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Nairobi’s new governor should make rain a blessing again

Dec 16, 2012 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Rain is a blessing.

From childhood, we denizens of Africa are made to understand that adage. Rain is a gift of the gods, a nourishing of the parched earth beneath our feet. It causes a sudden and mysterious splashing of green all around us. It causes our food to grow and our spirits to soar.

Except if you live in today’s Nairobi, that is.

In this city, rain is anything but a blessing. It has in fact become, a challenge, a setback, a curse, even. And that is not the fault of the gods that send the rain; it is squarely the fault of the men who receive it.

Consider the number of things that seem to dissolve in Nairobi when it rains: road surfaces; power lines; road discipline; common courtesy; even sanity itself. All of that does not happen because rainfall is a problem; it happens because the things it falls on in Nairobi are a problem.

Rain exposes many things. It exposes, for example, just how many roads are made of something more akin to talcum than tarmac. Why should road surfaces start to rot simply because of rain? Road-building technology improved beyond vulnerability to water long ago. Except in Kenya, where for reasons which we all understand but no one wishes to address, the shoddiest roads are built for the highest prices.

Rain exposes how backward our power distribution network is. What is the relationship between rainfall and power failure? We are not talking about rainfall on the scale and violence of Hurricane Sandy here, where poles are toppled and trees uprooted; just the regular seasonal precipitation. That this still sends much of Nairobi into darkness should raise many questions – but doesn’t.

Rain reveals the attitudes of Kenyans towards one another. What is a ‘me-first’ culture at the best of times becomes an even uglier thing once the rain starts. A madness seems to grip those motorists on whom the first drops fall; they become even more manically obsessed with getting ahead of the queue using any manouevre possible, legal or not. When enough madmen do this and plunge into key junctions willy-nilly, the only result can be gridlock.

Rain reveals the poor quality of construction workmanship in modern Nairobi. There was once a time when contractors actually tried to build waterproof roofs and windows; that time is a fond memory now. And so, once the water starts coming down from the skies, Nairobians look on in apprehension to see the various points at which it will enter their homes and offices.

If you are unfortunate enough to be a slum-dweller, rain is the last thing you look forward to. It will reduce your neighbourhood to a mud-trap; it may even sweep away your walls and all your belongings.

As I write this, Nairobi is preparing for its first ever gubernatorial race. I will offer no thoughts on who the first governor of the city should be, save this: vote for the person who understands the manifold problems of this city, and who will act to remove them. The time for empty talk and brainless promises is done. Nairobi, a proud 21st-century city, is sometimes more like a wild west cartoon where standards of construction, behaviour and legality are no longer enforced.

Your governor should be someone who sees all of this acutely and will address it intelligently. The job requires someone who can handle joined-up thinking. It requires an action-minded individual who can marshall resources and set deadlines. It demands someone with the standards and discipline to reclaim Nairobi’s position as the premier city of the region.

A simple and effective way to look at it: we need someone who can turn Nairobi’s rain into a blessing again.

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