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Is Nairobi's governor right that the city 'never had' a development plan before him?

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Kenya’s capital Nairobi is often referred to as the “Green City in the Sun”. But residents say the city has lost some of its lustre, as service delivery and ageing infrastructure struggle to keep up with its growth.

As many other elected officials, Nairobi governor Evans Kidero is stepping up his campaign to be re-elected in the country’s August elections. Appearing on an NTV current affairs programme earlier in April, Kidero said he had spent his first term, which started in 2013, “setting the foundation” for a city of the future.

As some of his achievements, the former boardroom executive listed lower crime due to better street lighting and improved garbage collection. But Kidero also said the city had not had a growth blueprint to guide its rapid expansion.

“What we must accept is that when I got in, Nairobi was in a hole… Nairobi never had a strategic plan. Nairobi never had a development plan,” he said.

Could Nairobi, a bustling city of 3 million inhabitants and which traces its history to the 19th century, have been existing without a plan? We checked.

Nairobi: An unplanned capital city?

Kenyan motorists drive in June 2012 on the newly upgraded Thika highway in the country's capital Nairobi. Planning has not kept up with the rapidly growing city. Photo/ AFP/Simon Maina
Kenyan motorists drive in June 2012 on the newly upgraded Thika highway in the country's capital Nairobi. Photo: AFP/Simon Maina" />

In the interview, Kidero contradicted his claim by mentioning other development initiatives in passing, such as those of 1927, 1948 and 1973. However, he reasoned that these plans had not been acted upon and insisted that the strategic and development plan which he launched in May 2014 was the first for Nairobi.  

But the chairman of the Kenya Institute of Planners, Dr Lawrence Esho, told Africa Check that Kidero could not claim there had never been a development plan for the capital.

“There have been many plans for the city’s development,” he said, listing 5 including Kidero’s.

  1. 1906 Railways Plan

  2. 1927 Plan for Settler Capital

  3. 1948 Master Plan for Colonial Capital

  4. 1973 Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy

  5. 2010 Nairobi Metropolitan Area Spatial Development Concept

  6. 2014 Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN)

On its website, the Nairobi City County lists the 1926, 1948 and 1973 plans, in addition to an 1898 “Plan of Nairobi”, as past development plans for Nairobi.

A 2008 study on the history of Nairobi’s urban planning, done by a Swiss academic institute, also mentioned the 1906, 1927, 1948 and 1973 plans, with the last two “never fully implemented” due to funding shortfalls.

A growth strategy commissioned by the now defunct Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development described the 1973 strategy as “hardly implemented”. This document, called Nairobi Metro 2030, was launched in 2008.

Two years later the same ministry commissioned the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Spatial Development Concept which was delivered in April 2011, but this was also not acted upon.

Kidero’s Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan is an update of the 1973 plan. Its key proposals include a light rail system around the city and dedicated bus lanes on major roads.

In between, Esho said, there were area-specific plans done by City Hall, the seat of the Nairobi government,  such as the development of the areas of Upper Hill and Kileleshwa-Lavington area.

Conclusion: Governor’s city plan only latest in line of growth blueprints

While defending his record, Nairobi governor Evans Kidero said that prior to 2014 when he launched a development plan, the city “never had" a blueprint to guide its growth. Though he mentioned other past plans, Kidero said his would be the first to be implemented.

An urban planning analyst we spoke to highlighted at least 5 other development plans - from 1906, 1927, 1948, 1973 and 2010. The city’s website refers to 4 of these prior plans, noting that the 1973 one was only partially implemented.    

Kidero’s plan, for the period 2014 to 2030, is thus not the first for the city. There is also no guarantee that unlike others before it will be fully implemented.

Edited by Lee Mwiti

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