Last week on August 25, the newly sworn-in Nairobi County Governor Johnson Sakaja, was introduced to his new office at the City Hall. I suspect he has familiarised with the city’s seat of power before, but this time, he will be the mansion’s owner-occupier for the next five years.
At the City Hall, for many years, the office of the Mayor of Nairobi in the old constitutional dispensation, he will come face-to-face with a labyrinthine maze of vicious cartels that have operated at the central business district precincts, since time immemorial. That these cartels call the shots is hardly news and honestly, I am not telling the governor anything new here.
No sooner will the governor have settled into his new office, than these cartels will be anxiously waiting to welcome him and pretend to extend a familiarisation tour of the local government offices. Very quickly, after he visits all the nooks and crannies of the departments of his office, the buccaneers will ask, but (in truth) demand to have a tete-a-tete tea meeting with him in his posh office. There, in a roundabout way, they will be the laying out to him, the ground rules for doing city business from City Hall.
In other words, they will be telling the new governor, that all the past owner-occupiers of his newly assumed office have had no choice but to work with them. “We know all the pitfalls that have led some of them to falter; we warned them, but they didn’t heed our advice – we’re here to guide you and therefore we would very much like to work with you and assure you everything will flow smoothly,” they will purport to counsel the new governor.
“So, it’s incumbent upon you and in your interest to work with us.” They will, in essence, be issuing an ultimatum and a veiled threat – “you have no option but to work with us or else…” City Hall in a day rakes in millions of shillings in tax revenue collected from Nairobians of all walks of life. It is these millions that have attracted Mafia-like cartels to swarm around the whitewashed oblong-shaped building, like moths to light.
So, it’s incumbent upon you and in your interest to work with us
Governor Sakaja will therefore be inheriting a City Hall riddled with Mafia cartels of the New York city type or of Sicily’s Palermo. In New York city for example, the five Mafia families for the longest time controlled The Big Apple’s lucrative garbage collection business. The multi-billion rubbish (pun intended) industry is tightly controlled by Mafia barons, who will kill without flinching anybody interfering with their control of the garbage territory.
At the City Hall, one of the most notorious and vicious cartels is the rubbish collection mafia. In the days Nairobi had a mayor and town clerk, garbage collection was the responsibility of the Cleansing Department of the defunct City Council. It was one of the biggest departments, only rivalled by the water and sewerage department. It was well-funded and with well-equipped garbage crushing trucks imported from Germany. Until, cartels discovered, they could influence City Hall mandarins to outsource the collection of the mounting rubbish job to themselves.
At the Nairobi City Hall, one of the most notorious and vicious cartels is the rubbish collection mafia
Once outsourced to buccaneer businessmen, it become one of the best money-making ventures for them, minting hundreds of millions of shillings to a group of garbage barons, who tightly controls the scheme. All they did, was to invest in construction-type trucks, that replaced the modified garbage crushing trucks that were left to rot in the City Council parking yards. These barons will do anything to protect their turf. Anything.
In his raft of campaign promises, the new governor in his No.7 pledge to Nairobians, said he would ensure the county regains its cleanliness and shine. Perhaps restore it to its glory days of “Nairobi City in the Sun”. It is no doubt a daunting task. But it will be one of the big litmus tests that will tell whether he was dead serious in his pledges, or it will be just a matter of time before he settles down to business as usual.
The truth of the matter is, the city has never been this dirty and smelly – with garbage strewn and overflowing everywhere – on the pavements, in the alleyways, in the middle of the streets and roads, literally. Heaps and heaps of rubbish is the order of the day – in the estates and in the cbd. Invaded by the hoard of hawkers and colonies of street families, the city’s streets and avenues have been turned into one huge public toilet: the unkempt, decaying flower beds reek of stinging ammonia, early risers to the city centre are oftentimes met with fresh mounds of faeces in the rubbish infested cbd lanes.
Scotland’s Edinburgh, its capita city, has been in the news, because, for the last a dozen days, its city council workers, who collect rubbish, have been on strike. Pictures of overflowing garbage on the clean streets of Edinburgh have shamed even the office of First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, whose office has declared the menace a crisis. Some Edinburgh residents were quoted saying they have been storing rubbish in their bathrooms.
So, you can imagine what kind of a crisis has gripped a city like Nairobi, whose standards of cleanliness is anything but…On the day Governor Sakaja was being shown around his new office, some of the companies outsourced to collect garbage were doing it for the very last time under the old regime; the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS).
The NMS has existed since the ouster of former governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko, who was impeached in December 2020. Instituted by a presidential decree, its director-general, Lt General Mohammed Badi, was answerable only to the outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta. He started with a lot of gusto, restoring some pavements with cabro works in the CBD, re-tarmacking the broken and potholed streets and avenues. In the ghettoes, NMS branded water bowsers intermittently delivered water to the residents, but only for some time.
Hoorah, Nairobians said, at long last, the moustachioed general had come to restore the city’s shine. He talked tough wherever he went, spoke tenaciously and threateningly, telling Nairobians, he was there to effect change and improve their lot. It was just a matter of time, before he realised that running a cartel-like, complex City Hall, wasn’t the same as shouting orders in a hierarchical military barracks.
Just like the garbage collection business, the water business, ran by determined privateers with powerful connections at City Hall is a Mafia like cartel, feared for its viciousness and ready to defend its turf by all means, by any means necessary. The two lucrative businesses – garbage collection and water distribution must have overwhelmed the good, old, military man. Last week, he said what he had been contracted to do had come to an end.
For the last four months, the city has gone without its rubbish being collected. “During general election campaigns, nobody cares about garbage collection,” said a supervisor with one the contracted garbage collection companies. “We took our liberties now that everybody was busy with campaigns and focussed on elections.”
The crux of the matter, though, the garbage collection workers had not been paid for seven straight months, “so, we were kind of in a go-slow, we deliberately let the mounds of rubbish pile, everywhere,” said a garbage collection worker. “They paid our dues the other day, thanks to the incoming new regime. We now have to wait and see whether our contracts will be renewed by the new county government.”
A day after the new Governor Sakaja was ushered in at City Hall, he took a tour of a section of the CBD – to see for himself – I presume, just how filthy the central business district – the face of city was. With Nairobians keen to remind him of his pledges, we can only say, Sakaja has his work cut out for him.