Opinion  :: Columns  :: Nairobi Notebook

Urbanisation gone wrong
Eric Ombok
Published: 06-NOV-06

Outgoing united nations secretary General, Koffi Anan, recently promoted UN HABITAT Executive Director, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, to double up as the Director General of the UN Office in Nairobi.

A Tanzanian national, she is the highest-ranking African woman in the United Nations system. During her first two years in office as UN HABITAT Executive Director between September 2000 and 2002, Tibaijuka oversaw major reforms that led the UN General Assembly to upgrade the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements to a fully-fledged UN programme, now called UN-HABITAT � the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. Her appointment as executive director was confirmed at the Under-Secretary-General level and Tibaijuka was elected by the General Assembly to her first four-year term in July 2002.

As Executive Director, she participates in all high-level bodies of the UN system. These include the Chief Executive Board of the United Nations and the Senior Management Board of the Secretary-General, which serves as the UN Secretary General�s cabinet.

In June 2005, Annan appointed Tibaijuka as his Special Envoy to study the scope of the Zimbabwean government�s evictions of informal traders and people deemed to be squatting illegally. The year before, British Prime Minister Tony Blair had invited her to be a member of the Commission for Africa, which he established to generate ideas and action to accelerate and sustain Africa�s growth and development.

Tibaijuka holds a Doctorate of Science in Agricultural Economics from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. Prior to joining UN-HABITAT in September 2000, Tibaijuka was the Special Co-ordinator for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked and Small Island Developing Countries at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Tibaijuka has undertaken extensive research on various issues including rural development and human settlements policy besides publishing five books and numerous articles and papers.

I don�t know how long Tibaijuka has lived in Nairobi but my point is that assuming she has been a Nairobian only since September 2000 when she joined UN HABITAT, the city of Nairobi and indeed the whole of Kenya is squandering an opportunity to exploit the vast knowledge and experience of a globally renowned expert on management of urbanisation.

Urbanisation in Kenya has gone wrong. Nairobi, as the capital city of the country and the most developed in the region, ought not to experience bloody hawker uprisings, standstill vehicular traffic within the Central Business District itself, a public transport system nightmare and a parking space crisis among other woes bedevilling the metropolis.

Granted, Nairobi was established by the colonial government more than 100 years ago as a transit point for the Uganda railway. This made Nairobi a railway station town when the rail got to the town in 1899. But over the years the town has grown into a city serving as a hub for trade and industry and a variety of services such as financial and Information and communications technology. Today it is home to at least three million residents, two million who live in slums, and an annual population growth rate of 4,5 percent.

There was a Masterplan in 1927, which designated Nairobi as the Settler Capital and the 1948 plan for a Colonial Capital. The main contents of the 1927 plan were extensive traffic regulation to match the increased land area, drainage and swamp clearance, building and density regulation, and attempts to furnish Nairobi with a monumental administrative centre. The most remarkable aspect of this plan was the inflated land prices in the Asian and African residential areas. The plan was also based on racial and class segregation, and was in complete agreement with the interest of the settler class.

The 1948 Masterplan for a colonial capital was also based on segregation by race and class. The main aim of the Master Plan was to make Nairobi attractive for industrial investments.

The 1927 and 1948 plans were, however, never fully realised, as the amount of capital outlay that was required for their implementation was never allocated. This in turn marginalised the African urban majority, and propagated informal urbanisation on the town�s periphery.

Following the colonial trend, in 1973 the new African city government proposed a plan for a metropolis named the Metropolitan Growth Strategy (MGS). The MSG was a tool for state intervention and supported interests of the hegemonic class alliance of the local bourgeoisie and Multinational Corporations while neglecting the interests of the urban majority.

The 1993 Nairobi City Convention on Actions Towards a better Nairobi is the nearest the city authorities have come to addressing the urban question of Nairobi. However, there have been efforts by the Nairobi Central Business District Association (NCBDA) to streamline management of the city�s affairs while there has been an attempt by the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) to craft a Master Plan for Nairobi.

Considering that Kenya�s urban population is growing at 6,3 percent against an average African annual rate of 4,7 percent, NCBDA and AAK need to not only work together but also need to rope in the office of the UN HABITAT Executive Director and Director General of the UN Office in Nairobi as we try to find out what became of the Nairobi City Council. -Business in Africa Magazine

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