Friday, September 7, 2007

LGI News: Give priority to urban planning

["The transition from short to long term planning as represented by vision 2030 is a step in the right direction.

Vision 2030 and its predecessor, the Economic Recovery Strategy, are watershed documents whose implementation will forever change the destiny and direction of the nation.

The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. Time has come to start laying the foundation for implementing Vision 2030. Some of the items in the document require urgent bold policy actions.

The Problem Of Urban Planning and development is one of them.

According to Vision 2030, the population of Kenya will reach 60 million in the next 23 years. This will put Kenya in the same demographic league as current day Egypt.

OTHER THAN THIS, THE MORE worrying phenomenon is that 65-70 per cent of the population will be residing in urban areas. Nairobi alone is expected grow to a population of 15 million people by 2030.

This development will come with many challenges. While the entire country will bear the burden of providing resources for this big population, the urban areas will bear a disproportionate part of this burden. This will manifest itself in various ways.

First, the increased urban population will have unique demographic traits, with high proportions of the youth and single parents. More young people will be moving from the rural areas to the urban areas in search of education and employment.

Second, the already stretched resources in the urban areas will reach a crisis level unless measures are put in place to avert the inevitable. Housing and transportation will be key issues. One cannot belabour the problems with traffic jams in our major urban areas, especially in Nairobi and Mombasa.


Left to their own devices, other urban problems will not just disappear. On the contrary, they will be aggravated as we move towards 2030. Pollution will not disappear through divine intervention and the crisis in council-run health and educational facilities can only get worse.

Lack of sports and other recreational facilities will only be exacerbated by the rapid population growth and rural urban migration. Security, if an issue today, will be worse in another 23 years. All these issues do not require small, incremental improvements in the way we approach urban planning. On the contrary, they require strategic thinking and planning.

This strategic thinking will necessitate restructuring of the bodies responsible for the management of urban centres.

Today there appears to be no clear ownership of the planning processes in urban areas. Functions and responsibilities are straddled between various ministries.

For example, the ministry of Housing whose mandate is to develop housing units has to ‘’beg’’ the city or town councils under the Ministry of Local Government to approve plans. While the councils are semi-autonomous in matters of health and education, the dependence on the parent Health and Education ministries is significant.

THESE MANY LAYERS CREATE multiple glitches in urban management. To move to a more strategic approach, the starting point is to establish clear, single ownership of the urban planning responsibility. This could be done through the creation of a ministry for Housing and Urban Planning.

A ministry for Housing and Urban Planning would largely inherit all the functions of the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Local Government. It by consolidating such functions that we can prepare our cities for the new challenges ahead.

Mr Mbaru is the chairman of the Nairobi Stock Exchange"]

LGI News: Crippling poverty in land of poverty

["It has enormous resources yet, ironically, the new Mutomo district in Eastern province is one of the least developed in the country.

Mutomo, which was recently hived off Kitui, is an economic giant sleeping on a gold mine worth billions of shillings.

The arid, wind-swept district of Ukambani continues to lag behind in development although it is endowed with valuable resources, including deposits of minerals such as limestone, coal, magnesite and graphite.

Besides, the sparsely populated area lies in a vast game reserve with great tourism potential, and on key tourism routes.

But all is not lost. Currently, two cement manufacturing companies are separately working on plans to establish multi-billion-shilling plants in the area, which are expected to create thousands of jobs for not only the locals, but other Kenyans as well.

Government neglect

The one-constituency district, also known as Kitui South, is ranked the third poorest electoral area in the country due to what the residents term neglect by the past governments as well as challenges which have hindered development since independence.

Carved out of the larger Kitui early this year, bringing to nine the total number of districts in Ukambani, Mutomo has three administrative divisions — Mutomo, Ikutha and Mutha — with a combined estimated population of only 170,000.

Just to show how undeveloped the area is, among the 38 new districts in the country, it is probably the only one which does not have an inch of tarmac road — or piped water and electricity.

According to the Institute of Economic Affairs, up to 68 per cent of the district’s residents are among Kenya’s absolute poor, with a mean monthly household income of about Sh3,000, due to an erratic climate and drought.

Water scarcity is so severe here that, on average, a 20-litre jerrican costs Sh20 throughout the year, a situation which aggravates the poverty situation. For instance, at Mutomo market, the district headquarters, meals at the restaurants are served without water to wash hands or drink.

The constituency, represented by Mr Mwangu Ivuti, has only a handful of ill-equipped secondary schools, and does not have a single tertiary education institution to raise the despicably low education standards.

Mutomo also lacks roads to connect it to its neighbours — Tana River and Malindi of Coast province.

So where do we go from here? A master development plan, accompanied by huge government and private sector investment, is what is needed to lift the area out of the economic quagmire.

The residents hope that the area, for long considered the backwaters of Kambaland, can develop faster than Kitui and Machakos. And the good news is that priority projects have been identified and given priority as part of a five-year strategic development plan aimed at spurring growth, based on the tourism and livestock keeping potential.

They hope that the Government will, among other things, honour its election campaign pledge of tarmacking the 200km Kitui-Kibwezi road which runs through the district. The particularly poor section, the only long Class B road, has a great trade potential because it connects the port of Mombasa to the upper Eastern province districts and the Mt Kenya region as well as Ethiopia.

According to the local leaders’ master plan, the Government has been asked to, among other things, degrade the Tsavo East national park to a game reserve and approve the creation of a county council so that the area may be independent of the Kitui council.

Councillor Kamau Mutuvi of the Ikutha/Kasaala ward says the request for an independent council, made two months ago by a delegation of civic and religious leaders, is awaiting the approval of Local Government minister Musikari Kombo.

The downgrading of Tsavo East which, together with the South Kitui game reserve, form almost two-thirds of the new district, means that part of the revenue generated will be administered within the proposed local authority to fight poverty.

The local political leaders say the new district is a major boost in virtually all development aspects, arguing that it provides a strategic launch pad to harness the available resources and to create wealth for the local residents.

“Despite our new district being entirely dry and arid with more cross-cutting economic challenges, it has great economic potential in terms of natural resources,” the leaders said.

If the area is granted a council, the Kitui one will be forced to go back to the drawing board and come up another strategic plan that does not factor in anything from the new district.

The creation of the district early this year came at a time when the council had, in line with the ministry policy guidelines, finalised crafting a five-year plan, which heavily factored in millions of shillings in revenue from Kitui South.

One of the revenue sources is the South Kitui game reserve, a vast wildlife sanctuary that covers almost a third of the new district, with great tourism potential, what with the animals, breathtaking scenery and beautiful sites.

The council last month concluded three-year-long negotiations with the Kenya Wildlife Service over the management of the reserve, which saw the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two parties. Already, there are subdued murmurs over the anticipated council split.

Of great concern to some leaders is that the move will put the remaining Kitui county council at a disadvantage by placing key revenue resources outside its jurisdiction.

And with the Government formulating a new tourism policy geared towards empowering communities living around such resources, the fear is that Mutomo will benefit more."]

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