Interview with Ibra Maina, Kounkuey Design Initiative Kibera

Recently, Nairobi Planning Innovations caught up with proud Kibera resident Ibra Maina. Ibra has been involved with the Kounkuey Design Initiative  (KDI) in Kibera for many years. KDI is an innovative international partnership that draws on architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and urban planning to build partnerships with residents to create low-cost, high-impact built environments (Productive Public Spaces). You can review some of their projects here. Ibra recently conceptualized and help catalyze the production of a moving film “We have  Life”  which won the Rockefeller Storytelling Challenge. We recommend you watch it!


The Kibera Public Space Project has created beautiful and useful public spaces

NPI:  You are a proud resident of Kibera. What about your neighborhood do you like the most?

Having been born and brought up in Kibera, I am really proud to be a Kibera resident. For me, I love our unity and the social life within us that you can’t find anywhere else. The strength and power that exists amongst us is unlike anywhere else. We are very creative and motivated, and most of all we are very passionate about positive change. More than anything else, these are the very important things that make us feel great about our great neighbourhood called Kibera.

NPI: What would you focus on to improve your neighborhood?

To improve your neighbourhood, you always need to have a positive approach towards development. Perfection is impossible, but progress is always promising. You should be real and remain focused towards real issues that can cause change, and always be confident in your work and ideas.

NPI:  You have been critical of the way the mass media tends to portray Kibera and this helped inspire the beautiful film “We have a Life”. What advice would you give journalists who wish to cover Kibera’s affairs?

Over the years, there have been many stories written about Kibera and its residents. These stories often portray the settlement in very negative way. My experience living and working with communities that are pro-development in Kibera tells a different story about my beautiful settlement. In “We have a Life,” we embraced the positive, community-led change in Kibera. Just like any other city we, the residents of Kibera, face a few challenges. Even in the city of New York for example people face challenges like crime and poverty, homelessness and hunger. My advice to learned journalist is focus on sharing positive initiatives and changes that showcase that we all have a life and that we all have ideas and solutions to the challenges that face us all. The people of Kibera have taken the responsibility to advocate and drive development that they wish to see. The youth and women, the residents and leaders are becoming the change they want. They have shown the capacity to manage projects that continue to positively impact their communities. Writing such stories demonstrates that we are not just improving our city of Kibera, but offering solutions for the same challenges in other parts of the world.


Public art is part of the Kibera Public Space Project

NPI: You have been centrally involved in long term and award winning work to improve the quality of public space and facilities in Kibera through the Kounkuey Design Initiative. Can you describe this work and what it means to you?

To realise this dream and vision, we have always worked very, very closely and collaboratively with the communities and residents to empower them to physically transform their environment by building what we call productive public space projects. Our process is community-driven; this process empowers the residents to participate and ensure that the end goal is accepted, owned, and sustained by the community. A challenge is complex: it is economic, social and physical. Where possible, we connect residents to local and county-level institutions that ensure that their work is rooted in networked and sustainable change.

NPI: The National Youth Service has been heavily involved in projects in Kibera. How has this been going from your perspective as a long time resident and designer? What advice would you give to the NYS to improve their work?

Personally I like the idea of NYS projects in informal settlements. The program managed to bring a number of youths together to provide organised manpower. The NYS program created job opportunities for the youths and the residents, while reducing idleness amongst the youths and crime. Our environment was conserved well through the cleaning activities that were being undertaken by the youths. What I would advise is that the programme should detail and implement a strong exit plan so that the projects and its programmes that benefit the community are well transitioned for ownership and sustainability. Through a community-driven process, the programme should have carefully measured community needs through a baseline survey and need assessment strategy prior to commencing any physical interventions.



Investment in Non Motorized Transport Key to Addressing Transportation Challenges in Kenya


Many Nairobi roads have little to no facilities for walking and cycling

By Henry Ochieng, Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations

Kenya, like many other African countries places much emphasis on moving cars when developing road infrastructure as opposed to moving people.

This has resulted in construction of roads without provision for non motorized mode of transport such us walking or cycling. Little attention has been accorded to the needs of those of who walk or cycle every day yet these are the most common modes of transport in Kenya. In Nairobi for instance, 50% of the population either walk or cycle to their destination every day.

Non Motorized Transport (NMT) users are exposed to fast, aggressive and at times careless motorized transport users resulting to high number of road crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists. According to National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), an estimated 3,000 deaths occur annually as a result of road crushes and 40% of these are pedestrians.

In Nairobi, out of the 668 road crash deaths recorded in 2015, 497 were pedestrians – a whopping 74%. These high pedestrian deaths can largely be attributed to lack of NMT facilities that leads to a scramble for existing road spaces between the motorized and non motorized transport users.


Cyclists have long been ignored on Nairobi’s streets-yet cycling is a healthy way to travel that reduces pollution and congestion

These statistics firmly justifies the need for Kenya to have a paradigm shift and start focusing more on facilitating movement of people and not just vehicles. Besides reducing road fatalities, investment in NMT facilities has many other benefits. NMT is environmental friendly and is a zero carbon transport mode thus resulting to less air pollution.

There are also health benefits as less air pollution reduces incidences of health complications such as respiratory disease. NMT improves affordable access to vital services such as health, education and employment. Major towns in Nairobi have been grappling with heavy traffic on the roads leading to loss of productivity as several hours are wasted on traffic jams. This is partly attributed to the fact that there are too many vehicles on the roads. Investment in proper NMT facilities is a good incentive for people to walk or cycle to their destinations hence reducing the number of vehicles on the roads.

In more advanced cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, walking and cycling are the preferred modes of transport and are given right of way. This is mainly because they have adequately invested in NMT infrastructure and it is not only safe but convenient to walk or cycle.

At a national NMT stakeholders workshop held in Nairobi in November last year, participants were unanimous on the need for Government to prioritize and increase investment on NMT facilities development in Kenya.

It is comforting to note that the leadership of Nairobi County is gradually appreciating the importance of NMT and putting in place mechanisms aimed at improving investment in NMT facilities. Last year, Nairobi City County Government in collaboration with The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) and United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) developed a Non Motorized Transport Policy for the County. The policy is awaiting adoption by the County Assembly.

Given the urgency and importance of developing NMT facilities, we expect that the Nairobi City County Governor, Dr. Evans Kidero will take personal interest in the policy and lead its implementation. It should not be yet another policy document gathering dust in the shelves. The County should also fast track the development of the streets and roads design manual (taking into consideration provisions for NMT facilities), to guide planning, design and management of all transport facilities and amenities within the County.

Until deliberate and drastic steps towards investment in NMT is taken both at the National and County level, more NMT users will continue losing their lives, there will be more negative environmental and health impact caused by emission of carbon and green housse gases and the traffic congestion challenges will persist.

This was reposted with permission from the author.

Interview with Chairman of the Public Transport Operators Union, Joseph Ndiritu

Nairobi Planning Innovations recently spent some time with Joe Ndiritu, Chairman of the Public Transport Operators Union and matatu expert. We asked him to share some of his insights into the sector from a driver’s point of view.


Joe Ndiritu discusses issues in the matatu sector with students from MIT and University of Nairobi

NPI: How did you get into the matatu sector?

I joined the matatu sector while still at school at a tender age of 14 years. Back then, matatus were being operated by young ones and you could hardly see an old or aged person working as a conductor. That was in the year 1990 and peer influence drove me to the sector as it was by then. Today, it has grown to be an industry controlling billions of shillings . Before joining the matatu sector then, you were vetted by the senior workers in the industry and we used to pay royalties to them. When you were new in the industry you were branded names such as njuka, kamande, ka-fala, fariso, ndemwa, mgeni etc, and names according to the route you operated on. It was a form of “monolization” or initiation, which I later on came to learn was to instill “discipline” in the sector;  you were supposed to respect your elder workmates and society (neighbours & passengers) who were friendly to the matatu.

NPI: What are the main problems you face as a matatu driver?

The main problems I face as a matatu driver are brought about by corruption of some state departments that regulate the industry. These state departments are directly involved in the daily activities conducted in the matatu industry, and others are indirectly involved. The state department that hinders the growth and development of matatu workers is the police department which is supposed to serve and protect lives and property. It is this department that harasses matatu workers, intimidates and demands and coerces for bribes. Police instill fear in matatu workers, mostly because most workers do not understand the Traffic Act which the police enforce.


County inspectorate askaris also harass transport workers when enforcing by-laws. Many of these by-laws we do not understand or have access to. Some are outdated and do not conform to the demands of cities and urban centres.

Another issue is with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) which has allowed cartels to collect illegal tax on matatu workers, and we end up paying a lot in illegal taxes rather than what we would have paid the taxman. KRA has mechanisms to address this issues and collect tax from matatu workers in the form of pay as you earn (PAYE) or income tax or any other form of tax that would work in the sector. 70% of matatu workers have a Personal Identification Number (P.I.N) and have at least an employer who is supposed to remit tax to KRA.


We also wish the labour department would help us. It is supposed to advise other state departments, inform, educate and enforce labour laws and related matters. They have totally ignored the transport industry in Kenya or have not been engaged by the state. The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) is desperately trying to address labour issues affecting matatu workers without the input of labour department.


Another problem I face as a matatu worker (driver) is when my colleagues overlap in traffic or when they are arrested and coerced to give bribes. It makes me feel that I am part of that problem collectively, and it paints a bad picture of me as an empowered matatu driver.


There is a health problem that we have as drivers and is not spoken about. This problem is back pain and headache that is an effect of long driving hours and most drivers abuse a pain relieving drug called Diclofenac  because of lack of medical cover. We also have pneumonia that is associated with exposure to extreme cold and poor air quality and has killed many of our drivers and conductors. Another health problem is H.I.V. Despite national campaigns, matatu workers have not undergone sensitization seminars, hence exposing them to the dangers of the epidemic.


Poor air quality and other public health problems impact matatu drivers

Bad roads, goods roads and poorly maintained vehicles are also a main problem to most drivers. Bad roads and poorly maintained vehicles increase risk of crashes but good roads can also cause problems. Most drivers have not undergone refresher courses or defensive driving courses despite improvements on road infrastructure. Our employers and governments have not invested in us (workers) in terms of facilitating improved learning through such courses.

 NPI: Tell us about the Public Transport Operators Union that you chair. What are you aims and why should the public support your efforts?

Public Transport Operators Union (PUTON) is a trade union registered in Kenya under the Labour Relations Act of 2007 to represent the interest of informal transport workers in Kenya. It was registered on 12/02/2013 through a court order after the registrar of trade unions in Kenya had initially refused to register the organization. Informal transport workers in Kenya are estimated (yes estimated) to be 300,000 of which 200,000 work directly as drivers and conductors and the 100,000 are indirect workers.

Our aims are found and elaborated in our union’s constitution.

They include but are not limited to:

To provide a basis for the establishment of sound traditions, good culture and fair solutions to disputes.
➢ To promote, improve and develop responsibility, interests and aspects of life and contribute towards a healthy social life among workers.
➢ To provide and avail means to the workers for expression, views and decisions upon matters affecting the interests of the public transport industry.
➢ To participate in all matters calculated to lead to the improvement of the matatu transport and to promote the establishment of a system suitable for our unique system of public transport.

➢ To provide effective representation of matatu operators in the government, National Transport Authority, Public/Private organizations/institutions, NGO’s or any recognized agency where such representation may be required.

The public should support our efforts because we need a win-win situation where all stakeholders are responsible enough for their actions when providing service. Matatu drivers have been for a very long time been on the receiving end because of being voiceless.

NPI:  What improvements in the routes and passenger services would you like to see implemented and how can matatu drivers help push for these changes?

  • Route re-design on the existing framework that will also lead to people shifting residence to far areas outside the city centre e.g. Thika, Ruiru, Mavoko, Limuru etc.
  • Allocation of new routes within the city and combining some routes to give better services. This means that some existing routes will become obsolete.
  • Public safety e.g. by not carrying excess load and passengers
  • Conducive working environment will improve service delivery
  • Devolving public transport to county level.

NPI:  What do you think the government could do to build a more cooperative relationship with the matatu sector?

  • Engage all stakeholders in transport
  •  Improve infrastructure
  •  Invest in policies that will guide the future of the matatu industry e.g. up to the year 2030 and beyond when we shall have an improved transport system.

This policy must take into account the interests of informal transport workers together with the potential of loss of livelihood, especially with the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit system which is being promoted by the World Bank, Matatu Owners Association and others.

NPI: What is your vision for transportation for Nairobi?

My vision for Nairobi’s transportation is a mass transport system, because the city is developing so fast and has become the hub for doing business in the region. Many international organizations are setting their regional offices in Nairobi, and our transport will need to accommodate the middle/working class. There should be a public transport system to accommodate this class and encourage the use of public transport alongside other modes of transport e.g. Non Motorized Transport. Otherwise if P.S.V/matatus don’t change with time, then there might be a death knell in the industry (e.g. like the current case of taxis and UBER), just the same way the telephone booth died with the introduction of cellphones in Kenya.


Is the National Youth Service Slums Improvement Initiative a ‘Development Gone Wrong Project’?

By Simon Kokoyo

The inhuman condition of poor neighborhoods in Nairobi has attracted government attention since the Jubilee administration came to power in 2013. The Ministry of Devolution and Planning through the National Youth Service (NYS) initiated a slum infrastructure improvement project targeting Mathare, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kibera. Unfortunately, the initiative has been on hold for sometime due to corruption and poor planning. Regrettably the project seems to be moving in the direction of all the ‘DEVELOPMENT GONE WRONG’ projects in the world.

The slum improvement project by the National Youth Service was started on the premise that slums do not have essential and adequate services such as water, health, sanitation, security or electricity. Youth unemployment is rife in poor neighborhoods which is partly true depending with how one understands the real situation in such neighbourhoods. Of course, poor people must work hard in creative ways, often in the informal economy. Otherwise, they would not survive.


A man works extra hard to earn money to feed his family on a daily basis” Photographer: Joseph Kinyua (13 year old, Mathare Resident) See the Julius Mwelu Foundation, Mathare.

When the NYS initiative was launched in Mathare, President Uhuru said the government will construct 12 police posts, 12 ablution blocks, posh mills, sack garden, dispensaries and also create jobs for the local youth. This process was to be replicated in Kibera, Mukuru and Korogocho neighbourhoods.

The first mistake was to assume that there is ‘free or open space’ within such neighbourhoods which will give way to infrastructure improvement. A series of evictions and conflict between hired NYS cohorts and local community members ensued. In some cases the scene turned ugly since the NYS surprisingly did not have a relocation or compensation plan for affected families.


Many NYS projects like the road project in Kibera displaced businesses and families without relocation or compensation

On the other hand, the designers of the NYS project failed to acknowledge that when government falls short of providing basic services people will organize themselves and offer alternatives services which in most cases end up being expensive and of low quality. This situation is a direct result of  governance failures within such settings as highlighted in the 2003 UN-HABITAT report on ‘The Challenges of Slums’ (See also NPI’s Interview with Dr. David Nilsson on Water and Inequality)


A keen look at the Open Street Map for Kibera and Mathare Valley before the NYS initiative started reveals the existence of services such as education, health, water and sanitation points. In Korogocho, Mukuru, Mathare and Kibera self help groups had emerged even before the NYS Initiative started to earn daily income from activities such as urban farming, garbage collection and water delivery services. It is a fact that most toilets are not connected to the main sewer and private clinics are either not registered or managed by quacks, while illegal power connections abound.

The NYS Initiative would have scored big by establishing connections with already existing services providers in poor neighbourhoods by either improving their capacity to offer quality and affordable services to the urban poor or by trying to create an enabling environment for slum entrepreneurs to be part of formal and legal business entities. It is a mistake to assume that  there are no service providers within poor neighborhoods. Poverty and lack of basic services is an urban reality which has motivated the establishment of civil society groups to initiate health, education and income generating activities for women and youths as a supplement to government efforts in meeting its obligations. No government in the world can be able to solve the complex community problems of the poor by itself.

Experience from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Urban Poverty and Slum Upgrading Project funded by the World Bank might be instructive. The project has some similarities with the NYS project in terms of targeting poor neighborhoods but was able to achieve more success because it worked more closely with local communities and partnered with Dar es Salaam Municipal Council officials from conception to implementation and monitoring stages, a situation which is totally lacking with the National Youth Service projects. The NYS Initiative seems to be a duplication and competition with the mandate of Nairobi City County.

Most people in poor neighborhoods agree that the project needs to continue, and they welcome an intensification of government efforts to provide better services, but a few issues need to be addressed. Employing local youth for the NYS project as laborers does not necessarily amount to community participation but rather can be viewed as tokenism youth development, which is meant to appease or cool down anxiety among the high number of unemployed youths in poor neighbourhoods. It  is not empowering or sustainable either since it ends abruptly with the project.

Stalled NYS Project_Kosovo

Broken promises: A stalled community library and hall in the process of being built by the NYS in Kosovo village, Mathare

Currently the NYS project has stalled, and because the NYS raised expectations and also displaced existing service providers, the situation has now degenerated into increased incidences of crime, a breakdown of a once vibrant garbage collection system established by youth groups and the presence of unfinished structures that are symbols of broken promises. This disarray leaves behind a vacuum that can be easily exploited negatively by politicians as we head towards the general elections. It would be very tragic if a project which was to improve conditions for Nairobi’s citizens in poor neighborhoods, in fact, makes life much worse for them in the end.

The Case for More Urban Farming in Nairobi

By Lorraine Amollo Ambole

I have always wanted to grow my own food. But I live in the city of Nairobi, which is a concrete, dust, smog jungle. Would anything grow here? Well, apparently yes. According to the Mazingira Institute many people in Nairobi have been growing their own food in the city for decades. Not in the postmodern, allotment-garden, locavore kind of way. These urban farmers in Nairobi simply take advantage of any available space to grow food because it’s cheaper. It is the kind of urban farming that takes on from traditional subsistence farming, which is fairly common in rural areas of Kenya.


 Nairobi’s many urban farmers  use available space to grow food

Until the recent past, most Kenyans could lay claim to at least a small piece of ancestral land, which was then used to grow food. Following colonial rule by the British, some communities were removed from their ancestral land and thus denied their livelihoods as subsistence farmers. The country is now industrialising and many people pursue other livelihoods, although farming still remains a major occupation in rural and peri-urban areas.

As Nairobi expands, urban farming has become more and more difficult within the city. The urban population therefore largely depends on commercially produced food that is highly sensitive to international price shocks. Poor households are particularly vulnerable to maize price shocks as they spend about 20% of their food expenditure on maize. It is therefore not uncommon to find slum dwellers in Nairobi who can only afford one meal per day, if at all.

In answer to this glaring food insecurity problem, there are recent government supported initiatives in slums such as Kibera vertical farms. In such initiatives, slum dwellers learn how to grow vegetables in sacks, thus making use of the available spaces within the densely populated Kibera. In one area, a dumpsite has been converted into a thriving garden that provides cheaper vegetables for the locals and a decent income for the farmers. According to Real Impact, an NGO that offers training in urban farming, vertical bag gardening not only uses less space but also requires less water, less labour and is cheaper than conventional farming.


Women from Kibera sack farming

One major concern of having urban farms in poorly serviced slums like Kibera is the possibility of environmental contamination in the food. Studies already show that food grown in some of Nairobi’s slum areas are contaminated with heavy metals such as lead. Such revelations could scare off middle and high income earners who want to eat locally-produced organic food and to support urban farmers from slums.

In my case, this concern brings me back to the point that I should be growing my own food in my own sack that I can monitor closely. And there are already so many empty spaces around my neighbourhood, where I can place such sacks. I have even contemplated growing the food inside my own apartment though I don’t know how that would work. Everything I have tried to grow so far has died, including a cactus plant. I have a black thumb for sure. My poor horticultural skills aside, I think I’m onto something. I could perhaps start a social media campaign for people in my neighbourhood to become urban farmers.

Being the largest of its kind in Kenya, my neighbourhood: Nyayo Estate Embakasi, consists of over 2500 units that are currently occupied, and more than 2000 others that will be occupied in the near future. These units are mostly organised in blocks of 8 apartments that are clustered around shared spaces. Undoubtedly, there are excellent opportunities for community gardens within this vast estate. The residents in Nyayo Embakasi are more or less in the middle class, which means they can afford to buy their groceries, and might therefore worry little over food insecurity.


Nyayo Estate, Embakasi could be an excellent place for community gardens

But like anyone else in Nairobi, they too would be interested in community engagement initiatives that promote sustainable lifestyles. Urban gardening in Nyayo would offer great opportunities for such engagement. The residents are already organised around issues of security and home ownership, and so it would not be a stretch for them to have community gardens. The estate guidelines however clearly stipulate that gardening is professionally managed by a designated firm, whose idea of gardening is flowers and grass that should not be stepped on. So my erecting sacks around the neighbourhood could be seen as a nuisance if not downright illegal.

It’s an idea worth considering though, and maybe other middle and high income areas would pick up on it, and green Nairobi and get their food while they are at it. As for the urban farming that’s ongoing in Nairobi slums, there is need to mitigate environmental contamination and ensure the produce is fit for consumption. The urban farmers in slums could also link up with organic food outlets outside of the slums so as to provide a steady market for their produce. Perhaps even the rooftops of commercial buildings in Nairobi can be used to grow food, if Nairobi County can pass a Paris-style legislation for greening rooftops in new commercial buildings. Nairobi, after all, has one of the highest growth rates per annum in Africa, and so sustainable food production should be at the top of our planning agenda.

Lorraine Amollo Ambole is a tutorial fellow at the School of the Arts and Design at University of Nairobi, Kenya. She is also a PhD candidate at the School of Public Leadership at University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Her current research interests are: social design, community participation and transdisciplinarity. She also enjoys writing about Nairobi, her hometown. You can contact her about urban gardening in Nairobi at: or  



Access to Water in Nairobi: An Interview with Dr. David Nilsson

Nairobi Planning Innovations is very pleased to interview Dr. David Nilsson, an urban environmentalist who has been working with long-term change and development issues in sub-Saharan Africa for the last 16 years. Now based in Sweden, he works as a consultant and as a researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. David previously lived in Nairobi for many years and was involved in an important study by UN-Habitat and the Institut Francais de Recherche en Afrique (IFRA) on  Access to Water in Nairobi” . The project started in 2011 and generated important insights into equity issues as regards to water and sanitation access in the city. It will be the focus of our interview.


An estimated 64% of Nairobians have access to an individual or yard tap to access water

NPI: What was the motivation for doing the “Access to Water in Nairobi” project?

Just like so many other cities in developing economies, access to urban infrastructure services in Nairobi is extremely unequal. Reducing inequality is one of the most pressing challenges – perhaps the most pressing – if we are to live up to all nice words about human rights and sustainable development. The fact that huge inequalities persist in Kenya is an insult to the Bill of Rights. This project set out to develop an innovative method to analyse and visualise how large the service segregation is when it comes to water in Nairobi. But we also wanted to explain what is behind this inequality.

NPI: This research effort collected an impressive amount of data on water and household incomes. Can you briefly explain how you collected this data?

The project used a groundbreaking method, developed by IFRA, where open-source satellite images were spatially analysed and combined with a modest household survey sample of some 800 households. First of all, a set of characteristic indicators in the city landscape was identified, such as housing density, percentage of public space, tree cover, roofing material and so on. Using the satellite images, it was then possible to create a typology of different urban settings within the city based on these indicators. Once this ”map” of different urban types had been established, it was used to target the socio-economic survey. Being the first time we did this, a lot of work went into method development. But the method has a great potential for making the mapping of inequalities on the ground so much easier.


Nairobians in poor neighborhoods rely heavily on water kiosks (82%) or communal taps (24%). This means they often pay more for water than people in wealthier neighborhoods.

NPI: What were the most startling findings from this work?

I think that what surprised me most was not the fact that the poorest people in Nairobi pay so much for the little water they consume – this is well known – but that the rich people consume so much and pay so little. In large parts of the city – typically in the upmarket areas to the West and Northwest – consumers use well above 160 litres per capita per day. This is in line with average consumption in well-watered regions of the world, like my home country Sweden. But Kenya is a water scarce country. And now we have the richest 10% of Nairobi’s population using 45% of all the water available for consumption. This made me reinterpret my understanding of Nairobi’s water challenge from one of scarcity and poverty, to a problem of unsustainable consumption by a rich minority.


NPI: What impact do you think your work has had on Nairobi? Do you think the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company will take into account the concerns raised about equity and wastage? Does it have incentives to do so?

The prime concern of the company is to improve economic performance and day-to-day operations, so it makes perfect sense for them to reduce wastage and illegal water use. But they have too few incentives to really focus on equity. It is the County, Athi Water Board, and the national regulator who need to create such incentives for the operator. Today the regulator, the Water Services Regulator Board (WASREB), ranks water operators almost exclusively on their economic performance. If the national regulator doesn’t take service equality seriously, why should the water company care? But I know that Nairobi Water and Sewerage Co is struggling to provide better service also to poor people. In the end, Nairobi’s one million unconnected offers a potential market, although the rich and already connected users of course is a much more lucrative market segment.imgres

NPI: Based on your expertise and experience in Nairobi, including this project work, what are the most pressing interventions that need to happen if the city is “to achieve by 2030, universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all as well as access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all” (SDG 6)?

Several things need to happen as there is no universal cure. First of all, accountability in the sector has to be severely strengthened to root out corruption and to ensure that ordinary people’s voices are heard. Civil society will hence be crucial as watchdogs, but politicians and technocrats also need to show some leadership. Secondly, donor agencies need to put their money where their mouth is and stop funding large-scale supply-oriented solutions while there is still rampant inefficiency, wastage and inequality on the distribution side. Yes, Nairobi has recurrent water shortages. But large-scale bulkwater transfer solutions now advocated by the World Bank and others will first and foremost benefit rich Nairobians and foreign technology suppliers. Thirdly, we need locally engaged and genuinely committed research and development activity on the ground. Innovation actors in Nairobi can – and must – develop solutions that work here. Unfortunately there’s no off-the-shelf solution that can be imported to fix things up quickly.

NPI: What kinds of policies around Water and Sanitation should Nairobians advocate for in your view to achieve SDG6?

None. There is too much emphasis on policy development. I have studied the water policy landscape in Kenya since before the Water Bill of 1929. Nowadays, governments and donors seem to believe that to achieve a societal goal, it always starts with a policy or the passing of a law. At the same time we all know that enforcement and policy effectiveness is a totally different story. I think to achieve SDG 6, Kenyans should not spend another ten years refining policies and legislation, but instead nurture a vivid debate in society about equality, and if the city should be for everyone. A culture of accountability, of hard work and of  “harambee”, is much more crucial than any policy in the world.

NPI: Thank you so much! I hope this interview will contribute to the needed debate on water and inequality in Nairobi. NPI readers can learn more from the Access to Water project here including the recommendations that came out of this work.




The Art of Shaping Nairobi (NaMSIP project): An Interview with Pedro Ortiz, World Bank

Nairobi Planning Innovations has the pleasure of talking to Pedro B. Oritz, Senior Urban Planner at the World Bank. Pedro has been working for many years on the Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Project (NaMSIP) which aims to strengthen urban services and infrastructure in the Nairobi metropolitan region. Pedro has a long and distinguished career in urban planning in Spain. He is the founder and Director of the Masters program of Town Planning of the University King Juan Carlos of Madrid, a former elected Mayor for Madrid’s Central District (1989-1991) and member of the Madrid’s City Council (1987-1995). Pedro also served as Director of the “Strategic Plan for Madrid” (1991-1994) and as Director General for Town and Regional Planning for the Government of Madrid Region. He is the author of the “Regional Development Plan of Madrid of 1996” and the “Land Planning Law of 1997” and recently wrote an important book on metropolitan planning The Art of Shaping the Metropolis. Today he talks to us about his work in Nairobi on commuter rail and metropolitan planning.

NPI: You have been working for NaMSIP for many years and have had a chance to explore how Nairobi and its surrounding counties and towns work. In the absence of metropolitan institutions, how do you see metropolitan planning working in practice in the Nairobi region?

We started NaMSIP in March 2011. The idea was to produce a comprehensive cross-sectorial program that would integrate a metropolitan vision on public transport, land-use and water/environment, within a strategy of economic international positioning and response to local social needs.

The basic metropolitan strategy was producing polycentrism to avoid the congestive dependency of the central CBD. This needs to be based in a renovated commuter rail system with urban centralities (TOD’s) along the three main existing lines and consistent strategic urban planning. Every town must have a different role to play complementing one each other. The periphery has to be reticulated, instead of orbital-designed, to provide homogeneous accessibility to maximize competitive potential.

I must say that Nairobi is the African leading metropolis in this metropolitan comprehensive approach. Many other African capitals will benefit from Nairobi’s leadership and experience. That will increase the leadership role of Nairobi as the capital of the African continent.


Nairobi is not circular. Ring roads and bypasses are not the solution. It has a very distinctive directionality, the borderline between Kiambu Hills and Athi River plain. The Metropolis has to be planned accordingly.

NPI:  You have remarked that “Nairobi needs to play chess not darts” in order to relieve congestion. Can you explain what you mean?

Every town in a metropolis has to play it’s own role in a common strategy. That is the game of chess. Every piece has different movement tactics and that defines its role. Rooks are Thika, Athi River and Limuru. Knights: Tala, Kiambu and Ngong. Bishops: Riuru, Githurai, Imara Daima and Kikuyu. The Queen is obviously the international airport and the King the actual CBD. There will be in 30 years time another Queen. She will be the New south-central-station CBD, and this Queen will move progressively towards Makadara OuterRing road junction. Tala will become a Rook and Mlolongo and Ruai Bishops. Sorry if this sounds complex now, but metropolises are complex mechanisms. What must be clear is that Nairobi should not play the game of Darts anymore where everyone wants to reach the center and you get 3-hour jams. If Nairobi wants to be a world-class city, it has to play chess and not darts, which, by the way, is a much more intelligent game.


NPI: Under NaMSIP, there is a plan to upgrade commuter rail. Can you tell us what Nairobians can expect and what kinds of impacts this upgrade and expansion of commuter rail will have on the city?

To have an efficient metropolitan system you must have an efficient commuter/metro system. Nairobi is a 5 million inhabitant metropolis and will become a 14 million one. Those figures cannot just be served by BRT. BRT in Bogota (9 million) takes 2.5 hours to reach Chia from Soacha (25 km) and people riot. An efficient commuter service has trains every 10 to 15 minutes. Some are in the 3 minutes frequency. Now Nairobi has one train in the morning and another one in the evening. That is not a Commuter service. Figures have to move from ten thousand passengers a day to one million. Imagine taking a million future cars out of the streets of Nairobi. Now motorization is low: 1 car for every 10 people. But it is growing fast and will reach developed countries ratios of 7 cars for every 10 people. That means that Nairobi which now has 500,000 cars will have 10 million in the future. It is an impossible task to have an efficient metropolis if you don’t have an efficient public transport that will keep those cars out of the streets. All this requires an efficient commuter system, 60 trains per day in each line, a train every ten minutes. That requires a massive investment form KRC and the World Bank is helping on that. When will this happen? It depends on the management capacity of KRC and the political backing it has from Central Government. This is a national issue. Nairobi produces 50% of Kenyan GDP. If Nairobi works, Kenya works. National Government must be aware of that.


NPI: The majority of people use matatus today as their form of transport. What do you see as the future role of minibuses in the Nairobi region? How, if at all, will they link to the commuter rail project?

BRT’s, buses and minibuses are part of the comprehensive system of public transport. Each mode complements each other and plays a specific role. Minibuses are not made to run long distances. That is up to the train. The train has to feed matatus; matatus have to feed the train. Matatus must have efficient and comfortable intermodal stations at the train stations, and the trains will provide a million passengers to the matatus waiting there. The 100, 000 necessary matatus will take the passengers to their final destination a few kilometers away. Commuter rail and matatus do not compete. They complement each other in a win-win strategy. Columbia University is doing a wonderful job in this issue. We shall be working together for the years to come to make the whole system work.


NPI: There are a number of bus rapid transit (BRT) plans for Nairobi. In your view, what is the role of BRT in Nairobi and how would you like to see these projects link to the commuter rail and the matatu system?

Again, BRT and trains must complement each other. For instance: I see BRT on Thika road with train intermodal connections in Githurai, Riuru, Juja and Thika. It is clear that BRT terminals have to coordinate with train stations: Imara Daima, Githurai, Kikuyu. Those are the actual priorities. The issue later will be if train and BRT can follow the same routes. A train stops every 2 km. BRT every 300 m. There could be a complementarity there, depending on the demand. If the demand is not high enough, then buses will be enough. You see: there is a lot of work to do to coordinate the whole public transport system of Nairobi. And future of the metropolis and the well being of the Nairobians is at stake.


NPI: You are working on transit-oriented development (“TOD”) around new commuter rail stations in Nairobi. Can you explain why TOD is important and the likely impacts of TOD for Nairobi?

A train station is not just a train station. It is an opportunity to serve the population that is using the train with complementary services. It is an excuse to fill the train with the population that is using/benefiting form those complementary uses. If 200,000 people are using a station, there are many possibilities to serve them right there or close by. Activities have to take place around the train stations: activities such as Social Facilities, Hospitals, Education, Administration, Commercial, Services, Offices, etc. On top of that you must provide a nice setting with public parks and public spaces for people to meet and enjoy themselves, plus the required intermodality to create easy access from other parts of the urban context. If all that has a high-density residential potential, then the whole thing will be a success as these people will have all those urban services at hand and those services will have the people they serve. This is what has been done in Europe since the implementation of the train in mid 19th C. London started that in 1850, Paris around the same time. The USA has branded the term TOD (Transit Oriented Development) from 1993 onwards. I guess we owe much to the ‘Millennials’ (young urban professionals that are changing the face of American cities by changing attitudes to car ownership). They get my gratitude from here. We are doing that in Nairobi. 32 centralities are being designed around 32 stations. The difficulty will be managing them. Land property is often not clear in Nairobi. Many times the private landowner does not see the benefits for him coming out of a public investment on transport and accessibility. He does not see his possibilities, or his duties. A lot of work has to be done in promoting that win-win dialogue and working together for the benefit of both the landowner and the public. Probably the legal system will have to be adapted and modernized. Professionals and stakeholders will need to be engaged. A huge task but essential if Nairobi wants to be an efficient, equitable and sustainable metropolis.


Parallel waterways flowing from Kiambu Hills to Athi River can support a sustainable green infrastructure network with parks, urban agriculture, storm water catchment reservoirs and environmental amenities.

NPI: Nairobi county has a Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) policy addressing walking, cycling and other forms of non-motorized transport. How important is NMT investment for Nairobi and its metro region?

The best way to access the commuter train is by walking or on bicycle. That means that this should be conveniently placed, close by and accessible. That is already a success. So to improve the accessibility via NMT to the station is a priority. As such we are working on this and improving access with quick-win investments on the NMT connection between the town centers and the train stations in 20 out of the 32 designed Centralities. Once this essential connection will be made. the NMT system can expand integrating the urban network and connecting further to the Green Infrastructure network based in the blue waterway assets of the Nairobi River effluents. This way transport, land use and environment will be integrated through the NMT network. It is the best way to make a sustainable focused integration.


The incrementalist approach to growing an NMT network across gray and green infrastructure networks will progressively integrate and serve the urban structure.

NPI: Where can citizens go to get more information on the NaMSIP plans?

NaMSIP has a coordination office on the 20th floor of Ambank Building. Excellent professionals are working there. They are there to serve Nairobi and the Nairobians. Don’t rush in numbers to ask them. They have to work. But you can reach out to them to ask for information. You also have the World Bank related webpages:

World Bank press release on NaMSIP

You can see as well some of the fertilizing ideas in this link: I hope you appreciate what you can see there, and I will be happy to discuss with anyone interested. My contact email is provided in the webpage. This interview has given me the idea that probably NaMSIP should produce a brochure, or a set of brochures, to inform easily to whoever wish to get more information. NaMSIP belongs to Nairobians and is working for their future. They should know. It’s their Right. Thank you very much for the opportunity to fulfill that Right.


An example of how Metropolises play Chess: The case of Madrid with towns characterized accordingly to their role on the overall metropolitan strategy. Sometimes the game will be won thanks to a pawn.

NPI: Thank you so much! I hope more planners will join the public conversation so that Nairobians can be informed and add their input into plans for their city.