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Metropolitan Nairobi – Some Thoughts on Development

Metropolitan Nairobi – Some Development Suggestions[i]

By Matunda Nyanchama


[i] Remarks to meeting of Kenyans in Canada and a Kenyan delegation from the Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry visiting Canada. February 2009

Saturday February 28, 2009

Matunda: Addressing the gathering

Matunda: Addressing the gathering

The Hon. Elizabeth Ongoro Masha, MP and the Metropolitan Nairobi Ministry Delegation, acting Kenyan High Commissioner to Canada, KCO President and Vice-President, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen.

J. Miano, PS Sika, Hon Elizabethe Ongoro & Maria Nyariki

J. Miano, PS Sika, Hon Elizabethe Ongoro & Maria Nyariki

It is a pleasure to be here tonight at an event that gives us the opportunity to meet, greet, share thoughts and (hopefully) take action towards improving our common good as the people of Kenya.

I commend the organizers for planning this as an information exchange session. It used to be that Kenyan delegations (especially politicians) came to town, updated us on what was going at home and lectured us on being patriotic to our nation. In those days, we were perceived as good enough to be seen and not to be heard!

How times have changed!

Sharing information like we are doing today can achieve a lot, both for delegations coming from Kenya and the Kenyan Diaspora. The delegation will have better understanding of what the Diaspora can offer while the Diaspora can learn of specific developments in the country and position itself strategically to help; and hence contribute to the nation’s development.

KEPSA Rep, Mwawasi (KCO VP) & Ondoro (KCO President)

KEPSA Rep, Mwawasi (KCO VP) & Ondoro (KCO President)

Metropolitans across the world have a lot in common in terms of challenges they face. The Nairobi Metropolitan team can learn a lot from the experiences of others; they need not re-invent the wheel. In any case, a lot of Kenyans live in such places as have overcome similar challenges as Nairobi faces today.

Example: on the issue of transportation, the City of London, England, has implemented toll charges as a means of reducing vehicle congestion in the downtown core. Of course it has also been under pressure to develop and popularize the use of public transportation.

Example: New York City was once termed the murder capital of the world. Today, it is one of the safest on earth! How did they do it? There are many debates on this. However, one that is often quoted is termed the Broken Window Theory which holds that if you have zero tolerance of small crimes (littering, graffiti and the like) you prevent bigger crimes (rape, murder, muggings, robbery, etc.) from happening.

Example: many cities in the western world have a high degree of citizenship engagement. Council plans go through substantial hearings and ensure that citizens “own” outcomes from the consultative process. I am not sure how much Nairobi engages its citizens in planning and implementing its plans.

Example: creating relevant solutions has also been attributed to the degree to which the “creative class” is engaged. In such an approach, one could have an engineer, an economist, a sociologist, town planner, public health professional, accountant, architect, and more working alongside each other. Such a team is likely to propose workable and realistic solutions to problems. It is said that some cities not only reach out to such people but deliberately nurture them; and gets them involved.

Nairobi has a lot to learn from the experiences of others. However, we also know that no two situations are identical and hence the need to be careful with solutions from other jurisdictions. It is important that these be adapted to local conditions and realities.

Matunda: Making A point

Matunda: Making A point

….

My interest in Nairobi and its development reminds of the many initiatives that have taken place in the past, conferences on “The Nairobi We Want” and individual proposals that date back to the 1960s. At times, I feel that there are enough solutions proposed on how to deal with Nairobi challenges; and that that we should perhaps simply start acting to implement the plethora of recommendations from the past.

Take Nairobi River and the efforts to clean it; my recollection is that proposals exist for such clean up. One I like was once proposed by the late Andrew Ngumba when he was mayor of the city. He had this idea of creating a park along the river, complete with security and gardens in which mwananchi could relax! The proposal to do this would involve the private sector. Thus, along the lengths of the river, there would be segments which companies (Coca Cola, Kenya Breweries, UNGA, NBK, KCB, etc.) would be assigned to maintain. In turn, the companies would be allowed to advertize. Clearly, this would be a win-win for all: mwananchi could have a clean park and river, companies would have a place to reach their market and the city would have realized the objective of cleaning up the river and creating a safe park!

As we seek to learn from others, we may have the answers right in our midst.

……

Ben Ondoro, president of KCO, asked me to speak about technology and Nairobi. In fact, all the examples I have given need technology one way or the other. However, technology alone, without appropriate leadership and strategy will only lead to frustration. It is important that Metropolitan Nairobi authorities ensure that technology funding is appropriate and that the right technology leadership is in place.

I will use two examples for my illustration of the use of technology. One is the concept of e-government and the other is telecommuting.

According to World Bank e-government is:

“…the use by government agencies of information technologies that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. … to serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. … resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions[1].”

The goal is for governments to be able to offer citizens electronic services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. E-government allows for better service delivery to citizens and businesses, quickly, efficiently and economically. It empowers citizens since they have the information they need: 24 hours, 7 days a week; and citizens need not deal directly with the respective government agencies in order to obtain information or services, rather these services would be brought directly to the citizens. Moreover, better availability of information allows citizens to become better informed and better equipped to demand a higher standard of services. Just imagine information kiosks in major places such as government buildings, shopping centres and the like; and of course on the Internet.

E-government can reduce corruption as it decreases human mediated transactions, for we know that each such interaction offers an opportunity for corruption. I am sure many of us know typical remarks such as “the file cannot be located” only for the file to appear once someone has “coughed” up some chai! The chance of disappearance of file entries are reduced as electronic data is backed up and can be recovered even if deleted. Indeed, with proper logging of file electronic access one can detect and catch mischief much more easily than with physical, paper-based files.

E-government offers improved information-sharing within governments, and greater collaboration amongst departments. This, in turn, increases efficiency in service delivery. Information-sharing is the operative word here. How many times have you heard of departments going out to create reports and recommendations that are later found to have been done by another department?

For business, e-government facilitates timely access to valuable information and thus reduces frustrations of business in dealing with regulations and policies fragmented across structures of Government.

Examples of services that could benefit include registries (properties, births, deaths, companies, etc.), tracking citizen and business addresses, renewing licenses (business, motor vehicle, etc.), payments (taxes/rates, licenses, etc.), information (health, education, transport, etc.) and many more.

One caution: e-government is not something you turn on one day and it happens. You need a plan of attack that encompasses strategic objectives, a clear execution plan and technology leadership. It requires socializing the citizenry and business to the benefits so as to ensure buy-in and effective transformation.

The Government of Kenya has an e-government strategy that was once presented to us here in Toronto by then Minister Raphael Tuju. Metropolitan Nairobi team would do well to find out how the central government is progressing with its plan and possibly piggyback on its success.

……

I also promised to speak briefly about telecommuting; and I choose this because, if well-implemented, it can benefit the city and the nation in many ways. It will reduce vehicle traffic, thus reducing carbon emissions and benefiting the environment. It can also be a boon for workers as it will reduce commute-related stress; moreover, it can improve productivity with reduced commute time.

For those who have forgotten, a typical day for a Nairobi worker goes as follows:

Wake up early in the hope of beating the traffic jam; it is what everyone thinks;

Hit the road at the same time; and cause the exact jam one wanted to avoid;

Spend the next one to two hours in the jam; aggravated by bad driving habits!

Get to the office. Tired!

At the end of the day

Leave office, again in hope of beating the traffic jam! Meet everyone else on the road;

Spend the next one to two hours in the jam; again, aggravated by poor driving habits!

Get back home. Tired! Exhausted!

I was in Nairobi recently and a short 17 KM commute took me close to two hours, and I missed my breakfast appointment to boot!

So what is the cost of the Nairobi commute? What is the cumulative cost to individuals, to the city and the country? How many man-hours are cumulatively lost in the commute to and from work? How much gas is burnt in the process? How much human stress is encountered? How much vehicle-related wear & tear is incurred for the extra time spent in the commute? How much pollution is caused by the long periods of revving cars during the commute? How much productivity is lost to business and government? What are cumulative economic costs?

I am sure that our delegation has had a chance to reflect on this and may have answers. I am sure the numbers are not small!

…..

I posit that telecommuting can be a partial answer to this problem.

So what is telecommuting?

It has to do with working from a remote location; any location for example. It has to do with working occasionally (once, twice, etc.) from home or some remote location.

Telecommuting has benefits. They include reduced traffic congestion, reduced pollution and reduced worker stress. It can be a boon in case of emergencies. Just think of the chaos following the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi more than a decade ago which closed (literary) the city centre. A telecommuter in Uthiru or Kitengela would have continued working and not lost time as the city centre dealt with chaos there.

Telecommuting also allows for peripheral areas to develop as workers spend more time away from the central business district; and it contributes to improved productivity.

There is more. Companies, agencies and governments can save on space and facility costs. It has also been reported that employee satisfaction increases as they benefit from reduced stress, and save on commute-related costs. Telecommuting also creates jobs (and how we need these in Kenya!) in the technology sector. What with all those support needs for computers, networks and facilities!

The main downsides include potential loss of business in the central business district, reduced interaction between team members and lack of direct supervision for direct results management. Eh! Some people have to be supervised directly in order to perform their jobs!

…..

Nairobi is well-positioned to benefit from telecommuting. We have pressure on our roads. The central business district is constantly congested. We have become more and more conscious of protection of the environment and yes we need that lost productivity to boost economic output.

It is also opportune, given that technology and related infrastructure is now available. Today the country is laying down optical fibre to major centres, which will mean substantial bandwidth availability for the city, government and companies to partake. Moreover, we now have a tech-savvy workforce that is more amenable to use of technology. And they need jobs!

To succeed requires proper technology and infrastructure; and planning. The cost of computers is coming down as we speak. A work culture with rapid response technical support capabilities is required; it is also essential that the work culture engenders trust, personal responsibility and that incorporates objective performance and productivity measures; and a culture that empowers employees through self-regulation and self-monitoring objective results.

To succeed however, Metropolitan Nairobi authorities must commit to make it happen; and it requires focused plans and execution of those plans.

Given that few homes have high-speed bandwidth capability, authorities should consider the building (of facilitating the building) of telecentres in the city periphery. Thus we would have centres in such places as Uthiru, Athi River, Thika, Kasarani, Kiambu, Kayole, Embakassi, Ngong, Kitengela, Ongata Rongai, and more!

Government and business would then lease space in these virtual offices for their workers.

The Metropolitan Nairobi ministry can take a lead in making this proposal a reality. It would start by making the necessary business case. It would then devise a plan (perhaps a partnership with the private sector) of building the centres and associated infrastructure. For example, companies that participate in the building and running of the centres could be given tax breaks! An incentive plan could also be designed for businesses and departments that make use of the centres.

We in the Diaspora, working with either the private sector or government, are keen on helping out. And we can contribute in various ways: knowledge and expertise related to technology and infrastructure as well as building and operating the centres. The Diaspora could also be a source of investment for such a plan if well packaged and sold as an investment avenue.

J. Keburi, T. Okech & Matunda Nyanchama

J. Keburi, T. Okech & Matunda Nyanchama

…..

I would like to conclude by saying that I am excited to be here for this information-sharing session; like most Kenyans, I would like Nairobi’s glory restored and that Nairobi becomes the hub of the East and Central African region, be it in transportation, finance, travel, African heritage and more. Nairobi’s capacity should be exploited as an engine of economic growth and a centre for innovation and creativity. And we have examples of such creativity: MPESA, SAMBAZA and more!

As complex and intractable as the problems and challenges of the city may appear, they are not unique. We can learn a lot from others; we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. We in the Diaspora can help.

And for many of us, Nairobi is home and an image of what the country is for the outside world. It is the reason we must succeed in making it a better city with improved livability!

I finish by saying that we support this and the success of our nation for, as some of us aver: you can take a Kenyan out of Kenya but not the Kenyan out of a Kenyan! We are one Kenya; we are one Nation with one Destiny! We are one Kenya; one Nation and One People!

And ideally, we as one people can aspire to become One Tribe! The Kenyan Tribe!

And Nairobi is our home! All of us!

Asante sana kwa kunisikiliza. Mbarikiwe Nyote!

Matunda Nyanchama, PhD is an Information Security professional based in Canada. He can be reached at matunda@matunda.org or at the blog: www.matunda.org.

Copyright © Matunda Nyanchama, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. February 14, 2009



[i] Remarks to meeting of Kenyans in Canada and a Kenyan delegation from the Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry visiting Canada. February 2009

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