I usually see plenty of sewerage leakages even spilling on major roads in the City of Nairobi. Of course if you go to most of the estates in Nairobi, outskirts and in many other towns in Kenya this is an observable phenomenon. Come rains and one of the challenges we have is contamination of water leading to pestilences. At the same time lack of proper planning has seen destruction occurring with the slightest of appearance of rainfall of significant amount.
One of the signs of a growing economy is the development of cities and towns which in essence means plenty of real estate structures all over the place. The property market has been one of the key growth areas in Kenya at least since around 2003. Home ownership has also been improving despite the numerous shortcomings in terms of dept vis-à-vis the obvious potential.
With the rise of financial institutions such as SACCOs, property ownership has been accelerated across the country. Infrastructure development undertaken since the Kibaki reign has seen expansion outwards to outskirts of cities like Nairobi which is encouraging and should be encouraged further. But the biggest challenge is the poor planning you see all around.
Indeed if you visit many of the high rise building estates in Nairobi for instance, you hardly see provision of sewer lines. Indeed the construction for a long time has been that you develop a septic tank which then means collections of waste after it fills up. Moreover, facilities like schools, playgrounds and recreational facilities are never provisioned.
With the long established culture of grabbing which has gone on for many years and the endemic corruption, you don’t expect much in our urban centres beyond the normal approval processes. At times even these don’t happen and supervision of constructions rare. This of course has led to so many poor structures and at times death and injuries reported at construction sites. The problems in construction industry are well known and documented so no need to belabour the point, suffice it to say we have a problem. Of course it is also known what corruption and subsequent poverty has breed all over – plenty of informal structures.
So what to do? It is difficult to engineer radical changes in a country like Kenya with too much retrogressive politics. However, the challenges we have in managing our cities and towns are part of the challenges we will end up bequeathing posterity. Wait and see how when the rains pound that certain parts of the cities will have problems of clogged drainage and flooding. This is all symptoms of system gone haywire.
I must reiterate that reforming a country which has been prone to a lot of corrupt practices for a long time is a hard task. Nonetheless, no effort should be spared to reform it. Indeed various reports by respectable institutions including the World Bank have mentioned that urban areas hold key to economic growth world over. They have pointed that fast urbanizing areas of the world such as Africa have huge opportunities in economic development if they manage their urbanization regime properly. But on planning, it is weak. This is where the dilemma of managing such a huge economic opportunity lie – proper planning. This also includes huge infrastructure developments that expand mobility and availing of essential resources like power, water, sewerage and security. In Nairobi we have to develop plenty of infrastructures in the outskirts as well as inside. There lie opportunities.
Harrison Mwirigi Ikunda
THE WRITER IS A RESEARCHER AND CONSULTANT