The question residents of Nairobi would like to ask government spokesperson Alfred Mutua, coordinator of the Nairobi beautification campaign, is why spend millions of shillings on a facelift only to turn around and deliberately deface the city and begin the process all over again?
In the last five years, the city has progressively shaken off its old drab look and taken on a fresh new attractive image.
But the makeover came with a hefty price tag attached and was marred by a lack of transparency in the awarding of construction contracts.
The Nairobi City Council spent about Sh300 million on beautification projects between 2003 and 2006, which includes funds used in the construction of schools and provision of bursaries.
Of these funds, Sh63 million was used in 2003, Sh9 million used in 2004, Sh5.5 million used in 2005 and Sh215 million was used in 2006.
“These projects include construction of schools, bursary funds, health centres, street lighting in estates, repair of bridges and public toilets and covers all the eight constituencies in Nairobi,” notes an earlier communication from former town clerk, John Gakuo.
The niggling question the city’s residents are asking on blogs, radio talk shows and street corners alike after a new phase was unveiled was whether its going to begin all over again, and why.
“The new phase is aimed at ending this cycle of construction and demolition,” Dr Mutua said, “We want to work with what is easy to establish and easier to maintain.”
The new pavement rehabilitation and beautification project that started last week will initially cover the stretch from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the Kangemi suburb.
Whereas previously the stretch had been beautified with flowers and barbed wired supported on wooden stubs, the new one features mostly rock patterns, concrete, with interspersed flowers and shrubs.
“Our use of these materials is because they are cheap to obtain and easy to maintain. They do not require a lot of water and offer minimal distractions to motorists and pedestrians,” said Dr Mutua.
Concrete, ballast, flowers and trees are to be obtained from the government agencies, while equipment and machinery for the works will also come from the Ministry of Works.
This effectively means that private contractors have been locked out of the new campaign in a move which, according to the government was meant to eliminate corruption in the award of contracts.
The other shift is the decision to use the Kazi kwa Vijana initiative to employ 5,000 youth, who are working in shifts to enable the work continue 24 hours a day.
“We see this as a big win because it will permanently employ all these youth for several years.”
One of the major failures of past beautification campaigns was failure in repair and maintenance. Just past Moi Avenue towards Tom Mboya Street and on to River Road as one moves from the centre of the city, it becomes clear that neglect has crept in and taken its toll.
Street families and beggars had once been rehabilitated and relocated out of the city centre and trooping back in their numbers.
The regular repainting of roadside rails has stopped. Flowers and shrubs have overgrown and are now being used as hideouts by muggers, while streets lights once faulty, are rarely repaired.
James Mwangi, a shoe retailer on Tom Mboya Street, says since the beginning of last year, there has been marked neglect in maintaining the streets.
“It is the small things like cutting the overgrown flowers along the pavement and repainting the road side rails that they are neglecting,” said Mr Mwangi.
He said general sense of neglect and lack of vigilance on the part of the council has quickly been picked up by street families who have now set up new camps in the overgrown shrubs.
The new beautification programme is part of a brand-building campaign that is expected to endear the country to both local and foreign investors.
“The cleanliness of our city will say a lot about our level of organisation as a society,” said the government spokesperson.
It is also meant to condition people to cleanliness and orderliness by manipulating their environment, a factor the government believes will filter into the psyche of Kenyans, inspiring them to run their affairs in an orderly manner.
The programme will also work around what psychologists call the Broken Window Theory which broadly holds that when people live in clean environment, the likelihood of their committing crime is significantly lower.
The focus of the beautification programme will be on increasing street lighting, putting up signage of international standard meant to ensure that even first time visitors to the city find their way around, improve road markings and introducing a clear street address system.
It will also include marking all the 370 bumps in the city some of which are major causes of accidents because they are not visible. It will also include making global position system gadgets (GPS) available to aid those unfamiliar with the city navigate it more easily.
The aim is to improve the efficiency in identifying business location, improve emergency response, and speed up the way business is done in the city.
The government, through the Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development, targets to install 20,000 CCTV cameras although the private sector is also being encouraged to install a similar number of cameras.
The cameras are meant to deter crime and at least half of them will be linked to the Kenya Police CCTV control room. The CCTV cameras are expected to bring crime down by up to 75 per cent mainly through the deterring would-be criminals by their very presence.
The final stage of the project will include the construction of a super highway that runs from the airport to Westlands. It will overpass Uhuru Highway and have exits at strategic points.
Dr Mutua said the Cabinet has given the go ahead for the project and the contract based on a Build Operate and Transfer model that will be awarded by November. The model means that the government will not need to raise money for the project.
The contractor will raise the necessary funds, implement fully, and then recover the money through toll charges. After fully recovering the funds, they will then transfer the highway to the government.