Kenya: Why Live-Giving Rain Brings Death to Nairobi

Devolution backfired in Nairobi last week. It got wet; wet politics, wet city, wet Kenyans, wet lessons.

The rainfall did not surpass what fell on 28 May 1998, but there was more death, more traffic, more collapsed structures and more politics.

Some people blamed the weather, while to others, population growth was responsible. Historians said Nairobi was not meant to be a city, while others complained of poor rubbish collection.

Eric Omondi, a good friend and an engineer, blames the Governor of Nairobi and his endless inefficient politicking, waste of money and waste of time. I tried to excuse the Governor, arguing that all this had begun long before Kidero walked onto the scene.

Eric retorted that all those officials in the past had not been directly elected and were answerable only to themselves. But the Governor was directly elected and we can point fingers at him.

Eric added, “What’s the Governor’s strategy for Nairobi? Did he have one four years ago? How much has been achieved? If not, why? Was grass and harassment of motorists in the CBD part of it?”

I was left speechless, trying to defend the Governor. At least 44 people died in Nairobi from collapsed structures last week; 40 bodies have so far been retrieved from the collapsed building in Huruma, while four people were killed by the wall that collapsed at DoD. Others are yet to be accounted for.

RAIN AND DEATH

Public sector corruption is born in two different ways. One is due to man’s natural attraction to shortcuts. Some people are like water and they will apply pressure on government structures until they filter through any crack in the system.

The second is fabricated, when inappropriate and poorly designed systems are created. For example, we fabricated corruption when we gave traffic police the power to arrest every petty traffic offender, and every city askari the power to arrest just anyone in town, powers that now border on harassment.

The power to arrest petty offenders without an appropriate revenue collection system makes corruption thrive, because it makes being corrupt cheaper than being honest.

In our naA�vete, we thought we had resolved the problem by increasing fines. Yet we made it worse, because it is now far cheaper to pay a bribe than to be honest.

Corruption is perpetuated through impunity and once we take the thieves’ road we are in trouble. The perpetuation of corruption is like a metastatic cancer, like a breeding lab of mafias and cartels.

We started by stealing the visible, but light, projects, like the anti-malaria spraying treatment City Council used to carry out in the good old days.

Then, we moved to basic services like road-painting, repairs, garbage collection and public lighting. As this was not enough for the greedy, invisible but essential services were stolen, such as drainage, basic underground services and infrastructure planning.

Still the greedy wanted more and, like termites, they ‘terminated’ any visible, heavy infrastructure, like footbridges. After this, we went crazy and stole visible and heaviest stuff like roads and public buildings.

HUGE BUILDINGS, NO WATER

Impunity had set in. For the greedy, there was nothing to lose and all to win. This explains the shrinking ratio of public utilities vis-A�-vis private developments in Nairobi.

The money that was intended for public utilities has been diverted to private developments. We find huge buildings and blocks of apartments in areas serviced by disproportionately small access roads, no water, no drainage and no pedestrian walkways.

This is the crazy situation we see nowadays in Westlands and Parklands, not to mention Zimmermann, Umoja, Donholm and many other estates.

What was supposed to have been kept for public utilities and services has been taken up by private developments.

So, we have beautiful, modern buildings in Westlands and not-so-beautiful ones in Eastlands. Yet these places lack the minimum public infrastructure. We need no prophet to tell us of future doom, furthering of traffic gridlock and collapse of services.

In Madaraka, for example, there has been a serious water shortage since the 90s, yet a few years ago the council approved the construction of 50 new buildings.

Of course, water these days is something children only see when it rains and floods.

WHO CAME TO THE AID OF NAIROBIANS?

After the rains had caused havoc, the governor soberly warned that:

“…encroachment and obstruction of riparian reserves, natural water courses and drainage way leaves and denial of access to drainage outfalls were some of the challenges facing the city, hampering effective operation of the drainage system and floods control… Indiscriminate disposal of solid waste consisting of excavated soils, construction debris and garbage onto water courses, road reserves and sewerage system [are] restricting the proper functioning of the system,”

Eric was put off by these declarations. He asked himself the governor had achieved apart from pasture over four years. What can he account for? Does he really expect to vie again?

Eric has a point: the Governor was complaining about the very things he should have put straight. We complained and he complained, but he is the one with the executive power to solve the problem.

If his complaints amount to an admission of helplessness, then he has left sensible Nairobians with no choice but to vote him out.

HELPING WITH BARE HANDS

Drainages are blocked, illegal structures are up all over the city, buildings are occupied without due certification. When a building collapses there are no city askaris to be seen anywhere, neither on roads nor at disaster sites.

There, where things are thick, we only find the much-criticised traffic police standing up for the city in the midst of deluge and insults from angry motorists, and National Youth Service sent by the national government to help the victims with their bare hands.

We need to step up our politics, to deliver on promises and to take full responsibility for our wrongs.

Illegal structures should have been demolished years ago. Owners and area inspectors of any illegally occupied buildings should have ended up in jail after a huge fine, commensurate with the rent charged to those illegal tenants over the years.

More than 73 people have died in collapsed building in Nairobi in the last 10 years. How many owners and area inspectors have gone to jail over these deaths?

I told Eric that the governor had, at least, built some roads in the west part of the city. Eric was peeved. Those roads had been done by everyone but the County Council.

They were built by the Kenya Urban Roads Authority, the National Government and private developers, like Westgate. The only visible sign of County Council work was the unfinished shoulders of James Gichuru Road and Ole Sangale Road.

The governor has made some progress, particularly in healthcare. But on many other things, he could still redeem himself. He has one year to do so.

Getting his work done will be far cheaper than trying to win voters through hand-outs. If he can cannot show results, he will have to spend billions in trying to convince anyone that he deserves a second term.

NAIROBI’S NOAH

It seems only an ark can save us from the County corruption and inefficiency and we should start building one.

Who knows if the National Disaster Operation Centre (NDOC) may be ready to help us? The NDOC was established in 1998, a disaster-ridden year, to wit, the year of the El Nino and the Nairobi Bomb blast.

NDOC had its work cut out. Its primary duties included the coordination and control of disaster response efforts, to act as the command centre for all communications and information relating to response operations and, to liaise with responsible ministries on national response efforts.

Where were they last week? Many have asked me this question, but I don’t know.

How many more people must die for us to do anything and for some consciences to stop stealing? This is not what devolution was designed for.

Meanwhile, I am told that animals have been spotted at the National Park, queuing in pairs and waiting for something. Perhaps the new electoral promise could be The Ark, to save Nairobians and the rest of life still wandering around the city.

SOURCE: The Nation