The 'walk to work' fiasco in Nairobi shows politicians can’t be trusted to run the city

Thursday December 13 2018


Pedestrians walk in Nairobi after the county government banned all public service vehicles (matatus) from accessing the central business district on December 3, 2018. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

More by this Author

That the 2010 Constitution should be reviewed is legitimate. This is because there are systems, processes, offices and institutions that were created by the constitution whose efficacy should be reviewed from time to time and changes made accordingly.

The 2010 Constitution is now eight years old and this is as good a time as any to subject it to a review, and figure out what has or has not worked, and make appropriate changes.

The motivation for constitutional changes must be a desire to improve the wellbeing of society.

But the changes that are being talked about by the political class are those that will expand the number of seats in the executive branch of government in order to accommodate as many tribal representatives as possible.

The argument is that communities that may otherwise feel left out, will be reassured by seeing one of their own in the executive branch of government.

This arrangement, it is argued, would ensure political stability, which is crucial if the country is to make progress.

The argument has many problems, one of them being that it will not be possible to accommodate in the executive representatives of all the 43 ethnic groups. Who will be in and who will be left out?

The argument also has merit, because real or perceived marginalisation of a large section of the population can be a destabilising factor.

But this cannot and must not be the only change to be considered. We must review other areas in order to ensure not only political but also economic stability, good governance and a more coherent system of justice.

For instance, should Nairobi revert to central government control? This idea has been mooted by a number of people.

But it has been dismissed with anger, many seeing the suggestion as the first step towards dismantling devolution or as a political vendetta against the sitting governor.

Nairobi is a complex city that has unique challenges not present in other countries. It suffers from chronic water shortages, crippling traffic jams, poor planning, and runaway crime.

It is the home of several international agencies and many businesses, and is home to many manufacturing plants, etc. This complex entity cannot be left at the mercy of our kind of politics.

The ethnic and messy nature of our politics means that people running the city spend much of their time accruing political capital so as not to leave themselves vulnerable to vultures waiting on the sidelines for any signs of political weakness.

Crucially, the nature of our politics does not allow for a sober interrogation of candidates so that we get the most qualified and motivated to manage the city.

Some recent events support these statements. There was the incident of MCAs fighting physically in a bid to oust their Speaker.

Afterwards, an MCA admitted on radio that she had no idea what the role of MCAs was.

Then came the ban on matatus from entering the CBD. When the ban was announced, even a child could have forecast its failure.

Why not make it a phased process, stretching it over two or three years? Start with one route, build convenient and sufficient termini, and then use lessons learned from such a pilot to phase in the other routes, one by one.

The debacle shows inadequate strategic planning expertise within the county government.

Nairobi, as well as Mombasa and other cities, requires an apolitical team made up of experts in various fields to run it.

The other constitutional change we must consider is with regard to the Senate.

The concern is whether the Senate, as presently configured, is the most cost-effective in fulfilling its limited mandate.

Aside from the crippling conflict of interest in this arrangement where Senators have oversight of Governors they want to replace, the Senate has proved to be a useless talking shop.

With so much time and money and so little to do, Senators spend their time on campaigns for 2022, at funerals-cum- political rallies, on TV panels, and for those of them who are lawyers, in courts, representing clients.

Finally, sections of the Constitution that deal with justice must be reviewed. There is a curious practice in which the rich commit crimes and then get anticipatory bail to stop their arrest.

Either make this an automatic right for anyone who commits a crime, or eliminate the oddity altogether.

And what of people on murder charges being let free with minimal restrictions, terrorists being given bail to plan their next atrocity, and corrupt office holders given free access to their offices?

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.