One of the most distinctive pledges made by the new Governor of Nairobi Mike Mbuvi Sonko and his deputy Polycarp Igathe is the “Nairobi We Want” convention in the first 100 days at City Hall.
According to their Nairobi County Manifesto, the meeting will bring together stakeholders such as residents’ associations, civil society organisations and the private sector to discuss and develop “a fully costed Nairobi Reform Masterplan with specific timelines”.
The duo’s commitment is reminiscent of a convention of the same name held between July 27 and 29, 1993 under the leadership of then-Nairobi Mayor Steve Flavian “Magic” Mwangi.
But, despite being hailed as one of the most important gathering ever held in Kenya to discuss the welfare of the capital city then, it failed to bear fruit following his resignation barely a year later.
Magic Mwangi’s exit was engineered by a troupe of councillors led by John King’ori, who went on to become one of the most lacklustre mayors Nairobi ever had.
That is how the fate of Magic Mwangi’s dream of re-inventing the “Green City in the Sun” died.
It would take 10 years, until 2004, when the arrival of John Gakuo as Town Clerk resulted in the most drastic transformation of Nairobi ever, whose impact is still evident.
If it comes to pass, Sonko’s pledge will be the most logical starting point for efforts to transform Nairobi.
Residents yearn for a truly 21st Century city, safe and fit for habitation by its four million people.
The Sonko-Igathe duo has inherited a city that has been neglected for the past four and a half years under Dr Evans Kidero.
It is, indeed, difficult to recall any deliberate and concerted effort by the Kidero regime to transform the city in the radical manner required to ensure vital services at acceptable standards.
Areas that need urgent, thorough and systematic reform, modernisation (even overhaul) include transport, water and sewerage, health services, housing and informal settlements.
Others are traffic management, street lighting, parking, commercial activities (including micro enterprises such as small-scale trading) and social and sports amenities.
Anybody who has ever been charged with coordinating reforms on a scale that is required in Nairobi will recognise the inherent genius of such an undertaking envisaged under Gov Sonko’s leadership.
The approach makes it possible for the new county government to ensure any reforms thereafter have the support and goodwill of all stakeholders.
If modelled on the 1993 gathering, it stands a good chance of achieving the Sonko-Igathe manifesto and can realistically help them to achieve their aspiration to “Fix Nairobi” and make the metropolis beautiful, prosperous and safe.
At the 1993 convention, open plenary town hall sessions were mixed with more intense expert-led consultative forums to discuss and propose lasting solutions for specific sectors.
Emerging recommendations were intended to inform time-bound, budgeted action plans to address the issues identified.
The result was a widely owned master plan that would be the reference point for the formulation of specific policies relating to the development of all of the city’s operations.
The beauty of a convention approach is that residents and other stakeholders would get to discuss the problems bedevilling the city in an impartial, non-political manner.
The resultant actions and plans would then be widely owned.
These would likely have realistic targets, making them ideal reference points for donors and investors wishing to get involved in the transformation.
This is why the plan for a “Nairobi We Want” Convention deserves the support of all.
The writer is a development communication consultant. [email protected]