First published Sunday Standard, March 26, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group
The theatre of politricks took on new levels of crazy this week. Supporters of Maina Kamanda and Mike Sonko brawled to pack the JP Nairobi County Elections Board with their agents. In their enthusiasm, they all but forgot that the party board is supposed to be independent. In another part of the city, Magnate Ventures Limited was accused of felling 200-year-old indigenous trees to erect massive bill boards that will no doubt carry the faces of the same political aspirants in future. The electoral season scorches the green city under the sun in different ways.
Like many towns across Kenya, the clean, green and quiet city under the sun is slowly turning dirty, grey and unpleasantly noisy. A culture of encroachment stalks us. It leaves city by-laws violated, an unplanned sprawl and overstretched infrastructure in its wake. Left un-arrested, a tale will soon be told of how an entire city became a slum.
50% of Nairobi’s 4 million inhabitants live in informal settlements without proper services and security of title. They and their middle-class cousins discharge effluent and waste into all the tributaries of the Nairobi river. Other residents block public roads with private gates in their rush to keep “others” out. Unregulated bore holes by residents and businesses is draining our water table. Construction permits are given to developers who build soon to be empty huge grey apartment blocks on every inch of their properties. The children who will occupy them will be called watoto wa calbro. Noisy night-clubs are issued commercial licenses to operate in the very same residential areas. Not yet moved to act? Consider that in just 13 years, Nairobi will have doubled and have a population of 9 million people.
Encroachment is defined as the gradual taking away or the use of something that belongs to another person. Last time I checked, encroachment wasn’t one of the national values in our constitution but it is happening all around us and there are many threats to clean, green and quiet cities.
Last week, Environment Cabinet Secretary Dr. Judy Wakhungu just took on one of these threats. She gave legal notice to ban polythene bags in 6 months. The manufacturers have blocked this twice in 2007 and 2011. Last week also, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers reminded us, this is still big business for 176 companies and 60,000 employees.
While each bag is probably useful for only ten minutes of convenience, the impact is dramatically seen from the Mombasa coastline to the dry-lands of Garissa. Plastic waste litters all corners of this country. What’s worse is that we are probably eating micro-plastic fragments along with goats and fish who consume them in our landfills and waterbodies. Kenya is a late-comer to the ban as 40 other countries have already done this.
The promise by Nairobi Governor Kidero to pursue and arrest all companies that cut down trees in the city must also be supported. It was significant that a Jubilee MCA blew the whistle and a NASA Governor acted. Bi-partisan action is possible when issue-based priorities not personalities drive our politics.
Keeping our cities and towns quiet, clean and green is our business too. Citizens can emulate #Grey2GreenKE campaigns to plant trees in urban centers. We can use grocery bags for our shopping trips. We can also get more intimate with the National Environmental Management Authority regulations of 2009 that control noise pollution.
My friend didn’t. He built a house in an up-market suburb hoping to flee the fish bar that opened next to his home. His wife was less enthusiastic, after all, they had lived in the community for decades. The new up-market home went empty for a few months. To his horror, he found his new up-market neighbors had opened a bar and lounge and their patrons had secured a clandestine deal with his security guard to use their new garden for parking. The answer to noise pollution like all human rights violations is not to flee it but to confront it.
Most of our politicians are alpha humans. They are used to taking charge and can be intimidating. To have a healthy relationship with them we need to respect them, but above all, we need to consistently challenge them. In this season, they are operating at high speed, under siege from their competitors and booked solid. However, we do have their attention for the next six months.
Let’s make quiet, clean and green cities an issue for them and us. The alternative is watch them cut down our environment for their posters.