How Kenya’s Asian and white tribes can save the ‘orphan’ Nairobi county
Posted Wednesday, May 16 2012 at 20:00
A keen-eyed government analyst recently noted that; “If we are not careful, Nairobi could die”. It could die, he said, from not being loved enough.
The threat to Nairobi started in 2010 when Kenyans voted in a new quite progressive Constitution. Partly to deal with the problems that led to the post-election violence of 2008, the Constitution radically devolved powers to 47 new counties.
Kenyans have immersed themselves with lots of “ethnic energy” into the counties.
There are several county professional associations that have been set up to discuss how to make counties a success, and to fix problems that have been neglected by governments in Nairobi for decades.
There is only one county, the analyst said, that has no serious professional associations formed to champion its cause. That county is Nairobi. He said there was a danger Nairobi might become an “orphan county”.
Because of the way it has evolved, Nairobi – like many cities elsewhere – has no undisputed tribal owners.
That said, I think the owners of Nairobi should be those people who do not live in another (upcountry) part of Kenya in large numbers, and call that area home. In that sense, the Nairobi city natives should be Kenya’s Asian and white tribes.
However, these Asian and white Kenyan tribes have been marginalised in politics, except occasionally in Kisumu, partly out of their own choice, partly out of the fact that they are too few to matter when ethnic voting is what decides who gets what.
The problem for the Kenya Asian tribes is that too many of their young people emigrate to places like Canada.
The white tribes – well, it seems they have never understood the political benefit of polygamy and having many children.
I am told they have marginalised themselves in Kenya politics because they simply haven’t produced enough!
More seriously, though, I can see scenarios in which Nairobi booms in the new devolved system.
The folks, who should worry are the other Eastern African capitals, especially Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Kigali.
The problem for Nairobi is that because of its system in which rather ordinary councillors elect the city mayor, most of its mayors of recent years have been part street-thugs, part reckless populists, and hostage to the working class vote in the large estates and slums
Often, the mayor is the chap whose councillors threw chairs furthest, and landed the most serious blows during elections.
City politicians have, therefore, been largely anti- business. The champion of Nairobi’s modernisation has been the Central Business District Association, and the government – not its elected leaders.
The Nairobi County could overturn the old order in several ways. The governor will mostly likely be a deep-pocketed chap who plays golf at Muthaiga or Karen clubs, and is from the upper crust of Kenyan society; fellows like former Mumias Sugar CEO Evans Kidero, who is one of those running for the governorship.
Past elections in Nairobi used to be influenced significantly by the tens of thousands of voters bused in from up-country by crooked politicians.
Now, with governorships and senatorships at stake in the counties, the busing of voters will most likely go down. The incentive is to keep the voters back home so they can vote people into the plum county jobs.
The effect of this will be far-reaching. The vote of Kenya’s Asian and white tribes, and the so-called “tribeless” elite, will now matter more. These will form the new swing votes.
The Nairobi governorship could be decided in Westlands, Parklands, Muthaiga and Lavington, not Kibera or Embakasi. Fisticuffs though, will still settle the mayorship.
The Nairobi County will have some things other East African capitals don’t – a governor and assembly with real powers to make policy for the city economy, and to enter into lucrative business partnerships with cities and businesses abroad.
The county can offer business better incentives to set up than its neighbouring capitals, and can pass laws on, for example, recycling that can, finally, grow a viable green urban economy.
Unless the capitals in the region respond with radical remakes of how they are governed, Nairobi could run away with the biscuits.
But for it to do that, it might need to be an “orphan” – free from the parochial forces of up-country politics.