With egg on his face, does Sonko now plan to privatise Pumwani Hospital?

First published Saturday Standard, September 22, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

The pendulum of public approval can be treacherous for populist leaders. Nairobi Governor Sonko recently found this out in the calamity of Pumwani. What started as an action to expose Pumwani staff negligence has left the entire management of our county health system exposed to public scrutiny. The question is, what can the Governor do next?

Pregnancy, child-birth and after-care comes at great risk for most babies and their mothers. Twenty mothers still die giving life each day across our country. 75% of all infants who don’t make it die in their first seven days. Maternal health-care is the critical priority for all our 47 county governments.

At 9.27pm on Sunday September 16, Governor Sonko received a whistle-blowing call claiming the Pumwani’s life-support machines had been switched off. Eleven babies had died as a result. It needs to be acknowledged that he moved quickly to act personally and publicly. Within hours of the visit, the Hospital Board and key staff had been interdicted and suspended. When the Cabinet Secretary, Health Minister, Chief Officer and the County Attorney contradicted his analysis, they too were immediately suspended. Now that the dust has cleared, it is clear that the Governor misfired based on partial information and Pumwani Maternity Hospital has bigger problems.

Based on various accounts, it is now clear that babies were not killed by staff negligence and the deaths have now all been accounted for. The hospital is, however, poorly managed, under-funded and resources are poorly allocated. While recognizing that reforms have been underway for almost a decade, too many of the staff at Pumwani are not directly involved in patient care. Out of a workforce of 800, there are only 12 doctors and 116 nurses. There are only five obstetric gynecologists. Absenteeism, demoralization, poor supervision and staff tensions are rife.

While health is allocated 21.5% of the County budget, huge budget cuts have directly affected Pumwani. The autoclaving machines broke down twice that week. The lack of a working incinerator, body-bags and a morgue is only part of the problem. New-borns often share the same beds and the neo-natal unit is run down. Medical recordkeeping is weak, a factor that might have led to the Governor’s heightened suspicion during his televised raid.

There is nothing more dangerous for the reputation of an elected leader then to get it so wrong in full view of the public. For other professions, it is the equivalent of a brain surgeon operating on the wrong person or a Fire-Marshall operating a fire engine with no water. In moments like these, honesty and corrective action is the only way out. In his characteristic way, Sonko turned to personal philantrophy to address the real public health challenge that lies squarely at his door. His personal donation and delivery of cooler boxes may be an admission that he now understands how the eleven babies ended up in plastic bags.

Political populism has its strengths. Its listening for the needs of vulnerable communities is important in a world where too many of the powerful listen too little. It also has a disruptive capacity to shake up bureaucracies that are too self-interested to consistently act in the public interest.

By his own admission, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli is Sonko’s role-model. The charismatic leader broke onto the international stage in 2015. His management style has been decisive with corrupt or inefficient officials and wasteful expenditure. He has also locked pregnant girls out of school, banned and used excessive force on opposition rallies, arrested journalists and clamped down on social and mass media to drown out uncomfortable public discussions.

Political populism has its weaknesses therefore. If leadership is guided only by the personal priorities and styles of the leader, he or she will inevitably overreach and make mistakes that affect many people’s lives. Over-reactiveness without fact verification never gets to the source of the bad governance. Failing systems can only be rescued by institutional approaches not personal populism and blame raids.

Now that the complexity of the problem that Sonko tried to respond to last Sunday is clear, there are some new choices he could make. Reinstating the County health and legal leadership would be an important one. Involving them, the Nairobi chapters of the Doctors and Nurses Unions and other oversight bodies on creative new ways of addressing old problems would be another. A reliable and open feedback and complaints management system that can verify rights denials would also go a long way to catalyzing the whole County Government to act.

Postscript: As this story was published, a new statement by the Governor indicates he plans to privatize the public hospital and rename the hospital after himself barely one week after the drama. The agreement will be signed on September 25 and groundbreaking will take place on November 20. The new development suggests that a deeper interest lay behind the drama last week. Public health interest advocates must slow this down and expose the conditions and agreements being signed for public scrutiny and participation. Private investors Agha Khan University Hospital & Nairobi West Hospital must tread carefully lest they too find themselves embroiled in public asset stripping without the tendering required by law.


Why the police reforms should be supported.

First published Saturday Standard, September 15, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

The courage to transform systems and practices that are not working is the true sign of leadership. Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed’s recent admission that the Ethiopian state had inflicted terror on its citizens is one of most remarkable regional examples of this. The announcement of new policing reforms this week could be another.

Our policing strategy has been in disarray for several years. The signs of this have been all around us. Kenya has no less than 100,000 police officers. In theory, this should mean one officer for every 500 citizens. In reality, 12,000 of these officers, just over a tenth are permanently assigned to protect the lives of a few thousands of Very Important People. The brutality and deaths of close to a hundred people in the aftermath of the 2017 General Elections was the clearest signal that reforms were urgent. Despite the promise of utumishi kwa wote, not all lives have mattered equally.

Most citizens cannot distinguish the roles of the various law enforcement arms mandated by the constitution to protect their freedoms, rights, property and safety. Most don’t know that the National Police Service is tasked with general policing, traffic, crime detection and prevention and that the primary role of the Administration Police is to protect Government installations and our borders and not commercial banks and hotels. In cases of murder or theft, should we report to NPS, APS, the local Chief or Directorate of Criminal Investigation?

The scattering of various units of regular police, administration police, criminal intelligence and local chiefs in different locations within the same area confuses us. It has also proven to be easy targets for criminals and terrorists. In the last four months, angry communities and terrorist cells have attacked or overrun at least five administrative police camps. The more dangerous vulnerability has been the lack of command responsibility across armed units and officers.

Administrative Police continue to hold suspects in centers with no reception officers, occurrence books or investigation and detention. Perhaps Advocate Willy Kimani, his client Josphat Mwenda and driver Joseph Muiruri might still be alive today if they had been booked in a regular police cell rather than that ungazetted container in Soykimau camp.

Corporal Ahmed Rashid made BBC Africa Eye this week. In what is probably the most daring exposure of extra-judicial killings, the television program confirms our worst fears. Faced with violent criminal gangs in Kisauni, Bombolulu, Mathare and Eastleigh, individual officers have abandoned the Criminal Procedure Act. They have become the entire criminal justice system and now act as police, prosecutor, judge and executioner. Two successive Presidents may have commuted 6,000 death penalty, but on our streets, death by punishment continues. This will be the case until they are brought to halt or the Officers themselves have an “Abiy moment”.

In fairness, Police Officers operate in working conditions few citizens would accept. Low salaries, poor housing conditions, round the clock violence and an ineffective judicial system is enough to turn most away from this profession. Remaining professional, disciplined and incorruptible as the constitution requires, is a challenge for both senior and junior officers. It is for this reason that we must all pay attention to the new policing strategy.

The new reforms seek to co-locate all agencies and place them under the command of Officer in Charge of the Station. The OCS will report to the Officer in Charge of the Police Division (OCPD) and then the County Commandants. Most AP camps can now be converted into police posts which will enable all wards to have at least one post. The concentration of services allows for pooling of intelligence, vehicles, weapons and other resources. The public can now enjoy centralized investigation, detention and criminal customer care.

Contrary to media reports, the strategy does not merge the two nor does it spell the end of the Administration Police. The remaining officers will now focus on border security, livestock theft, critical Government infrastructures and rapid response to large-scale armed violence.

It remains to be seen whether these reforms will address the endemic challenges of corruption, inefficiencies and indiscipline. Nevertheless, they deserve to be supported and closely monitored. Perhaps next, the Vigilance and Harambee teams could pilot the digitization of the Occurrence Book, place working CCTV in all police stations and increased investment in community police relations.

Police-community relations have been strained by years of excessive force, corruption and bad customer service. It is time to declare a new beginning for both the Service and the nation.

Where is the rage over these brazen killings?

First published Saturday Standard, September 8, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

The violence on the doorsteps of the Governors of Garissa and Migori this week sound alarm bells we ignore at our peril. Ignore them and we will descend into a quicksand of impunity and criminality. While investigations are under way and all are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the public revelations must cause us to reflect and rage.

From the testimonies alone, a wide range of human rights violations and public safety breaches have occurred. Corruption, abduction, torture, murder and attempted murder by contract killers, death in police custody and the intimidation of lawyers, journalists and detectives are among them. Student Sharon Otieno and David Mwai lie dead, brutally murdered. Both were young and had links to the Offices of Governors Ali Korane and Okoth Obado. Journalist Barack Oduor and former Garissa CEC Idriss Mukhter were luckier. Having survived very direct attacks on their lives and are both recovering in hospitals.

Sadly, observers of Kenyan history can cite numerous cases of human rights violations linked to the abuse of corruption cover ups, public office and contracted killers. Lying somewhere on dusty Parliamentary shelves are copies of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation report. Littered across hundreds of pages are painful and tragic episodes of unexplained assassinations, forced disappearances and violence against both citizens and leaders. The lack of closure on our past will tempt many to normalize this week’s incidents. There have always been violations, so what is different now?

The pattern of incidents suggests a collapse on many levels. They include impunity, assaults on the right to life, media freedom, rule of law, the right to legal representation and the criminal justice system. Victims Mukhtar and Oduor and the families of Otieno and Mwai deserve justice from our criminal justice system. Both Governors have emphatically denied any involvement. They too deserve their right to exonerate themselves in a court of law.

The announcement by the Director of Criminal Investigations that both cases will be swiftly investigated and that the Homicide Investigation Unit will report directly to him is comforting. Calls for uncompromised investigations and effective oversight need to expand beyond those issued by individual County and National legislators, the Law Society of Kenya and the Kisumu Journalists Network. The Council of Governors, human rights organisations, Media Council, Kenya Union of Journalists, University student’s associations and policing oversight bodies now need to add their voices.

Online “netizen” conversations need to shift as well. The term netizen comes from the words citizen and internet. Too many of us netizens have become too de-sensitised by Hollywood products like “Super Fly”, the popular “Narco” series and our very own popular culture. We fail to see the very real threat these incidents pose to us personally and nationally. In the wake of the brutal killing of Sharon and her unborn child, too many got lost speculating on her personality, morals, whether she resisted enough and even whether she deserved to be killed for having an intimate relationship with the Governor.

The real important questions didn’t get asked. Who ordered the killings of Sharon and Alex and why? When will they be arraigned in a court of law? How is it possible that a suspect in a crowded police cell can hang himself when he had already accepted to turn state witness? Should all the State Officers implicated in both cases immediately step down to prepare their defense? Who has let Chapter Six become the most disposable piece of tissue in our constitution?

We must face the hard truth that the society we say we want in the constitution will have to be painstakingly created and jealously guarded. Devolution is built on the foundation of a promise that the Kenyan people would be safer and better served by Government. If we cannot hold all State Officers and all citizens accountable to this vision, we had better abandon this promise, the bill of rights and any pretense of democracy.

Abandoning this vision, takes us back to the experiences of other societies. Societies like Mexico where 32,000 people have been missing since 2006, the criminal justice system is for hire and you are not safe unless you have your own personal militia. I wish the criminal investigators fair, speedy and conclusive investigations and prosecutions, this country’s future depends on it.

Did our public health system or criminal negligence kill Hannah Njoki?

First published Saturday Standard, September 1, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

I spent six hours on Wednesday night at Kenyatta National Hospital with a friend who had suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack or stroke.It had been a while since I had been in KNH and I saw several reforms. The emergency department was cleaner, friendlier and safer than I remembered it. Fourteen exhausting hours later, she was discharged after a range of six or so diagnostic tests and care. She was lucky. Road accident victim Hannah Njoki didn’t make it. Three days after being brought in on Saturday, KNH still hadn’t been able to find an ICU bed for her. Without the money to access private emergency health care, she passed away Tuesday. Her family grieves this weekend. We need to ask what fails Hannah and all patients denied health care and how can we fix this.

Kenya has made some of the most important declarations on the right to health on paper. Article 43 of our constitution and the Health Policy 2014-2030 obligates national and county Governments to provide the highest possible standards of health for all Kenyans. Healthy living, safety from violence and injuries, quality health care at the time we need it and better collaboration between our public, not for profit and private health providers is key to this. So is, guarding the preciously little investment that goes into public health care.

The right to health is personal for us all. At this moment, I have no less than seven members of my immediate family grappling with debilitating or life-threatening health conditions. Like most families, the experience is simply, frightening. It requires courage and curiosity at the same time. What health-care do we need, what does health insurance cover or not cover, what is going to cost and where do we find the money?

The denial of quality and affordable health care is still the number one killer and financial catastrophe risk for too many of us. This is why we must take note of the recently released Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission systems review into the pricing of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical medicines and equipment. Launched by Health Cabinet Secretary on August 17, the report found several systemic weaknesses and failures in the Ministry’s procurement policies and practices. The absence of a list of accredited suppliers, periodic reviews of essential medicines, involvement of health experts in developing the Market Prices Index and general procurement guidelines are among them.

While very welcome, the review findings are not a surprise to some of us. It validates the whistle-blowing policy brief released three years earlier by civic organisations, the Society for International Development, Kenya Ethical and Legal Issues Network and Transparency International. The EACC have acknowledged the “Sealing corruption loopholes in our health procurement system” 2015 report as the primary reason for the review last year.

The review has taken a year to be released after it was completed. The issues it touches on, relate to lapses in the Ministry in 2014 and 2015. At least three Cabinet and Principal Secretaries have come and gone. The scandal with GAVI and other donor funds remains unaddressed. Accounting officers entrusted with public duty have neither been absolved or implicated by this or any other investigations.

There are two questions we need to be asking. Does the current Government treat these lapses as matters of systemic failure, criminal negligence or both? What is the cost and impact of delayed reviews and institutional reform?

In his national call against corruption in November 2015, President Kenyatta seemed clear on the first matter. He called for major reforms at the Public Oversight Procurement Oversight Authority and announced that the Criminal Investigation Department and Assets Recovery Agency would investigate both companies and state officers who have colluded to illegally increase health care costs.

On the second question, we know that the percentage of citizens using Government health facilities dropped by 27% last year. Nearly half of these may have moved to private or NGO facilities. While these figures were driven by the protracted negotiations with striking doctors, they sound an alarm to those of us who believe in universal health care. Citizens have cited the lack of medical staff, cost, distance and quality of treatment in this order.

To borrow a phrase from our indefatigable Director of Public Prosecutions, the system of chaos has to be transformed from many ends. Tighter policy oversight, swifter interruption of corruption cartels and deeper patient awareness and vigilance will fix this. If we do this, our public clinics, dispensaries and hospitals will become equipped, empathetic and professional spaces of sanctuary and recovery for our ill and injured. Not just for Hannah and some of us, but even for the relatives and friends of those currently sabotaging our facilities.

Legal empowerment has a new future in our social justice centers

First published Saturday Standard, August 25, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

The opening of the Dandora Social Justice Centre was well attended this week. 100 or so community members, the area County Assembly Member and representatives of the Nairobi County Government, National Police Service and civic organisations showed up to the launch. Behind the launch is at least fifty years of bottom up community organizing for dignity and social justice.

There are now at least ten such social justice centers in various stages of formation across the country. The other more established ones can be found in places like Mathare, Kaloleni, Kamkunji, Kiambiu, Langata and others. Youthful leadership, a love for the country’s constitution and community development and advocacy programs characterize them. Blinded by inequality, violent crime and essential services neglect, their history and current challenges are not well known by the middle class.

In the early 1970s, three prominent legal firms Kaplan and Stratton, Daly and Figgis Advocates (now known as Daly & Inamdar) and Hamilton Harrison & Mathews established a legal advice program in Shauri Moyo. The firms operated under the Law Society of Kenya and the patronage of former Attorney General Charles Njonjo. Through programs like these, a diverse set of young law university students and lawyers like Shadrack Gutto, Murtaza Jaffer, Willy Mutunga, Jane Weru, Christine Bodewes and Greg Darr would increasingly find themselves in Korogocho and other neighborhoods in the 1980s and 1990s.

Another legend entered our urban history in 2001. Italian and an Catholic missionary, he had already spent a decade challenging aid corruption, protecting the Nuba people of South Sudan and advocating for African traditional religions to be accepted by the Vatican. For many years Camboni Father Alex Zanotelli lived, ministered and coached leaders from St Johns church in Korogocho, Kariobani North.

Neglect, corruption and the fight to control public spaces characterized the slums. Local chiefs determined who could build kiosks, toilets or even repair their homes. With no title-deed in sight, bloody confrontations often ensued between landlords, tenants and sub-tenants. The use of arson to forcefully evict families from their homes and businesses didn’t start in the last few years. Cats would be doused in kerosene, their tails lit and the fire they created as they tried to escape, would destroy tens of houses.

Legal assistance for the poor turned into community empowerment, court litigation and policy advocacy by urban poor movements like Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Over the last two decades, they have mapped and trained communities, built savings groups and urban funds and engaged slum upgrading Government programs to create Special Planning Areas.

The new generation of Social Justice Centers grows from this history. Old issues such as sex trafficking, violence against women, unlawful police killings, the lack of jobs and hopeless and anger pre-occupy their attention. Growing trees along the Mathare river, establishing business cooperatives and breaking down ethnic divisions are new pre-occupations. Last year alone, over 250 young men and women in these neighborhoods lost their lives at the hands of police-officers and criminals. In a disturbingly high number of cases, the deaths are open executions by police officers, known in the communities and acting with impunity.

If the middle class wants to shake off the unfortunate perception that they are a “fairly useless demographic”, they must look beyond the Raila-Uhuru handshake. They must demand that the Building Bridges Secretariat, County and National Governments get practical. Perhaps the collapsed National Youth Services buildings and programs that lie decaying in these communities could be made available to these organisations.

Instead of criticizing that indefatigable public interest litigator Okiya Omtatah, the LSK lawyers could return to their roots and unleash a series of Article 43 and dignity class action suits. NGOs could give up the temptation to parachute in for selfies and news headlines and really place their human and financial resources at the disposal of the centers. Police reforms are also urgently needed. Our Officers in Charge of Stations must strictly manage their subordinates, yield to oversight by the Internal Affairs Unit and Independent Policing Oversight Authority and actively seek community policing programs with the centers and other community initiatives.

Toi trader and Muungano national leader Joe Muturi puts it this way. “Things have changed. We have moved from the streets and gone to the negotiating table. For me it doesn’t always have
to be a fight. If you look at what we have achieved for all these years by sitting down, negotiating and collecting information, it’s more than just moving in the streets saying, ‘We don’t have’.” The question is, is the rest of the country willing to meet them halfway?

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Willy Mutunga and Joe Muturi for advice and materials in writing this opinion.

Lets create an accessible and inclusive society for all abilities

First published Saturday Standard, August 18, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

By Irũngũ Houghton

Lydia Chege is on a mission. Her voice stood out among the 7,000 Primary Head Teachers who attended this week’s Annual Conference. She spoke one day after the Cabinet approved the new Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2018. The issue of disabilities remains out of the sight of most Kenyans. This lack of interest and stigma opens the door every time for neglect and abuse.

Eight years ago, my family came face to face with the challenges of disability when an adult family member lost his eyesight in two separate savage criminal attacks. The resourceful Kenya School of the Blind staff and a community of people living with visual disabilities became our lifeline. An abrupt introduction to special needs, assistive devices and the power of empathy followed. He adapted quickly and is a powerful force in his own family and community.

One in ten Kenyans are differently abled. Nearly 4.5 million Kenyans grapple daily with a society and an economy that is not prepared for people with mobility, visual, hearing, intellectual or other disabilities. The majority of this constituency live in rural and impoverished parts of Kenya. 43% of them are under the age of 14. Young, mostly rural, locked out and forgotten by the 90% they are yet to experience the warmth of a constitution that promises them dignity, access, facilities and affirmative action to elective and appointive positions.

A few Kenyans still hold on to falsehoods and myths that disability is a curse by spirits, ancestors or an act of God for some moral mistake or sin. Others still use terms like deaf and dumb, handicapped, cripples and disabled rather than people with a specific disability. Both groups will have missed the last decade of our quiet cultural revolution.

Like elsewhere in the world, previous laws and policies have focused on physical disability, employment and creating institutions and programs for people with special needs. While this has transformed the lives of many children and adults locked out of education, health, jobs and public participation, it has not challenged society to be more inclusive. The special needs approach may have created islands of safety and opportunity, but it has not transformed the rest of society.

This was the point that Lydia Chege of the Kenya Institute of Special Education made this week. Channeling children with disabilities into special units and schools will not help them achieve in a society that is still not ready for them. There is no special society out there. The challenge posed by the constitution is to create a society and economy that is accessible for all, and especially, people with disabilities.

We now need to become intentional and create inclusive schools, workplaces, courts, markets and entertainment houses. The first step is to increase the opportunities for people with disabilities to participate everywhere. New efforts to increase the representation of people with disabilities to at least 5% in all public offices must now be matched by private and not for profit agencies. We must demand performance targets, employment quotas, technology, communication and forums for dialogue and become familiar and related with people with disability associations. We must advocate for ramps, elevators, washrooms, parking slots, wheel-chair friendly pavements and traffic lights that work for the visually impaired. Those that resist must be called out or boycotted.

It is in this context that the new Bill is important. It is expected that the bill will expand affirmative action. It should also penalize both blatant and hidden discrimination including the denial of citizenship and identity documents. Introducing the right of people with disabilities and especially those with mental health challenges to take legal decisions about their lives is critical. Not all Kenyans can be equal before our laws, if some do not have the legal capacity or the right to control their financial affairs.

The Bill must draw more from the wisdom of the trail blazers. Men and women like the late J.A.M Karanja, Hon Isaac Mwaura, Poet and Lawyer Kibaya Laibuta and Justice Mumbi Ngugi as well as younger leaders like Ashura Michael, Samantha Nkirote McKenzie and many others who have demonstrated the power of speaking publicly and authentically as people with disabilities.

Framed squarely for the first time in Kenyan history as a human rights issue, the Bill seeks the full realization of the rights of persons with disabilities in Kenya and places an obligation on both the national state and 47 County Governments to protect and promote them. We must take time to read and act on it.

Hold construction chain accountable to stop impunity over riparian land

First published Saturday Standard, August 11, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

The public conversation following the demolition of restaurants, high-end apartment blocks and malls has exposed our ethical flexibility on matters that we need to be more intentional about. According to the National Environmental Management Agency, no less than 4,000 buildings have encroached on the riparian reserves of the Nairobi river ecosystem and must be brought down. Both our Government agencies and the public must now reflect on how Nairobi got to this situation and how to stop it in future.

The Nairobi river eco-system defines Nairobi. The Maasai gave our city the name Enkare Nyrobi, the place of water. However, a century of human contamination has left the Ngong, Nairobi, Mathare and Mbagathi rivers so polluted, that Nairobi residents can be forgiven for thinking the river is in fact an open sewage system. Farms, industries and neighborhoods without solid waste collection or sanitation daily empty garbage and sewage into the Nairobi river.

Demonstrating a rare common sense of misjudgment, both our rich and poor neighborhoods from Runda to Dandora have also sprawled onto its riverbanks. In many cases, they have even built on the river. With this encroachment, we have endangered not only the environment but our very lives. The loss of many lives and injuries that horrified us in the 2016 Huruma building collapse and numerous flooding incidents are literally events of our own making.

This week’s demolitions translate from the Presidency’s declaration to regenerate the Nairobi river in 2017. For most of this year, fact-finding teams have been combing the river to map and mark all buildings and structures built on the riparian reserves. Ironically, even those who swore an oath to enforce our laws and bylaws own buildings marked with the infamous red X. Among them is the former Governor of Nairobi, Members of Parliament, County Assembly members and other State Officers. The net is so wide that we have to stop and reflect how did we get here?


















Putting it politely, we have exercised a degree of ethical flexibility that has just been called out. While poor professionalism is a factor, the biggest two factors are greed and corruption. Building construction is a complex and a lucrative process. Registered architects, physical planners, developers and environment impact assessment experts are required. Licenses and permits signed and stamped by officials from NEMA and Nairobi County and in some cases, transport, health and water and sewage officials are also required. We must now look through the dust of falling buildings to the chain of participation, regulation and oversight.

NEMA maintains a list of certified environmental experts on its website. Could we see an updated database that excludes all those experts that sanctioned the now condemned buildings? Perhaps it is also time to overhaul the approval process. 15 officials from NEMA and Nairobi receive 10,000 environment impact assessments and building approval requests annually. There is simply no time to go to the ground and confirm what is on paper is also on the ground. Is it now time for local neighborhood and community associations to have representatives on all building approval committees? Is it time for County Governments to further delegate authority and empower ward level administrators to have a greater say and be more accountable for what happens locally?

Could Nairobi County publicly list all the officers that approved these buildings, interdict and prosecute a few? Perhaps the County Government could take all the money it received in payments for licenses and approvals and deposit it in a fund to regenerate the river or fund community whistle-blowers?

Public spaces have been under attack for a century and, we the current generation is also complicit. Most of us have eaten, shopped and lived in buildings that clearly sit within the 6 to 30 meter radius of the Nairobi river. If we haven’t, we have watched the erection of these buildings and said nothing powerfully. Watching the South End Mall go down, I was struck by the bizarre sight of another excavator building on the riparian next to it. Demolishing private property may be necessary to restore order to the city and our environment but it is not sufficient to eradicate future impunity.

Past calls from communities to review building licenses, EIAs and approvals have often been ignored. A current case in point is the proposed triple 35 storey Cytonn Towers in Kilimani, Nairobi. As presently designed, the building threatens to outstrip the infrastructure and environment of a largely residential neighborhood. Perhaps our authorities could relook at this case as well.

Cartoon: Maddo