t re-elect him

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