Abolishing Nairobi County: The lessons from Kampala

Monday December 12 2016

Nairobi skyline: A proposed law seeks to put its management under the central government. PHOTO | FILE

A Bill seeking to place Nairobi under the national government is the latest attempt to streamline the city’s management and is reflective of a country trying to balance politics with service delivery.

The Bill, sponsored by the Senate Deputy Speaker Kembi Gitura, proposes an amendment to the Constitution to abolish Nairobi County and create a “National Capital City known as Nairobi, which shall be the seat of the national government.”

Under the proposed law, the president would have the powers to nominate a Cabinet secretary, with the approval of the National Assembly, to head the city.

According to Mr Gitura, the intention of the Bill is to have the city managed in a “seamless manner.” He adds: “More than 60 per cent of the country’s economic activity happens within this city. We need to have proper control of it, and manage it like Washington, Abuja and Delhi.”

Washington DC is run by an elected mayor, thirteen-member council and the United States Congress. The Congress exercises all legislative power over the capital.

New Delhi is administered by a municipal council consisting of a chairperson, three members of New Delhi’s legislative assembly, two members nominated by the chief minister of the national capital territory of Delhi and five members nominated by the central government.


Two centres of power

Closer home, Kenya would be following in the footsteps of Uganda, which six years ago placed the management of Kampala city under the central government when it enacted the Kampala Capital City Act 2010.

The law created new positions of an executive director and deputy directors at the apex of the technical wing, while the initial political structure provided for a minister (since expanded from the May elections to add a minister of state), a city resident commissioner (RCC) and deputies appointed directly by the President. The president also appoints the technical team. Kampala City also has a mayor.

The structure in Kampala has created two centres of power, with one around the mayor and the other one around the executive director.

The Kenyan Bill would have to surmount the challenge of a referendum and two-thirds majority backing in both Houses.

While the proposal will win the support of private sector players, who constantly complain about inefficiencies and challenges to doing business in Nairobi, it will be opposed by politicians who could interpret the proposed law as an attempt to wrestle Nairobi City out of the control of the opposition, given that the current governor (Evans Kidero) is from the Orange Democratic Party.

The proposed law will effectively knock out the current devolved system, which has the county assembly and its representatives. Instead, the city’s residents will be represented in the national assembly through the constituencies.

“This Bill is purely inspired by the need to have seamless service delivery and has got nothing to do with politics. My thinking is that we cannot afford to gamble with the running of the capital city. We host foreign missions, multi-nationals, world-conferences, yet we are still struggling with management of the city. We still have poor infrastructure and services to match the kind of investments we have here. How do we attract Foreign Direct Investments with such management? That’s why I felt it would be prudent to have this Bill,” Mr Gitura told The EastAfrican.

“For instance, we are seeing scenarios where the current county government in Nairobi, which receives more than 70 per cent of its budget from the national government, still trying to charge land rates on the national government’s installations. This is ridiculous,” he added. 


However, even under a devolved system, the national government is taking measures to improve services in the city.

Mid last week, for example, the Transport Principal Secretary, Irungu Nyakera, said the ministry was awaiting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s’ signature on the establishment of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (Namata), whose mandate would be to ease traffic jams in Nairobi and satellite towns. 

“The authority will be tasked with establishing a mass transport system, commuter services and the public transport within Nairobi metropolis,” said Mr Nyakera.

Under the devolved structure, this is the mandate of the county government.

Nairobi’s urban transport master plan, to be implemented by Namata, is aimed at improving the general infrastructure of the city.

It has been running into financial hurdles on its implementation, with a gray area on who will be the implementing agency, between the Nairobi country government and the ministry of transport and infrastructure, hence the need for Namata.


1900: Nairobi is incorporated as a township with a sub-commissioner under the British colonial rule
1905: Nairobi became the capital of the British protectorate
1919: It was changed to Nairobi Municipal Council
1923: The title of mayor was adopted for the head of the municipal
1950: To mark 50 years, Nairobi was upgraded to a city status
1984: Nairobi City Council was dissolved and replaced by the Nairobi City Commission
1992: It reverted  to Nairobi City Council.
2013: After Kenya ushered in a new constitution, Nairobi became a county headed by a governor.