At last month’s congregation in Nairobi of mayors, and town clerks from all over the country, much was expected, but ended up as a mere talk shop.
Considering estimates that should all factors remain constant, over 50 per cent of the population of Kenya will be resident in urban areas in the next decade, a crisis meeting would not be out of place as civic authorities are the ones most knowledgeable about local population demographics and how they would impact on national development.
The July conference dubbed ‘Managing Transitions into the New Urban Era’ and organised by the Civil Society Urban Development Programme brought together civic authority leaders from Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Naivasha, Kakamega, Machakos, Garissa, Thika, Embu, Nyeri, Malindi, and Kitui towns.
Many an urbanite had hoped the agenda would include town planning and essential services like water, sewerage and sanitation. But alas, the debate revolved around how many billions of shillings local authorities owe currently and that they will pass on to the new County governments. Relevant? Yes, but hardly the ugali and sukuma wiki issues urban residents were hoping to hear.
While we appreciate that they are sagging under a humongous wage bill that has seen almost all local authorities suffer strike action, and secondly, even while we appreciate that they suffer capacity constraints, and third that they have over the years found themselves a dumping ground for an unskilled workforce, with largely basic education, urbanites have more immediate concerns.
Provision of clean piped water is at the top of this list since water-borne diseases are deadly from contaminated water sources.
However, there is hardly a town, township or city that does not witness a proliferation of “Fresh Water” trucks, handcart vendors with 20-litre jerricans or women fetching the valuable commodity on their heads or backs! For that they all get a ‘D’ grade
If there were a Stench Barometer, most Kenyan towns will share the Number One position if the heaps of garbage in every estate, roadside, creek and open field is any indicator. That waste collection and disposal has proved a mountain too steep to clamber over earns all our towns a well-deserved ‘E’ grading.
Most of the roads network in urban centres is shoddy, quick, patch-up affairs by contractors who must have very dodgy qualifications. And as we report elsewhere in this edition, the middle-class has tripled in the last 30 years and stands at 34 per cent of the East African population, raising the number of motorised traffic.
And with the splitting of the Ministry of Roads and Public Works into Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA), Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KeRRA), the corporation to build, maintain and manage rural roads, Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) to manage, develop and rehabilitate the existing network, there appears to be some positive actions in rehabilitating such infrastructure.
It is still insufficient. We think a B (minus) would jolt them away from knee-jerk responses into action.