It finally started raining in Nairobi and, as refreshing as this is, the aftermath is never pleasant — the flooding, overflowing sewage, excessive traffic and blocked drainage.
An even bigger concern is that the issues are not new but recur because they are often inadequately dealt with. For instance, the unclogging of drainage followed by dumping the removed waste right next to the same path does not make sense because when it rains, all the dirt is washed right back. It is like a game.
That said, we need to be more responsible about littering because most of the waste blocking drainages was dumped by someone. Proper disposal of plastic and other garbage should be a collective effort between people and responsible leadership. In addition, there’s a consequential need for a new city planning concept focused specifically on people. This cannot be avoided, just like in infrastructure where consequences of not prioritising people during the initial planning are grave and costly.
A perfect example of how infrastructure falls short when it ignores people is seen when it rains and pedestrians have nowhere to walk apart from hopping, stepping and jumping through numerous puddles of filthy stagnant water. Nairobi is a walking county with the majority of its population having to either directly walk or use public transport to work — yet somehow when roads are constructed they’re only perceived to be for vehicles and nothing else.
These perceptions that ignore people as primary road users are the reason why we don’t have enough footpaths and cycling lanes. Many of us have even unconsciously accepted that it’s normal to see people going about their day navigating through mud and dirt when the truth is, there’s nothing normal or acceptable about this cruelty. There is such a bold disregard for the majority of Kenyans, manifested in many ways, including not being bothered about how people get from point A to B.
Kenya’s infrastructure projects remain focused on their box-ticking glamour as opposed to their practicality. The Standard Gauge Railway, for example, is an unnecessarily expensive project that has made it difficult for cargo transporters, with no clear rationale of sustainable pay off.
Then there is Nairobi’s Outer Ring Road that was expanded into a highway but does not have a single proper pedestrian crossing. We saw heartbreaking images of children climbing the guard rails to cross the road.
It’s as if the concept of people-centred-infrastructure is so foreign yet every day we compare Nairobi, and Kenya, to the West.
How then do we start reimaging the concept that infrastructure is primarily meant for people and not machines?