Nairobi, the commercial and administrative capital of Kenya, elected its second governor on August 8 – Mike Mbuvi Sonko, a maverick by whatever measurement.
The first governor, Dr Evans Kidero, with all his supposed corporate credentials and sound academic education, assumed the influential office under high expectations from an electorate desirous of a clean, habitable and business-friendly city.
They hoped he would transform and uplift the city from the miasma of mismanagement and financial misappropriation. Above all, the electorate prayed that Kidero would use his “corporate innovativeness” to revitalize the city and help it reclaim its dwindling glory.
Two years into his governorship, it was clear to Nairobians as night follows day that Kidero was as clueless on city management as he was on why Nairobi people had voted for him in the first place. After four and half years at City Hall, he left the city worse off than he had found it.
Street children and families found their way back to the central business district; street vendors and hawkers inched their way back to the verandas of business blocks and offices and flaunted their wares with abandon; matatus discovered they could flout all the traffic rules within the CBD, as much as they wanted – never mind the introduction of County City traffic marshals hauled to the city streets to ostensibly help the traffic police – to do what? Share the spoils of corruption money generated from the pretence of curbing traffic offences.
In the 100 plus days that Sonko has been governor, he seems to have improved on Kidero’s city misadventures. If Kidero’s reign was a disaster, it is beginning to appear like Sonko’s will be a death knell. Like the maverick that he is, he assumed office with a lot of fanfare and razzmatazz: collecting garbage on the periphery of the city centre and announcing to all and sundry, through the media of course, of the many millions he had collected in a dry day from the city’s revenue streams. The money was presumably many times more than what Kidero used to collect. Still, do we know how much Kidero used to collect?
Like all popular stunts, the story of the garbage collection and “astounding” revenue collections are no longer reported. Why am I back on the theme of Nairobi and its management? Simple. I was born and bred in this city and like many people who have adopted and made Nairobi their home, it is in my interest that I live in a city amenable to hospitable living. As it is, I would be hard-pressed to state clearly where the city is headed, but from where I sit, I can only see doom and gloom – how I wish was so wrong.
The street families and their children have literally converted the CBD avenues and streets into their hustling businesses and playing fields during the day and bedrooms at night. And now, it is not only in downtown Nairobi, in Kirinyaga and River Roads where they formerly would retreat to, no, they are now brazenly spreading their paraphernalia in front of bank buildings and shops in uptown Nairobi. It has become very uncomfortable to use these banks’ ATMs once darkness creeps in. Barclays Bank on Mama Ngina Street and Standard Chartered Bank on Kenyatta Avenue and Moi Avenue are examples of banks that have been invaded by “city hustlers”.
Because of the infiltration of street families and urban miscreants into what used to be considered clean and safer CBD avenues in uptown Nairobi – all the area to the west of Moi Avenue – bad habits that were usually confined in the dirtier downtown Nairobi – all the area to the east of Tom Mboya Street that no one cares about – are now manifest there. Flower beds or more plainly speaking, what used to be flower beds, reek of urine. Sections of Wabera Street, Kenyatta Avenue and Muindi Mbingu Street smell of urine even on a clear shiny day, because the street families who “live” there must of necessity relieve themselves. It is not very difficult to find traces of faeces if you peep carefully at the former flower beds.
DILAPIDATION ALL AROUND
On the same roads, and others that I may not know of, Big G chewing gums and muguka leaves are now littered on the cabro verandas, if you happen to be in town early enough. Muguka is a toxicant leaf chewed by mostly men – although also chewed by women – which reminds one of a cow chewing cud.
I am reliably informed that the governor has been operating from Lillian Towers. Has he taken the trouble to scan the city from atop the hotel to see how its roads are dilapidated, for instance? Practically every road in the CBD has pot holes, save for Harambee and Kenyatta Avenues. Every other road is game, including the fanciful Koinange Street. Moi Avenue is tottering under the weight of a peeling road. But it is Tom Mboya Street that has been badly afflicted.
All the ills of the city seem to have converged on this important road link. From the Old Nation roundabout to where it ends at the Haile Selassie Avenue junction, it has, for all intents and purposes, been turned into a matatu terminus by the different matatu saccos. All the street vendors of this city – good and bad – are domiciled here. Its main three feeder roads – Accra, Latema and Luthuli Roads – are reeling under the weight of dirt, garbage and huge potholes.
POPULISM IS NOT GOVERNING
Other than his popular political stunts, I would very much want to know how Governor Sonko intends to oversee the running of this great metropolis. For the umpteenth time, I am going to repeat it: the city is heaving under the weight of the spiralling garbage menace. The other day, I had to see a friend who runs a business in downtown Nairobi. Decidedly dodging the mass of humanity and hoping for a shortcut, I opted for the backstreets. If this city one day does not suffer a plague, it will be because God loves Nairobians.
I was met with human defecation, a stinging ammonia scent from urine-stained corridors, big fattened rats criss-crossing unashamedly between garbage mounds all in the alleyways. It used to be that Nairobi alleys were the homes of the hoodlums. Forget the hoodlums, these vermin-infested backstreets are what is going to be the downfall of the city. A majority of the city’s street families sleep in these alleys, where they have sex, defecate and urinate, all in the same place. During the day, they troop uptown, to mix with the rest of Nairobians, who do not have the slightest clue about the state of their hygiene.
Recently I had a chat with a county official. I asked him what was going on at City Hall. He told me there is populism and there is settling down to work. “The governor does not seem to have settled down to work three months after he was sworn in. City Hall is a juggernaut of coalescing forces which overwhelms every city boss who arrives there. Mayors and town clerks used to contend with this juggernaut, now it is the governors. Maverick Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko will very soon realize to be a governor of Nairobi is not the same as being the MP for Makadara constituency.”
Dauti Kahura is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication. Twitter: @KahuraDauti