Time for ‘city in the sun’ to switch on green
A couple of years ago, while on holiday in Kenya, I invited my young upcountry nephews for a taste of the city.
We visited bookshops and toyshops and did some fine dining at a top restaurant in downtown Nairobi that is skilled at pandering to children’s tastes in burgers, Belgian fries, fizzy drinks and ice-cream while guaranteeing quality steaks and fine wines for the adults in an elegant setting.
We also went up to the helipad at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) from where we surveyed the city at our feet.
You don’t realise just how green Nairobi is until you get up there so, again, thank you Prof Wangari Maathai for your spirited fight to keep it so.
Then I went off to Kiserian to visit my beloved Aunt Loise who — over two decades earlier — had wondered out aloud exactly what it was I was hoping to find in the Belgian Congo by way of a higher education, such was her confusion as to my exact destination, brought on by a knowledge of geography pre-dating African independence from colonial rule.
From afar, I espied the turbines sitting on the Ngong Hills, gracefully rotating in the wind, and was immediately transported back to Europe.
Drive from Brussels towards Amsterdam and you will pass acres upon acres of wind farms that a visiting teenage niece of mine could not recognise for what they were.
What do they teach them these days? The Netherlands is a country of windmills and has for centuries harnessed wind power to drain water from low-lying marsh and turn it into arable land.
Cross the border into Germany at Aachen and you will find a wind farm located just 5km from the city centre.
Take the highway from Brussels towards Mons and you can visit the Estinnes wind farm, which has installed the E-126 wind energy converters, the world’s most powerful wind turbines.
Standing at a height of 198m and with a rotor diameter of 127m, the eleven turbines provides electricity for 50,000 households.
Meanwhile, 30km out in the North Sea, Thornton Bank — the first Belgian offshore wind farm — is under construction.
Once fully commissioned next year, the 60 wind turbines will produce 1,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to cover the needs of 600,000 Belgian households while offsetting 450,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
When Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited Brussels early last month, the Kenyan embassy hosted a meet-the-diaspora cocktail in his honour.
Mr Odinga took to the rostrum, gave the audience a potted history of Kenyan politics from independence to the present day and, among other declarations of the intent to fulfil Vision 2030, he announced the government’s ambitions to develop alternative energy sources — geothermal, solar and wind were mentioned.
Nuclear was not one of them, much to my relief, given our record of disaster preparedness.
Which brings me to the giant advertising billboards that are to be found up and down the length and breadth of Kenyan highways and byways. In Belgium they would qualify as visual pollutants and a distraction to drivers.
In Kenya, we are not there yet, but perhaps a new partnership between KenGen and the advertising industry could do for them what Esther Passaris did for street light advertising — propped up by wind turbines dotted on wind farms all around Nairobi County, the billboards would justify their existence and earn their keep.
That way, the next time I bring my upcountry nephews into town, we can book a table at the revolving restaurant at the very top of the KICC — it is soon to be re-opened after remaining closed for over two decades — and, binoculars in hand, behold the “Green City in the Sun” elegantly and sedately producing squeaky-clean electricity for her residents as we tuck into our burgers, steaks and Belgian fries. One dreams.
Ms Guchu is a Kenyan residing in Brussels. email@example.com