Friday, June 28, 2013

Stop talking, start doing.

Governor Evans Kidero cannot just win. He inherited one of the most dysfunctional institutions on God's Green Earth. And he also seems to be stuck in the mud that makes the daily commute from Eastleigh's 1st Avenue such a nightmare most days and twice as bad during the rainy seasons. While many of his initiatives seem to have their hearts in the right places, he is simply attempting to reinvent the wheel that was invented by the very inventive councillors of the City Council of Nairobi. Beyond the annoying tweets about who he is swearing in or who he is meeting, Mr Kidero seems to be stuck in the traditional government management style that has laid Nairobi so low that it is being compared unfavourably with the backwater that is Kigali.

Mr Kidero has attempted to craft an image for the city administrators that is more caring; he will fail in this endeavour if he does not tackle the issues that cause so much grief to so many resident of the Capital City. take the perennial problems with drainage and sewerage in the City's forgotten and neglected zones. It is not enough for the Governor to declare that he will reclaim all "grabbed" land from the land-grabbers, but when these properties, entire neighbourhoods, consist of tin-shacks and some more ambitious brick-and-mortar hovels where three-quarters of the residents of Nairobi call home, he will have a far difficult time reclaiming this land. But while he focuses on the laws that declare the residents of these areas as illegal squatters, he fails to focus on the facilities that would make the lives of these people, who happen to be a vital source of manual labour for the industrial sector, more bearable, healthier and safer. It takes the intervention of ill-informed do-gooding development partners to take steps to provide running water, toilets, bathrooms and safety lights for these people to feel that they belong to the City.

Even when it comes to the Governor's pet projects such as roads and traffic, he is clearly out of his depth. So long as he does not understand what the current City by-laws permit him to do, and what they prevent the National Government from doing, Mr Kidero will be a deer in the headlights of the overwhelming transport problems in Nairobi. It is just the dream of a mass transit system that incorporates trains/trams, buses and private vehicles that sort out the transport problems of the City. It will take a recognition that the larger proportion of the residents of Nairobi cannot afford public transport; therefore, the City must provide dedicated pavements for them to walk and dedicated bicycle lanes for the more ambitious among us. The distance from the Kibera slum to the Industrial Area is barely ten kilometres; but in the City's desire to cater for the thousands of wack-jobs with cars of their own, the people who keep the City ticking over have to walk along ill-lit, ill-paved pedestrian paths that are barely able to contain their multitudes, especially when nifty matatus and carelessly reckless boda bodas force them to scamper for safety. it is a pattern that is even witnessed in the leafy suburbs: four wheels are clearly the preference for the City; if you are powering along on your own two legs your are on your own. Is this a cruel upending of the Animal Farm allegory (two legs good; four wheels better)?

Nairobi may be run by the rich but it is not a city of the rich. If the Governor fails to realise this, something that was apparent when he campaigned for the position, then he will never transform it into a world class city. If he wishes to raise the economic productivity of this City, Governor Kidero must ensure that the men and women who perform the menial tasks that the investors never get see live in and with dignity. Instead of spending ever-increasing amounts to keep the car-driving classes happy, the Governor and his Executive Committee must shift their attention to the lives of the walking working poor. The City Council - now, the County Government - owned hundreds of primary and secondary schools in Nairobi. They were allowed to become decrepit. If the Governor is to improve the quality of labour in the City, even at basic level, he must invest ever greater sums in improving the facilities that the youth of Nairobi require to improve their lives. This is not just limited to brick-and-mortar, but also to supply of vital facilities such as piped water and reliable electricity. If the Governor wants the walking working poor to spend ever more sums in the economy, then he must ensure that the share of their income that goes to healthcare, rent and transport is cut down substantially which means that he must invest more in preventing ill-health in the walking working poor, curbing the rapacity of the landlords and providing for dedicated walking and bicycle-riding zones for the working masses.

Finally, if the Governor wants the intellectuals who reside in his County to help him improve the quality of life, he needs to start publishing is idea and plans. How is it that a man who ran what was arguably a series of complex conglomerates in different parts of Africa is yet to establish a working website for his government on which can be found downloadable documents of his master and other plans, his proposed budgets or a reliable list of every elected representative of the county government or every manager in his government? It creates the impression that either he is not confident that his plans and personnel are creditable or that he has something sinister up his sleeve. secrecy generally characterises governance in Kenya; it also poisons relations between governors and the governed and make sit all but impossible to change things for the better. The Governor's honeymoon is over. It is time he started doing things rather than talk about doing things.

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