Nairobi’s troubles date back to 1900

Nbi1900sPublished by John Kamau in The Business Daily

The City of Nairobi has had quacks, clowns, and thieves at the top — men and women who were simply short-sighted. With the election of Governor Evans Kidero, let us hope that finally we will have administrative peace.

The leadership question in this city is not a recent problem. It goes back to 1900 when Nairobi was set up as “tinville”, and in the wrong place!

When Nairobi was hardly eight years, the administrators were warned that they had done a mistake by allowing the building of a town in a treeless windy plain where residents were constantly baked by the African sun.

Medical officers warned in 1906 that the grounds were soggy and urged Sir James Hayes Sadler, the then Commissioner of the East Africa Protectorate, to plead with London and have the town moved. As usual, bureaucracy reigned and railway interests surpassed the wishes of the majority.

One has to look at the 1902 letter written by Sadler and which said in part: “Doctors are unanimous in condemning this site. They pointed out that it was a depression with a very thin layer of soil and the decomposition of animal matter was abnormally slow. It should be removed”.

In 1908, when Winston Churchill arrived in Nairobi for a visit he agreed, and says as much in his book, My African Journey, that “the ground on which the town is built is low and generally swampy, the supply of water is indifferent and the situation generally unhealthy”.


Clowns appointed

That tells you something about the people who thought the swampy ground could hold a city. It is simply because Nairobi was being managed by clowns who had been appointed in 1900 as township leaders.

The best they could do was to set up an apartheid-based city — Africans to Eastlands, Asians to the North of Nairobi River, Europeans to Westlands, and Arabs and Somalis to Pangani and Eastleigh.

On March 30, 1950 when it became a city, the leaders did not look for a solution to the Nairobi problem. Instead, what we have are by-laws that intimidate residents. And they are as ridiculous as they are bizarre.

For instance, you cannot wail in public and the only reptile allowed in the city without a permit is a lizard! Again you cannot trim your hedges without a permit, but you can be prosecuted for failing to trim when ordered to do so.

Again, we must enforce some of the by-laws to keep the city clean. Every owner of a building is by law supposed to paint it after every two years.
I think only former Town Clerk John Gakuo tried to enforce this rule.

To start with, we must have a City Plan (there was one in the 1950s and 1970s). The late Mayor Steve “Magic” Mwangi tried to implement “the Nairobi-we-want” plan but was let down by councillors. Like Sadler, he was toppled by clowns and the inordinate Club 44.

We hope that Dr Kidero will look at his predecessors, learn from history and evade becoming yet another clown.