The residents of Nairobi voted in a new governor on the 9th of August 2022. Johnson Arthur Sakaja was sworn in as Nairobi’s fourth governor on the 25th of August at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre. The 37 year old is the youngest person to be voted into the highly prestigious office in one of the most important and influential cities in East and Central Africa.
Coincidentally, Mr. Sakaja takes over from Ms. Ann Kananu, who was not an elected governor, but rather assumed the position after the impeachment of the previous governor, Mr. Mike Mbuvi Sonko. In the interim, the city has been co-run by the city government and the national government through the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), under the direction of the Office of the President. NMS will hand over the key functions that it took over back to the new office; these include health, transport, public works and planning. During its two and a half year tenure NMS has sunk over 100 boreholes, constructed 28 hospitals (mostly in poor areas), rehabilitated public parks, constructed new public transport termini and tarmarked up to 400 km of roads in the city. The public transport termini have yet to be operationalized.
Reports of human rights abuses during NMS’s tenure exist nevertheless, particularly connected with large scale demolitions and evictions in poor neighborhoods as well as destruction of properties and loss of human life in mysterious slum fires. Complaints of unplanned density have also been on the rise – (a feature dating back to previous regimes).
The new office has a big task at hand; not only must they continue with and improve on the speed of delivery of the initiatives started by the outgoing officers, but they must also integrate the culture of recognizing the dignity of citizens in a city with huge disparities in income levels and quality of living.
The city has been notorious in the past for developing plans and not implementing them. Most notable is the 1973 Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy which remained good on paper but was hardly actioned. The city currently possesses the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Plan (NIUPLAN) that it has similarly failed, following its launch, to make any significant attempt to execute. The plan outlines the development of Sub Centres with TOD connecting them, thus moving from a monocentric city (single CBD) to a polycentric one (several connected business centers). This vision needs to be implemented. Although NMS already made some attempts by creating development control guidelines, these were largely viewed as an attempt at covering up or catching up with the existing ‘random land use’ that the city has suffered from over the last two decades. They are yet to be passed by the County Assembly.
Priority programmes of the NIUPLAN:
(i) Urban development program: to promote and accelerate integrated and efficient urban development;
(ii) Urban transport development program: to support forming urban structure including CBD and sub-centres;
(iii) Infrastructure development program: to promote urban development through urban facility development;
(iv) Environment improvement program: to improve urban environment for water, solid waste, and air quality; and
(v) Urban development management strengthening program: to strengthen institutions and human resources.
Other critical elements come into play:
First, developing Special Planning Areas (SPAs) within the informal settlements. SPAs are in appreciation of the fact that informal settlements cannot undergo the same rigorous rule based and euclidean planning methodologies as the rest of the city (at this time 60% of Nairobi residents live on only 5% of the land). An SPA was initially accomplished in Mukuru through a participatory community based approach with good outcomes.
Second, an important priority will be to start developing working relationships and agreements with the governors of adjacent counties. Nairobi has grown in influence beyond its city boundaries and the evident metropolitan growth also needs to be capitalized on. In areas where economies of scale can be utilized, the metropolitan counties can team up and provide residents with better services. This is already being attempted in the public transport space through the Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Authority (NAMATA). Other areas conducive to similar collaborative initiatives include solid waste disposal, structural land use planning, health mitigation policies and environmental harmonization regulations.
Partnerships of this type of have been attempted in different parts of the world using different models like:
- Inter-municipal Forum (USA, France and Brazil);
- Metropolitan Authority: sectoral or multi-sectoral (Vancouver, London);
- Metropolitan Government: 2 tier (Budapest, Chinese Cities) or separate entity that can be elected or appointed (Tokyo);
- Consolidated Local Government (Toronto, Istanbul, South African Cities);
- Regional Governments (Chile, Mexico, Australia).
There are obviously a lot of programs that can be added including neighborhood public space, efficient public transport system, provision of water to all households, improved non-motorized transport (over 45% of city residents walk to work), greening the city, food nutrition programmes and improving the business environment. Amidst all the priorities demanding attention, the principles of the just city should remain the core of the new administration’s vision and policy: Dignity, Equity and Diversity, Rights and Responsibilities, Democracy.
Running cities is not easy. The dynamics of making spaces inclusive and dignifying for over 5 million people while fighting the self- interests of multiple actors cannot be done in a week, but with the paperwork done, it is time for action.