Mutula Kilonzo, Nairobi Metropolitan Minister Grand Plans for Nairobi

When it was formed, critics dismissed the Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development as unnecessary and even predicted that it would be a non-starter.

But tell that to the minister, Hon Mutula Kilonzo, and his reply is polite but firm:
"We are already on the ground working hard and are not interested in politics. We want to transform Nairobi into a major wealth creation hub that will change the lifestyle of Nairobi residents".

Now, that sounds lofty but Hon Kilonzo is quick to add that his vision for the city is practical, structured and grounded in law.

"I am in the process of drafting law that will form the legal platform to take this vision forward. A zero draft is ready and, interestingly, nobody I have shown it to has added anything. That's how good it is", he says laughingly.

The minister is optimistic that the law will gain wide public support and says he has even held discussions with the private sector regarding the draft and they (private sector) "are unanimous that is it is good".

The vision that Hon Kilonzo is developing is based on a model of Nairobi that he says will set a precedent for the rest of the continent and the world. He has already sounded out United Nations Habitat through Dr Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director, who he says is "very enthusiastic about the idea".

When he speaks, Hon Kilonzo leaves you with the impression of someone who has clear focus on the road ahead but is under no illusion about the onerous challenges that lie ahead.

Phrases like "wealth creation", "investment hub", "mass transportation" punctuate every other sentence, a clear sign that he has honed his plan and is rearing to go.

And the minister, who is also a senior and respected lawyer, says: "I am thinking beyond 2030 and way past the forty kilometers that will be the initial limits of the metropolitan area, upto a hundred kilometres radius".

The proposed model of the Nairobi Metropolitan area is based on three key pillars.

The first is improved governance. "The basic problem with African cities is poor governance. This tends to create instability and many problems". He says no city can flourish in a perpetual state of disorganization.

Among the critical governance measures include introduction a metropolitan police force. Hon Kilonzo says that the force will be equipped with special social skills to engage the public with minimal conflict.

"One of the things the metropolitan police will be trained in is to that residents are wealth creators and not enemies or criminals. They need to understand that even students have money and they, too, play a part in the city's economy".

He reveals that he has already held discussions with the Commissioner of Police about the proposal.

The government has over the last four years pushed for the implementation of community policing to tackle crime particularly in urban areas.

The minister points out that the community policing initiative has encountered many bottlenecks mainly the lack of a clear legislative framework to govern it.

"We will be pushing for a law to strengthen community policing not just in Nairobi but the whole country".

The second pillar in Hon Kilonzo's model stands on creating wealth to improve the lifestyle of residents so that, according to Hon Kilonzo, "no resident of Nairobi will have any reason at all to live in a slum".

He attributes the proliferation of slums to high unemployment and strongly believes that if people living in slums were given economic opportunities to earn a decent living, they would not have to live there.

Creating a 24-hour city will help in boosting wealth creation. It is already happening with retail giant Nakumatt opening 24-hour outlets in the city.

"If Nakumatt can do it, why can't we. This will create more jobs for Nairobi residents. Imagine a factory that runs eight hours. If it went on 24 hours, it would create an additional two shifts meaning two more workers can be hired".

He does not see why hotels and other businesses supporting tourism should not have opportunity to operate 24 hours.

The third key pillar is better planning which will address the rapidly increasing population. "Nairobi will have about 12 million people in 20 years. We need to deal with demands like mass transportation and affordable housing now", he says.

Congestion remains one of the key problems facing city planners due to the sharp increase in the number of vehicles in recent years and the lack of parking space particularly in the central business district.

The Nairobi Metropolitan Development Ministry plans to expand the road network and construct bypasses to decongest the city.

Hon Kilonzo hopes that by expanding the reach of the metropolitan area, developers will have incentive to put up affordable housing units in places like Thika and Machakos where land is less expensive.

"When we have a mass transportation system in place and affordable housing in the smaller towns that form the metropolitan area, people will be able to work in the city and reside even forty kilometers away".

Another strategy of providing affordable housing will target owners of land on which slums are built. Hon Kilonzo blames the proliferation of slums on greed by property owners.

To beef up security, among the measures Hon Kilonzo is seriously weighing is installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) at strategic points in the city. He argues that this would eliminate petty crime in city streets.

"Security is our priority after decongesting. There is a plan to light every part of the city just as is happening in the rural areas. I believe that this would eliminate crime by 30 per cent".

To woo investors the minister plans to push for a single permit regime as a way of removing obstacles to business. In addition, there are plans to create information and communications technology centers in line with the government's overall ICT policy.
Where is the money to do all these things going to come from considering the new ministry was allocated only Ksh 2 billion in this year's budget?

"We will do our best with what we got. We had requested for Ksh 7 billion but with hindsight I can say we might have ended up not utilizing all of it partly due to lack of absorptive capacity given that we are a new ministry". He does not think funding will be a major problem "since any ministry that has been allocated money for Nairobi will have to work with mine".

On potential conflict between his ministry and that of local government, Hon Kilonzo says he has a good working relation with Hon Musalia Mudavadi who is also Deputy Prime Minister.

He adds that his ministry has initiated dialogue with the relevant ministries to harmonize inter-ministerial operations at both ministerial and permanent secretary level.

From the foregoing, Hon. Kilonzo is indeed a busy man these days. When he is not working on the proposed law to govern the management of the new look city, he is meeting stakeholders and potential partners and financiers, besides attending regular meetings with cabinet colleagues whose dockets dovetail with his.

"I have more work than I had before. I still wake up at four o'clock like I have always done for many years". He has his work cut out for him. In the end, city or rather Nairobi metropolitan residents expect that he will succeed where others including commissions, successive mayors and the city council have failed.

It is a tough road ahead for him indeed as he moves to prove critics wrong that his ministry is not only important but will have a major impact on the city and its residents.

Bookmark the permalink.