Thursday, August 30, 2007

LGI News: It’s not too late to slay poor urban planning ogre

From BD Africa (August 30, 2007)
By Emmanuel Wetang’ula
30-August-2007: Kiserian town is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

The above observation was made by the Constitutional Court in a decision that will have far reaching implications on many towns in the country suffering unco-ordinated and unplanned development.

As Nairobi teeters on the verge of bursting at its seams, it was made known that the city does not have a master plan, the last one having been formulated over two decades ago and largely ignored.

Similarly, other towns in the country have never had master plans. This has resulted in uncontrolled development, leading to the mushrooming of slums, pollution, traffic congestion and insecurity.

Back to the case: Waweru v/s Republic arose where some plot owners in Kiserian Township were charged with discharging raw sewage into a public water source and the environment.

The accused had erected residential cum commercial buildings on plots whose plans had been approved by Olkejuado County Council. Every building had a septic tank for disposal of solid waste.

The court argued that Kiserian is located on a water table and the buildings’ plans had been approved. However, due to the absence of a sewage plant, waste is emptied into Kiserian River, threatening the lives of users downstream.

The buildings’ owners were definitely strangers to the principle of sustainable development.

The court ruled that no further development should be undertaken in Kiserian Township without satisfying environmental and health requirements, including the provision of septic tanks and exhauster services.

The decision spells out the folly of uncontrolled development and the astronomical cost to be borne in trying to reverse the damage already done to the ecosystem.

It is obvious that law enforcement agencies have been the greatest failure. The grabbing of every little space, building across rivers, degazeting of forests, and so forth, have been the role of the Lands Office and Local Authorities.

Be that as it may, it is not too late to remedy the grim situation as per the judgment. Regulating land use is in the interest of the greater public, to secure proper resource utilisation and management.

The police force’s power is an attribute of the sovereignty of the State. It is high time such powers were invoked to save us from ourselves.

Wetang’ula is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

LGI News: A Metropolitan Authority for Nairobi is long overdue

"TO SAY THAT KENYA TODAY IS not short of ideas to improve the quality of life in its cities is not an understatement. What Kenya lacks is the resolve and prime movers to implement policy.
Last week’s announcement by Local Government minister Musikari Kombo that the Government has approved the formation of Nairobi Metropolitan Authority (NMA), which will be responsible for planning the city and its suburbs is excellent news. If this decision is implemented, Nairobi will attract significant investments in the next few years.
In the recent past, many investors have voiced worries that unless we address the issue of urban planning urgently, Nairobi will be damaged beyond repair.

Existing pressures from unplanned and sprawling human settlements, increasing population density, swelling unmanaged traffic volumes, and harmful environmental trends are not consistent with Nairobi’s sustainable development.

THE FIRST STEP FOR NMA, THEREfore, when it becomes operational, is to tackle two issues which are derailing the positive growth and development of Nairobi.

The first is to review Nairobi’s boundary. This is important so that Nairobians can benefit from effective management as well as receiving sufficient allocation of resources.

Since Kenya attained independence in 1963, Nairobi boundary has not been redefined. Prior to that, the boundary had been reviewed four times.

According to Winnie Mitullah in the publication, Urban Slums Report: The Case of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1906, a year before Nairobi became the capital of Kenya, it occupied 1,813 hectares and its population was 11,512.

In 1927, the boundary was extended to cover 2,537 hectares, or 77 square kilometres. The population in 1928 was 29,864. After 20 years, the boundary was reviewed again.
In 1948, Nairobi occupied 8,315 hectares and the population was 118,976. Come 1963, the boundary was extended to cover 68,945 hectares or 686 square kilometres. The population by then had reached 342,764. Since then, there has been no boundary change in Nairobi despite its enormous growth and population increase.

Since it is imperative that Nairobi continues to fulfil its potential as a modern cosmopolitan city and an exemplar of contemporary living, there is an urgent need to redefine its boundary.
The second burning issue is the fast-tracking of the concept of a 24-hour city as envisaged in Vision 2030. As of today, the City Council has a very narrow perception of the night-time economy.

Night life provision and night time economy in Nairobi are insufficient and underdeveloped. They can be grouped into two broad categories. On one hand is a dense network of licensed bars, casinos, fast-food outlets, lodgings and nightclubs. On the other hand, we have a dense network of drug dealings and commercial sex.

Now, because of frequent harassment of commercial sex workers by authorities on the main streets of the city centre, this trade is shifting towards upmarket Westlands and Kilimani areas.
The boisterous downtown chain of bars and lodgings provides fun, sex havens and hedonistic atmosphere for average Kenyans who want to have good time. However, there is high night crime rates in these areas. And as a result, night life security has emerged as a major employment sector.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE, MAINstream night life in Nairobi continues to play an important role in our culture and economy as dwindling middle class earners seek places of release.

Now, the night time economy is a much more complex phenomenon than this. From a business point of view, it requires a range of interconnecting strategies and an interdisciplinary sensibility.

For Nairobi to attain a 24-hour city status and be able to attract international investors as envisaged in Vision 2030, we need to design, plan, and position Nairobi as one of the world’s intelligent cities.

The intelligent city concept rides on a wider concept of knowledge-based society. One of its goals is to create new and innovative sets of inter-operable, electronic government and private sector services that provide instant information about all aspects of a city via interactive city-wide, Internet-based applications.

Nairobi will then have new forms of electronic governance, greater social inclusion, as well as greater competitive advantages through enlarged access to services for citizens, visitors and businesspeople.

Mr Kitau is the managing director, Bruce Trucks and Equipments (EA) Ltd."

LGI News: But First, Try Easing Traffic Jams

From the Daily Nation (August 28, 2007)

"AT THE JUST-CONCLUDED annual convention of the Architectural Association of Kenya, Local Government minister Musikari Kombo said the Government would soon appoint a Nairobi Metropolitan Authority to reorganise the city by addressing issues of traffic congestion, uncontrolled developments, pollution and insecurity.

This is welcome news for Kenyans, especially those living in the city who, besides the other hazards, have been experiencing unending traffic jams.
Certainly, there is an urgent need to address the real causes of traffic jams in the city. Any slight disruption of traffic flow ends up causing great inconveniences to motorists and commuters as well.
At some point, the Transport ministry considered decongesting the city centre by doing away with passenger service vehicles that pick and drop passengers within the city centre.

Last year, Transport minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere warned that from March this year, 14-seater matatus were no longer to be licensed to operate in the central business districts of Nairobi and other major towns.

This, however, was not to be. It would not have had significant impact on reducing congestion in the city streets. After all, what have the chaotic traffic jams on Outering, Enterprise or Thika roads, more than five kilometres from the city centre, got to do with 14-seater matatus entering the CBD?
At the turn of the century, Nairobi became Kenya’s capital city. It lived up to its billing as the “City in the Sun”, but the last decade has seen it degenerate.
It is quite obvious that the initial planners of the urban centre had not anticipated the phenomenal growth of the city’s population.

Last year the City Council and the Nairobi Central Business District Association launched a pedestrianisation programme as one of the measures to restore the city’s lost glory. Under the programme, some streets are to be converted into pedestrian-only areas by paving them, and only allowing through traffic.
THIS HAS ALREADY BEEN COMPLEted in some streets such as Mama Ngina, and the results are astonishing. Besides the wider pavements, there are litter bins, newly planted trees, street lights and security surveillance devices.
It would be good for Nairobians if the authorities continued implementing such measures, considering that there are not enough parking spaces in the city centre, forcing motorists to park on the narrow streets.

One does not need to wait for the rush hour to notice that on any given day, at even mid-morning or early afternoon, the whole stretch of Moi Avenue between Kencom House and Harambee Avenue junction is turned into a one-lane highway because Citi Hoppa, Kenya Bus and Double M vehicles have to queue on this stretch as they await their turn to pick passengers at the Kencom bus stage.
Suggestions on the way out have been mooted from different quarters. Some have suggested that parking fees be increased for motorists in the city centre to discourage private car owners from coming to town. But without an alternative, isn’t this unfair to private motorists? Maybe we should go back to thinking how best we can use the revamped Rift Valley Railways to help ease the transport crisis in Nairobi.

Its management should seek ways to exploit this opportunity. With comfortably furnished coaches, clear timetables and competitive fares, many Nairobians will opt for this mode of transport."

Mr Owino is the editorial coordinator for ‘Engineering Review’ magazine.

Monday, August 27, 2007

LGI News: Ministry Accepts TI Graft Rating

By Alex Ndegwa of EA Standard (August 27, 2007)

"The Ministry of Local Government has accepted Transparency International (K) Bribery Index verdict that ranked it fifth most corrupt institution.

Minister Mr Musikari Kombo on Monday led top ministry officials in a meeting with TI researcher, Mr David Ndii, to review the damning report, which saw the ministry in charge of local authorities blacklisted in the index for the first time in six years.

Kombo said they had chosen to consult with TI over the corruption allegations instead of burying their heads in the sand.

The minister blamed the ministry’s fall to the Africities Summit, which the country hosted last year, and the ongoing construction of markets in major urban centres, saying the two events provided good avenues for graft.

Kombo conceded that preparations for the Africities summit were riddled in corruption, particularly the procurement of goods and services and hiring of personnel.

"We have realised there are areas that needed to be handled properly in hosting the conference, especially on procurement and employment," Kombo told a news conference at the ministry’s headquarters in Nairobi.

He announced the creation of an Ethics Committee to monitor service delivery in all departments to ensure zero tolerance to corruption.

The fourth edition of the Africities Summit – a gathering of key officials of Local Governments in the continent – was held in Nairobi last September, and the ministry was tasked with organising the event.

More than 3,000 delegates from 80 countries across the world, including about 30 African ministers and more than 1,000 mayors, attended the week-long event.

On Monday, Kombo said conmen were also soiling the ministry’s name by exploiting the ongoing construction of multi-million shillings modern markets for hawkers to fleece unsuspecting business operators under the pretext that they would allocate them stalls.

"People are being duped by conmen. I urge the public to be alert," he said.

The minister said the meeting with the TI official had exposed the ministry’s areas of weaknesses."

LGI News: City Grinding to a Halt

From Daily Nation (8/28/2007)

"Of late, great concern has been raised over the state of Nairobi which is bursting at the seams, and a number of solutions offered.

One of the issues that have emerged is that the city does not have a masterplan, the last one having been formulated and ignored back in 1973.

It has also emerged that the capital city’s boundaries have never been revised since those days when it was populated by a few thousands, to a situation where the population is approaching the 4 million mark.

Without a development plan, and with a bunch of somnolent city fathers being ‘‘elected’’ to office after every two years to do everything but think about their city, Nairobi has continued to grow rapidly, in a haphazard fashion, and with very undesirable results.

Nairobi’s woes are interminable. Right now, its slums accommodate at least 60 per cent of its dwellers, which means at least 2.5 million souls have no proper shelter, food, water and sanitation.

The second major problem is more immediate; the city has become impossibly congested. Even after hawkers and street families were moved, one can still not walk the pavements comfortably.

Now, people cannot be wished away, and nor can the huge number of vehicles which make traffic jams all around the city a daily nightmare.

Even before a masterplan to solve these and many other problems is formulated, some ideas being floated are worth considering.

There is no reason why a brand new capital city cannot be built as the seat of government while Nairobi remains the commercial centre. It has happened in Tanzania and in Nigeria. Why can’t it be tried here?"

Friday, August 24, 2007

LGI News: Destroying Nakuru's Beauty

The Nation (August 24, 2007):

When news started filtering out that a Sh2.97 billion dual carriageway aimed at easing traffic congestion would be built in Nakuru Town, the residents were happy.

What they did not know, however, was that the country’s fourth argest town would pay a heavy price following the demolition of houses and felling of trees along the highway.

Although victims of house demolitions were compensated, the Nakuru Municipal Council is up in arms over the felling of some 2,000 jacaranda trees.

The boulevard of mature trees that formed a beautiful canopy along a seven kilometre stretch of the main Nakuru-Nairobi highway used to signal one’s arrival in the town on the floor of the Rift Great Valley.

Near the State House

Some of the trees, especially those near the State House, were planted during the colonial era while others were planted by the council in the early 1970s.

The decision to cut them down was arrived at after contractors said it would be more cost-effective to remove the trees to pave way for the expansion of the highway instead of moving underground water pipes and sewerage lines if the trees were to be spared.

Former Mayor Kimunya Kamana, who joined the council on July 14, 1959 as a rent collector, told the Saturday Nation the trees were mature when he arrived in Nakuru at the beginning of that year.

Mr Kamana, however, said he supported the decision to fell the tress saying they had become a nuisance to motorists. Some had their branches bending towards the road making it difficult for big trucks to use the road.

“Even when I was the mayor we used to receive complaints from vehicle owners. The drivers and especially those handling heavy commercial vehicles complained that the branches were obstructing them,” he said.

Mr Kamana said the felling of the trees would give the council an opportunity to re-plan and do landscaping on the dual carriageway once it’s completed.

Another former mayor, Dr Issac Kirubi, condemned the cutting down of the trees. He said the area around Milimani Estate, where State House is located, was already covered with trees in the late 1950s.

Dr Kirubi said he was among council officials who supervised the planting of more trees from Section 58 Estate towards Lanet area in the 1970s when President Jomo Kenyatta joined in the exercise.

Additional trees were planted towards Soil area on the road to western Kenya from the town, Dr Kirubi added.

The cutting down of the trees has resulted in a bitter row between officials of the China Road and Bridge Corporation (Kenya), who have been awarded the tender to build the road, and the council.

The row led to the arrest of three Chinese nationals working for the company who were locked up at the Central Police station for some hours.

The officials, who were arrested on the instructions of the council’s Director for Environment, Mr Simon Kiarie, for defying orders not to cut down the trees, were later set free on the orders of the Nakuru District Commissioner, Mr Wilson Wanyanga.

Council officials, led by Mayor Samuel Mithamo, were caught by surprise as they were not aware that the government through the Ministry of Public Works had given approval for the felling of the trees.

The over 40-year-old trees gave the town a unique identity and residents could not in the past few days visualise their absence.

The dual carriageway is being built from Lanet to the Nakuru-Njoro turn-off. The road is expected to reduce congestion in Nakuru Town and the busy Eldoret-Nairobi highway which is under construction.

The council argues there should have been consultations on the project since the local authority has a stake in the planning of the town.

Mayor Mithamo was so bitter with the cutting of the trees that he turned personal with one of the contractors, Mr Bruce Lee, accusing him of being arrogant and insensitive to environmental concerns of Nakuru residents.

“I have been to Beijing (China) and you have a lot of trees but when you come here and just destroy our trees and forests without feeling a pinch of pain,” the mayor told the contractor during the argument.

He asked why the trees had to be cut down yet there was a resolution that the underground water pipes linking the town be moved to pave way for the road’s expansion.

“The contractors may have found it expensive to move the water pipes and instead decided to destroy our trees,” said Mr Mithamo.

But Mr Lee said the ministry of Public Works had bought the land on which the proposed road was being built.

The stormy encounter ended after the two parties resolved to suspend further cutting of the trees to allow consultations.

The mayor said he was shocked to learn that more trees had been cleared on Sunday despite the earlier agreement. He refused to attend a consultative meeting called by the Rift Valley provincial roads engineer.

The felling of the trees comes barely three months after residents who had acquired plots and constructed buildings in Lanet area were ordered to demolish them as they were said to have encroached on land meant for the construction of the dual carriageway.

The residents took the matter to the High Court but lost the case.

Others who have condemned the felling of trees are members of the Nakuru Municipal Council’s LASDAP Monitoring and Evaluation Committee.

Ordered to demolish

The LASDAP (Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan) members led by chairman Simon Sangale ole Nasieku, vice-chairman the Rev George Mwangi, organising secretary Peter Muhia and Kings Maina claim the contractor had decided to cut down the trees to avoid compensating the Nakuru Water and Sewerage Services Company some Sh50 million to move its water pipes.

Among the 700 trees felled, the team said, was one planted by former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta in 1960s, leaving the commemorative plaque ‘‘irrelevant and unwanted’’.

A former councillor, Mr Issa Gichangi, claimed the contractors had opted to fell the trees to cut down on construction costs.

Former Nakuru town clerk Ernest Muibu said the contractor should be forced to replant other trees on completion of the road.

A resident, Mr John Kamundia, 65, remembers clearly when he took part in planting the jacaranda trees adding that President Kenyatta was on his way to Nairobi when he floated the idea that trees should be planted along the highway.

The Reverend Samuel Muriguh, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa secretary general, was shocked when he found the trees had been cut.