Upgrade all towns to city status then let government manage them

Friday August 28 2020
city hall

City Hall, the Nairobi County headquarters. PHOTO | NMG


The resignation, of Beatrice Elachi as Nairobi County Assembly speaker is the latest reminder of the chaos at City Hall since Governor Mike Sonko took over the leadership of the county in 2017. First to resign was Polycarp Igathe, who was the deputy governor, just a few months into the Sonko administration.

It had been hoped that Igathe’s sober personality and vast experience in business would counterbalance Sonko’s intemperate personality, populist and erratic management style.

But our national history should have taught us that a corrupt and incompetent system abhors upright and competent persons.

During Kanu days, brilliant individuals serving the regime — some with PhDs — had to argue and act as Kanu die-hards in order to survive.

Nairobi in the 1960s was a clean city with wide tree-lined boulevards. A local TV station that interviews older residents of the city paints a picture of a capital that was not only beautiful but functional.

The residents recall a time when garbage was collected on time. They remember when city buses ran on time like trains in Tokyo, Japan. Water and power supply was dependable. City schools were models of order and excellence. A recent article recalls days when Nairobians walked the streets at night window shopping. Now, shop windows are barricaded by iron sheets or burglar-proof bars.


The city has been run down by a culture of greed and incompetence. Only a complete overhaul of the system can reverse this culture.

The move by President Uhuru Kenyatta for the national government to take over some of the functions of the county can only bring minimal relief to beleaguered city residents. Nairobi is a complex metropolis of four million souls and cannot be left to the vagaries of greed-motivated tribal politics.

The city needs to be run by the brightest managers in the land. Men and women of great vision and unblemished integrity. The decision of taking over four functions from City Hall, while leaving others under the corrupt and dysfunctional county government is not a solution. First, some of the functions left with City Hall have a significant bearing on those taken over by the national government. Second, the overlapping jurisdictions will create turf wars between City Hall and the Nairobi Metropolitan Services.

The 2010 constitution allows for the dissolution of a county government on account of internal conflicts, war or other exceptional circumstances.

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic and the possibility of a more deadlier virus in future, we cannot afford power plays, chaos and ineptitude to be the governing principles at City Hall. The potential danger to lives and livelihoods of residents constitutes exceptional circumstances that should trigger dissolution of the Nairobi County Government. Kenya should go even further and consider a constitutional amendment that would allow for all towns that acquire ‘city’ status to revert to the management of national government.