Sort out city’s roads, drainage mess

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By Kevin Motaroki

Kenya’s economy accounts for close to 43 per cent of East Africa’s Gross Domestic Product. This is about as much as Tanzania and Uganda combined, which make about 27 and 20 respectively. Rwanda accounts for eight per cent and Burundi two. When analysts cast Kenya as a regional powerhouse, therefore, it is not without basis.

Last year, National Treasury CS Henry Rotich presented a Sh2 trillion budget for the 2015/2016 financial year. Nairobi, Kenya’s most important county, and the nucleus of the country’s economy, was allocated Sh12.7 billion in the current financial year. The county has also been the recipient of the highest allocation for three years running.

A perfunctory look at and about the city, however, does not say much about where the bulk of this money goes – even as we have been told that recurrent expenditure gobbles up about 70 per cent of this allocation, a situation replicated in virtually every county. Save for the upmarket areas, where most of the city’s politicians live – and will therefore influence the nature and quality of workmanship that goes into infrastructure – the city is blotted by bad roads, worse drainage systems and dysfunctional amenities.

And this is not just about the so-called Eastlands part of the city where residents have all but given up on receiving services from the county government. Back and access roads in virtually every section, including Parklands, South C and B, and Westlands, are in a sorry state. Peripheral areas, particularly those in the eastern side of the city have some of the most horrible roads one will ever drive on. It is worse when it rains, when raw sewage flows on the roads.

While national and county governments are often quick to blame contractors for substandard work, it is departments and official of these governments who are responsible for supervising these contractors. The truth, in fact, is that most of the companies contracted are owned by politicians, who have no qualms about pinching a pretty penny without giving a hoot about the quality for work done. In some instances, nothing, save for filling potholes with ballast, is done. And the cycle goes on.

It being that Kenya is the benchmark upon which other countries gauge themselves, it follows that Nairobi is the city other cities in the region look to for inspiration. Ugandan president is on record as saying Nairobi is East Africa’s New York.

But this is not even about regional perceptions; it is about city residents – all four million of them – who expect some sort of decency in the execution of services for which they pay dearly. Billions are allocated the county by national government, besides the hundreds of millions collected every week in rates, cess, duties and fees. All these monies put together add up to a staggering figure.

Governor Kidero rode to victory on account of promises he made to city residents regarding the quality of life he would offer them. That was three years ago. Until now, little has been done. All that the governor has got to show for the tens of billions given to him and collected so far are pretences at beautification, a few kilometres of culverts and nothing else. Bad city roads continue to get worse, houses continue to get flooded during the rains, garbage mounds litter sections of the city, officials do not even pretend to want to serve residents any more, and life drags on. One has to honestly wonder if any work gets done at all.

Nairobians are not demanding lot; in fact, they learnt to expect little or nothing from the defunct City Council of Nairobi (CCN). This indifference, it appears, died for a few weeks when the county governments were created before it came back.

It is not right that city dwellers have to contend with the ills that were characteristic of the CCN. As one writer aptly put it, the county government inherited a culture of “catch up” – where city residents, disillusioned with the ineptitude of the local government, decided that they will proceed with infrastructural projects and wait for government to sort out planning later. The result is a multiplication of the mess that existed before.

Every man, however unmotivated, lives for something. And that something doesn’t even have to be grand. Governor Kidero does not seem to have found the object of his legacy. He should really try roads and drainage; the residents of Nairobi will be forever grateful. And, who knows, he could even be re-elected for it!

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