My father once owned a Citroën DS 19. The one with the directional headlights and green hydraulic fluid. The one that sat on its haunches after it had been switched off. The one that had an armrest in the rear seat that could be lifted to make space for a third passenger. The one that flew like the wind when we travelled "up-country" to see the really old people who plowed us with ridiculously stringy, yet tasty, mangos. I absolutely loved that car.
I especially liked riding in it on those frequent occasions when he had to drive me to the doctor. We would leave home at the crack of dawn so that we would be among the first to be seen by the doctor. Then afterwards, whether or not there were syringes and injections involved, he'd buy me a snack, get me a storybook, leave me in his office as he taught his mid-morning lectures. That early in the morning, we'd come past Marigiti as the road was being washed. Yes, they washed the roads in those olden days.
This is my point: for a brief moment, after the perfidious City Council had been fired and the City Commission appointed, Nairobi City was the Green City in the Sun, where municipal services functioned, the roads were swept and washed, the kamero collected the garbage on Tuesday and Saturday, Marigiti was the place to find your freshest veggies, and Gikomba and Kariokor the place to find your kienyeji chicken and tilapia. State-sponsored schools were clean and cost-sharing hadn't yet become a burden for parents. You'd shop at Uchumi and use the brown bags to cover your textbooks which were bought from Savanis. Nairobi, for a glorious moment in time, was good even for the working classes.
Nairobi has fallen a long way from its heights in the 1980s. From the day the Sunbeam Supermarket on Tom Mboya Street collapsed, a succession of mayors and governors have bequeathed us a city that has become harder and harder to live in, even for the wealthy elite in their leafy suburbs. The streets are no longer washed, let alone swept. The kamero long ago stopped running; mountains of garbage mark the boundaries of different "zones". Yes, even the leafy suburbs can be identified by the mountains of garbage right outside their gates. Marigiti, Kariokor and Gikomba are places you venture into with trepidation. After all, who can remember that amazing year when Uhuru Kenyatta was the Minister of Local Government and six hundred tonnes of garbage were trucked out of Marigiti? Or the tens of thousands of rats that fled soon thereafter?
In the early days of the pandemic, President Uhuru Kenyatta engineered the transfer of certain municipal services from the wildly incompetent city administration of Mike Mbuvi Sonko to the martial-oriented Maj. Gen. Mohamed Abdalla Badi and his Nairobi Metropolitan Services. The General came into office with a lot of goodwill in his back. Nairobians - indeed, Kenyans - were tired with the erratic behaviour of their governor and many were confident that a man who has overseen combat missions for the '82 Air Force was just the one to sort out the problems of the benighted no-longer-green City in the Sun.
It is apparent that the confidence was misplaced. We know and appreciate that the challenges bedevilling the planning department require root-and-branch reforms and our patience will only start to run thin if more buildings "collapse" during construction. But the fact that the General and his precious NMS continue to allow the festering problem of garbage collection to exist is unfathomable and unforgivable. Everywhere you turn, mountains of garbage moulder malodorously on roadsides - and roads. Garbage clogs surface drains and sewers. Marigiti is langusihing beneath a new six-hundred-tonne mountain of its own while Kariokor has been swarmed by motorcycle taxis and ramshackle vibanda. All the good general can show for his time in office are coloured cabro bricks in the CBD and strategically-installed water tanks in a few markets.
An example of his failures is to be seen along Landhies Road. The General has surrounded Muthurwa Marpket, built during Uhuru Kenyatta's tenure in Local Government, with a high wall. But the pavement along Landhies Road has been turned into an obstacle course and now, with the rains, is unpassable unless one is prepared to get to their destination resembling an active pig. Little care has been taken to take care of the pedestrians of Landhies Road and none seems to be forthcoming. Indeed, the area East of Moi Avenue has been allowed to get worse and worse since he took office. The secrecy of his plans and his operations does not inspire confidence. I have no confidence that he will do anything more than build beautiful infrastructure in places that need it the least and put up barriers to ensure the Landhies Road pedestrians never cross to the shiny side of town. General Badi is neither the hero we wanted nor needed. He is, at the end of the day, the martial incarnation of Mike Mbuvi Sonko and his predecessors.