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Ideas & Debate

Greater Nairobi picture in Sonko’s functions transfer

sonko
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Senate Speaker Keneth Lusaka (right, standing) witness the signing of an agreement that handed over the functions of the Nairobi County Government to the National Government by Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Governor Mike Sonko (right). PHOTO | PSCU 

Last December, I suggested that Governor Mike Sonko needed more “policy time” on issues and problems than “executive time” (showbiz and gimmicks) if he was to deliver on his lofty electoral promises to long-suffering Nairobi residents and voters rather than offering us “parte after parte” moments.

Mr Sonko inherited one of only two counties (the other being Nandi) that delivered zero per cent growth in per capita Gross County Product (GCP), the county equivalent of GDP) between 2013 and 2017.

Yet he was also taking charge of a Sh1.5 trillion ($15 billion) economy, slightly smaller than Botswana but above Mauritius and Namibia and around Gabon; all higher per-capita GDP countries than Kenya.

Much has happened since, including corruption charges and the threat of impeachment. Then, this week we found ourselves witnessing the transfer of functions from Nairobi City County to the National Government. I’m not sure if this includes a transfer of powers and competencies, as the law envisages.

Public reaction has ranged from relief that the city’s leadership and management chaos has been stemmed, to concerns about whether or not the national government is up to the task (many of us are old enough to remember the ill-fated Nairobi City Commission of yore). Important questions have also been raised around the process that this transfer followed; and this is now a matter for courts to decide.

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Let’s skip the legal issues and the sub judice rule, and consider a couple of more interesting points. As the deed of transfer powerfully states: “The Nairobi City County Government UNEQUIVOCALLY transfers the following functions to the National Government … County Health Services; County Transport Services; County Planning and Development Services; and County Public Works, Utilities and Ancillary Services”. That’s 4 of out of 14 county functions listed in Schedule 4 of the Constitution.

What is the reality behind these functions? County health services includes facilities and pharmacies, ambulance services, primary healthcare, licensing and control of undertakings that sell food to the public, veterinary services, cemeteries, funeral parlours and crematoria; and refuse removal, refuse dumps and solid waste disposal.

Excluding ferries and harbours, Nairobi’s county transport services include county roads, street lighting, traffic and parking and public road transport. County planning and development is more than statistical stuff, covering land survey and mapping, boundaries and fencing, housing; and electricity and gas reticulation and energy regulation. Finally, county public works, utilities and ancillary services include storm water management systems in built-up areas, and water and sanitation services.

In numbers, these functions add up to roughly 60 percent of the county’s Sh35 billion annual budget. This leaves the county with 40 percent (Sh14 billion) to pay for the governor’s office (which takes half of that) and county assembly plus agriculture, trade, pre-primary education and polytechnics and modern stuff like pollution, culture, betting, liquor licensing, entertainment, animal control, fire fighting, disasters and control of drugs and pornography.

That’s not the only small stuff. Is there a “Greater Nairobi” picture that any leader of Nairobi must internalise? Remember Metro 2030, the Sh33 trillion strategy launched in 2008 to transform Nairobi into a metropolis? At the time, “metro” looked like a merger of area that fell under 15 local authorities.

In our post-constitutional present, forget metropolis. Consider a Nairobi “megalopolis” of interlinked “mini-cities” (think Konza, Chinese Friendship, Tatu, Tilisi, Northlands, Railways et al) numbering 10 million people and counting, not the 4.3 million that the 2019 census counted.

Think about the Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Authority (Namata) established by Executive Order in early 2017, which covers Nairobi, Kajiado, Kiambu, Murang’a and Machakos counties. Or the World Bank-supported Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Project (NAMSIP) already working on roads, commuter rail, water, sewerage and urban development under the Infrastructure ministry.

The future of Nairobi is already here, and it isn’t the place that Sonko was running.

The BBI report recommends “special status” for Nairobi that allows the national government “the means to provide the services and facilitation necessary to maintaining it as a capital city and as a diplomatic hub”. With Nairobi still represented by cantankerous MPs and MCAs, what does that mean?

Mr Sonko claims the transfer decision followed benchmarking against Abuja in Nigeria and Washington DC in the US. If he was thinking “metropolis”, he might have visited Lagos and New York instead. Beyond national capitals and diplomatic hub, today’s “mega-cities” are “private wealth centres”.

New York leads the world’s league table at $3 trillion in 2019 private wealth. According to Afrasia Bank in 2018 — outside Johannesburg ($276 billion), Cape Town ($155 billion), Cairo ($140 billion) and Durban ($56 billion) — Lagos was Sub-Saharan Africa’s top wealth centre at U$108 billion while Nairobi, before its International Financial Centre, followed (and was sixth overall) at $54 billion.

That $54 billion was more than Dar-es-Salaam, Kampala and Mombasa combined ($51 billion); exceeded all private wealth in Lusaka, Maputo, Windhoek and Gaborone ($42 billion), and placed Nairobi ahead of Luanda, Pretoria, Casablance, Accra and Abidjan.

That's the globalised "mega-city" that Sonko wasn't even close to running.

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