For a city that started out as a stopover for railway builders 110 years ago, Nairobi has come a long way.
The modern metropolis we see today is incomparable to the dinghy settlements housing the engineers and workers constructing the Kenya-Uganda Railway in 1899.
The City has expanded rapidly over the years into a sprawling urban hub and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Indeed, Nairobi was ranked the 10th most dynamic city in the world in the 2019 City Momentum Index.
Kenya’s capital was cited as an emerging tech innovation hub, home to the world-renowned Mpesa mobile money transfer service. With the planned Konza Technocity coming up in the hinterland, and the city’s emergence as a regional tech and business hub, Nairobi’s global profile has been rising.
The capital city has also recently hosted several high-profile international conferences including the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, the Afro-Asia Fintech Festival, The 9th ACP Summit of Heads of State and Government and several others.
So, one often wonders why a city that has achieved so such global recognition had become the epitome of poor service delivery, corruption, mismanagement and insecurity.
The filthy mounds of garbage, dilapidated road network and sprawling slums are sure manifestations of a metropolis collapsing under the weight of inept and inefficient management. But beneath the monumental failure in leadership by previous administrations is a vast network of cartels involved in land grabbing, garbage collection, illegal water and electricity connections, crime and other nefarious activities.
These cartels are the biggest threat and obstacle to any attempts to reform, rejuvenate and rehabilitate the capital. We had all hoped that with devolution, Nairobi would now have a visionary, efficient and capable leadership. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
The creation of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) under the Executive Office of the President and headed by Major General Mohammed Badi was hailed as a timely move aimed at instilling discipline and order in the chaotic capital.
In February this year, a Deed of Transfer of Functions signed by Governor Mike Sonko and the National Government saw county health services, transport, planning and development, and public works and utilities transferred to the latter.
Within 100 days, NMS has been able to achieve what previous administrations struggled to do for years. We have seen improvement in waste management, rehabilitation of roads, rehabilitation of street lighting, provision of water and sanitation services as well as progress with housing projects in the city.
Land that had previously been allocated for sewerage treatment works in Ruai and Kariobangi but grabbed by cartels has been reclaimed. Last week, it emerged that the same cartels had blocked water pipes in South C so as to sell water to residents. This is a clear demonstration of the impunity with which criminal networks in Nairobi operate.
There was an attempt to sabotage NMS by denying it funds when the Sonko administration declined to approve the Nairobi City County Supplementary Appropriation Bill 2020.
Fortunately, the National Government intervened and has allocated Ksh 26.4 billion in this year’s budget to finance NMS functions. The agency has the money and political support to deliver on its mandate.
It should now move swiftly and, working with other government agencies, dismantle cartels that have been sabotaging service delivery in the city.
A 2017 study by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) revealed that Nairobi county loses Ksh 7 billion each year to cartels. That is more than what some counties have been receiving as shareable revenue from the national government.
The research also showed that residents of informal settlements pay more for services that are inferior to those available in other more affluent parts of the capital. Slum residents pay double for water compared to a family in Westlands.
Uprooting cartels will not only improve service delivery but also address social inequalities. A study by Oxfam a while back also showed that the richest 10 percent of the population of Nairobi earns 45 per cent of income while the poorest 10 per cent get only 1.6 percent.
Cartels fuel inequality by denying poor residents essential services or extorting high “service fees” from them. Eliminating cartels should be followed by ensuring equitable access of essential services like water, sanitation, electricity, roads and health facilities throughout Nairobi.
It is refreshing to note that NMS has embarked on provision of water in informal settlements through community boreholes and water purification facilities. This coupled with roads, street lighting, sanitation and other services in those settlements will go a long way in ensuring equity amongst Nairobi residents
Maj. Gen. Badi should also, working with NTSA, deal with the cartels that control public transport, routes and bus termini. Given his military background, he also has what it takes to deal decisively with criminal gangs in the city.
Even as Maj. Gen. Badi and his team strive to improve service delivery, there is need to foster buy-in from the residents though public engagement.
Mr. Murumba is the Managing Director of Impulso Kenya Limited