Monday, September 14, 2020

Failing professionally in Nairobi City

The Mission of the Ministry of Defence is "to defend and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kenya; assist and cooperate with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster and restore peace in any part of Kenya affected by unrest or instability as assigned." No matter how hard you look, you will be hard pressed to find in its service charter the management or administration of civilian agencies. The civilian staff of the Ministry of Defence exists to assist the professional service personnel in the execution of the Ministry's core function: the defence and protection of the Republic.

In recent months, because of the perceived professionalism of service personnel, serving military officers - as opposed to civilian members of the Ministry staff - have been deployed to perform civilian functions. The assumption is that what these civilian functions need is a "professional" to ensure that things run, if not smoothly, efficiently. The expectation is that things will get done. I am afraid that there s a core misunderstanding of governance and the management of civilian institutions.

If you have been paying attention, one of the strangest sites you will see along Harambee Avenue every now and then is an NMS-branded water bowser being used to water the grass on the perimeter wall of the Sunken Car Park opposite Electricity House. If you have waked past Garden Square Restaurant, that venue for funeral and wedding committee meetings, you will see the pavement (and the flower beds) has been converted into a car park. The irony isn't lost on me that NMS's offices are in KICC, overlooking Garden Square and the patently illegal car park.

Devolution has not served Nairobi City County well. The first Governor made promises about city services that he did not keep. His successor, riding on his man-of-the-people credentials, made even more grandiose promises that he has not kept. The various principal secretaries with an interest in the management of municipal services - notably infrastructure, housing, urban development, lands, physical planning, environment, water, sanitation, health, transport and internal security - have one their bit to interfere in the management of the city, contributing to the chaos that makes life for the residents of the City unbearable.

It sometimes shocks me that there are senior government officials who think that the laying of cabro pavements is a sign that NMS is getting things done. A casual walk along City Hall Way or Tom Mboya Street or Mumias South Road or the internal roads in Tassia and Fedha and Kariobangi South and Madaraka shows you that NMS has absolutely no idea what it takes to administer a city or offer municipal services of any kind. The NMS water bowser grass watering boondoggle is merely proof that the NMS leadership is not well-suited to the task it has been given.

Soldiers and police officers are trained in many important areas. But they are not trained to manage municipalities or offer municipal services. That is not why their organisations exist nor what they do. Professionalism may define their service to the Republic, but their professional skills are not best-suited to dealing with City Fathers, the needs of city residents, or the politics that ensures that it is only by consensus that shit will get done. It's not their fault, but soldiers and police officers don't have and never will have the imagination or managerial and administrative skills needed to offer municipal services.

Let me demonstrate why I believe NMS is doomed to failure. Mumias South Road connects Rabai Road and Outer Ring Road. It's approximately four kilometres long. Along the busy road are primary and secondary schools, places of worship, shopping centres, hospitals, bus stages, and densely-populated residential areas. If, as I suspect it will, NMS turns its attention to Mumias south Road, it will concentrate its efforts on filling in potholes and repairing pavements. It will not, because none of its managers or staff have the imagination to, include road furniture and facilities to assist people with disabilities to effectively use the whole length of the road. This was Dr Kidero's failure. It was repeated by Mike Sonko. Gen. Badi will only be the latest in a long line of municipal failures. At least Gen. Badi will fail professionally. But fail he will. 

We need to learn, again, how to think

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