Infrastructure development in Kenya is a major legacy of the Kibaki government. From roads to water projects, public housing, irrigation schemes, universities, schools, markets, airports to revamped rural electricity supply, Kenya under President Kibaki has seen a huge surge in capital expenditure on infrastructure.
Besides Rwanda and South Africa, no other African country today rivals Kenya in the infrastructure league.
The ministries of Roads, Public Works and Housing are handling billions in infrastructure development. The Thika Superhighway, the recently launched Southern by-pass and the Kibera slum upgrading projects are but a few among many projects.
The Sh1.5 trillion Lamu Port project, which dims all others, is a significant testimony to President Kibaki’s capital expenditure zeal where the economist in him has clearly dimmed the politician.
I am reminded of Kwame Nkrumah’s Akosombo Dam project in Ghana, which, todate, demonstrates the ambition the great pan-Africanist had for his country.
I recall visiting the Akosombo dam and marvelling at Nkrumah’s foresight. Linked to the capital Accra by a superb highway, the dam project points to what Ghana should have built on and expanded to catch up with the Asian Tigers.
Kenyans must now start thinking about how the country can leverage the Kibaki projects to speed up development towards the realisation of Vision 2030, to avoid reducing his efforts into shameful white elephants once he leaves office.
Kenya must avoid falling into the trap that epitomises Africa – poor maintenance of public assets. Wherever you go in Africa, anything identified with government is allowed to decay.
It is possible that this terrible culture goes back to the colonial era, when the colonialist was seen as the owner of public assets. The famous refrain ‘Mali ya Sirikinyi’ (Serikali), meaning government wealth or property, comes to mind.
It was perceived that public assets belonged to the mzungu government and the so-called “natives” had no stake in their care. Often, they ignored such assets or destroyed them.
That explains why many beautiful buildings and infrastructure Kenya inherited from the colonial era and even some post-independence ones are in a shambles.
Many government offices, schools, courts, police stations, prisons, town halls, public housing, hospitals, universities and colleges, railway stations, post offices, even old members’ clubs testify to terrible neglect.
And yet, without maintenance, all capital expenditure will go to waste. The government needs to foster a caring attitude and allocate adequate funds for maintenance.
There is a need to establish a National Infrastructure Maintenance Agency, and the counties need to make maintenance a priority.
It does not need rocket scientists to nurture the maintenance culture. Just go to the private sector and see how these organisations keep their premises and properties spruced up.
The negative mentality of slash-and-burn should be discouraged by the governors, who will soon be taking charge of counties.
There are claims that the managers of public funds collude with contractors to do shoddy work so that they will soon need to be re-done to keep fuelling the corruption gravy train. Corruption in public assets management needs to be rooted out ruthlessly.
Lack of attention to maintenance, lack of maintenance budgets, our poor attitude towards maintenance and a colonial hangover of ‘Mali ya Sirikinyi’ are our undoing on this score.
The lead ministries in infrastructure provision should urgently put in place a maintenance regime and factor maintenance in all public servants’ performance contracts to address the sorry state of our public assets.
Blocked sewer lines, blocked storm drains, poor roads, dilapidated buildings, broken down toilets, broken down government vehicles, messy open-air and built-up markets, unkempt urban areas, cattle dips, police stations, prisons, government offices, public hospitals and all public school buildings need a facelift.
There is no point in spending billions of shillings on countrywide economic stimulus programmes only to let the investments go to waste.
That, indeed, is tantamount to committing economic crimes, which is now punishable in our laws.
Mr Opukah is a public affairs analyst and consultant.