Urban Outliers: Nairobi – A city in the murk

‘You may never really restore the traditions and glory of an institution, city, or a country. It seems equally difficult to fully inherit it too.

Perhaps every generation has to marshal its energies and create its own glories.’ (Charles Onyango Obbo Saturday Nation April 20, 2013)

In May this year, Kenya’s capital city Nairobi became a member of the 100 Resilient Cities pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, the city was among 37 member cities to join its global network, reaching the 100 city milestone. Lagos, Addis Ababa, Cape Town were also other cities that made it to the list. 

African main cities are on different levels, that is, development-wise, and also unique to one another when it comes to levels of resilience, but as it were we do not expect fast growth, it will be gradual due to the various challenges that are unique to African nations. Therefore it remains to be seen what these cities’ resilience strategies entail and if at all they’ll be effective.

Speaking of challenges, cities in Africa face numerous hurdles than those in the so called developed world. If you take a walk in Nairobi, Addis and Lagos you are bound to encounter a number of issues that are either shared or totally different be it; garbage collection, disorganized transport network, failed sewerage system, poor sanitation, poor disaster management policies being implemented or just on paper plus the many challenges that might come to mind. What is the state of our ‘resilience’?

Slightly over a month ago, a 14-seater matatu veered off the road and rammed into a bakery along Haille Selassie Avenue, one of the busiest roads in Nairobi, a guard was killed in this incident that remains etched in my mind, while others who were seriously injured were being attended to, a discussion among witnesses of this gory incident, including me developed, I found myself giving my layman opinion on all and why it happened plus you know the same old government is to blame cliché statement. Well we all know Kenyans pay taxes so someone needs to be blamed. 

Conspicuously missing on Nairobi roads are guard rails which either have been uprooted by scrap metal hunters or rogue matatu drivers who look for means to escape the chaotic traffic jam, as we mumbled and shouted about how the accident could have been prevented, my small group of ‘experts’ was in agreement that the tragedy could have been avoided by the guard rails. The city however has very few rails, and those that have been vandalized are yet to be replaced. So here we have a capital that has poor road structures, with no repairs done on these facilities. With every step one takes in this city they are courting disaster. 

So I decided to board my bus and head to the outskirts of the city just to take a rest in my humble aboard as I try to erase the gory images I was forced to consume, probably take a drink I told myself.

But here is the thing about this great city of mine, the unattended guard rails literally fall into the chaos and garbage that has made some of the streets home. On some streets, one can go for several paces without sighting a garbage bin. Spot check in the city will reveal two towns in one, the upper administrative serene town and the lower filthy and desolate town. The towns are separated by the famous Moi Avenue-for a new guy you will probably get lost a few times while wandering along this avenue-As you walk through the upper part you feel the peaceful semblance of order- however Gothic.

Meanwhile it is the lower business part that the city revelers battle with effluent, the menacing dust and splotches of muddy potholes that merge with gaping manholes or the undulating stone. Not long ago, the city introduced a three tier dust bin system where, a bin for the materials that could be recycled, biodegradable materials and one for the non-degradables. This was never fully implemented. 
It is an indisputable that, the population of Nairobi is outpouring, however the city planners must have gone into a prolonged holiday or someone is trying too hard to ignore the intrepid on the streets. 

With the coming of the county government, everyone hoped that, the country’s capital city will exponentially develop from what the city council was doing to a much more clean and serene city. However, it looks like the new county government is experiencing a development shock because what was done by the previous city council was thrown out the window. 

Before he left power, the immediate former president Mwai Kibaki opened a multi-million market for hawkers. However, it did not last long before hawkers begun the nightmarish cat and mouse chase with the council officials.

Cities selected to become part of the 100 Resilient Cities Network are entitled to at least four types of support that includes; Support to hire Chief Resilience Officer, Expertise to develop a robust resilience strategy, access to partners providing tech services to help improve resilience strategies and an avenue to learn from each other.

To that end there are varied expectations of what Nairobi will become after it was included in the resilient cities network, a city that can withstand shocks, based on the benefits of being part of the ‘100’ Nairobi should in the future be able to focus on strategies that will enable it deal with what I could call real crises since they would have eliminated issues like poverty, poor infrastructure, violence that work toward weakening a city.

This is currently the case for African cities, it is not only for Nairobi, it should be top priority for organs concerned to ensure a city’s status is improved, the capitals in the developing world are among the high populated places this therefore means they are bound to experience shocks in this case tragedies, a city should be able to cushion its citizens from any effects that would results from this.

Nairobi lags behind in many aspects, but as I walk the streets of this amazing place my mind goes to where it would have been if only our priorities would be aligned to the right course. Therefore, it is for our young generation to strive to create our glories, right from Cairo to Cape Town, Nairobi to Luanda, Dar es Salaam to Lagos, Khartoum to Abidjan and so on, striving to rewrite the story of our urban life.

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