Shifting Nairobi city management from politicians to appointed and accountable executives provides a major opportunity to make Nairobi great again after years of a free fall to the bottom, especially in areas of services delivery. The recent appointment of a military person, Major General Mohamed Abdalla Badi, to head the newly created Nairobi Metropolitan Service, provides hope that his skills can reinstate order, discipline and dignity to a city that was once the pride of Kenya.
During the Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta presidencies, the national government has continued to develop numerous major highway infrastructure developments in Nairobi, with private investors engaged in impressive quality property development. The screaming contradiction is that the county government has not sufficiently matched these developments with quality supporting services and amenities. And this is the critical challenge the General will have to address.
As we amend the constitution let us introduce an article entitled “National Capital City”, giving Nairobi special status, governance and funding which are different from the other devolved counties. The city institution can be a “ministry” with a cabinet secretary and own budgets processed like other ministries. Further consideration is to expand the city boundaries to a wider metropolitan, to allow for coordinated services delivery for evolving outer “cities” …
So what is my shopping list for the General? Firstly, I would urge General Abdalla to make an early benchmarking trip to Kigali in Rwanda. Here he will find the true meaning of disciplined city management in all respects — traffic control including boda bodas, city planning, cleanliness and environment, and above all reigning in unplanned developments and activities.
Secondly I would recommend that General Badi reads a book From Third World to First World by Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of the city state of Singapore. He will get from this book an experience of sheer discipline and focus needed to drive drastic and progressive change in a city
In respect of Nairobi, the immediate top priority for the General is to implement coronavirus defences in the city jointly with the other authorities. Kenya has started off fairly well with early preparations against the virus, which is critical in containing the spread. However, Nairobi is a very difficult terrain to guard, and an easy field for the virus especially in the congested informal settlements.
In the next couple of weeks, military precision and discipline will definitely be needed to check the virus spread.
Basic hygiene across the city will need to be restored. Rivers have become open sewers and this poses significant risks to human health and the environment … In respect of these ‘black” rivers, Singapore can provide useful information on how the city turned heavily polluted rivers into scenic experiences.
In respect of city garbage collection, the General has impressively hit the ground running and this should be sustained. However, the ultimate garbage solution is a public-private partnership (PPP) power plant to turn the garbage into megawatts and revenues. I am sure many studies exist on this subject, and ready investor are waiting to seize the PPP opportunity. I urge the General to make it happen.
In 1970, when studying in the UK, I met a team of Nairobi City botanists seconded to a London Borough to study city gardening. That is when Nairobi was the “city in the sun”, and every part of Nairobi (including Eastlands) had roads lined with beautiful flowering plants, and parks everywhere were well manicured.
All it takes is resolute discipline to restart and maintain proper gardening. However, this time around, gardening experts should be used and retained to professionally maintain the gardens. A city is acclaimed as beautiful for its cleanliness, orderliness, and basic aesthetics, for this is what pleasantly captures the eyes.
My last wish for the General is to give Nairobians safe and paved walkways in all parts of Nairobi so that they can freely and safely walk. It is embarrassing that there is no safe paved walkway from Westlands to the City Center. And this is the case in nearly all parts of Nairobi.
I am confident that the General will succeed where many have failed in the past.