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Sunday, April 26, 2015

To alleviate gridlock, limit the use of private cars

Recently, road users in Nairobi were super outraged because rush hour traffic ground to a halt when the county government began to execute a plan to eliminate roundabout intersections. Vitriol on Twitter rolled like the waters of a mighty stream.

Staggered by public outrage the colored drums used to seal of the roundabout intersections rolled. And Nairobi got its gridlock back. The county authorities, by the act of rolling out the colored drums, conceded that they had not have a viable plan.

I thought Nairobi residents would be inspired to seek a bold, sensible and permanent solution to Nairobi’s numbing gridlock. I sent an appeal on Twitter asking #KOT to suggest practical ideas to solve traffic gridlock. I learned that #KOT is extremely long on whining and finger pointing and woefully short on solutions. Have we become a nation of whiners? Is #KOT, despite its enormous power merely a lynch and activist mob?

I have read some truly bizarre suggestions about what is needed to resolve Nairobi’s traffic problem. The myth out there is that we need tens of billions of shillings to build light rail transit, multiple level stack interchange and constant flow intersections. How to accommodate cars in our cities is the most urgent consideration. But we have failed to imagine livable and vibrant cities for people, without automobiles.

Next time you drive around look at how much land and infrastructure is dedicated for the automobile in Nairobi or other Kenyan cities; from parking at the street level to gas stations, to car sale yards to roads. Compare this to sidewalks or cycle lanes or open recreational space or benches on the street. If an alien were asked who owned or lived in our cities, they would say cars and trucks.

When it was inaugurated, Thika Superhighway was lauded as a bold and direct panacea to traffic gridlock. The hitherto long-suffering commuter on what was Thika road heaved a long sigh of relief. Today, Thika Superhighway is now gridlock central, especially during morning rush hour. The exits no longer work. The more roads you build the more traffic you get.

Cities will always lose the battle to satisfy the demands of private motorists. The cost of satisfying the whims of middle and wealthy classes is colossal and unjustifiable. To believe that more roads could solve urban traffic gridlock is analogous to accepting the fallacy that bloodletting could drain evil fluids, which cause disease.
Half a century ago, critics of highways predicted there would be irredeemable tensions between vibrant people-centered cities and the needs of cars. Urban planners chickens have come home to roost. Orthodox city planning is not based on any knowledge about cities work in real life.

Traffic gridlock will strangulate and snuff life out of urban living. It is easy to blame the number of cars on the road. It is easy to suggest that gas prices are too low and ought to be raised so poorer drivers get their cars off the road. The annoying gridlock and insatiable demand by cars for wider roads is really a symptom of our incompetence at urban planning and management.

The combined effects of a lack of safe walking or cycling areas, a lack of investment in public transit and expansion of highways without enforcing land use planning, which has encouraged a proliferation of suburbs, and widespread use of private cars. Unfortunately, considerable energy and public resources is, now directed at dealing with the symptoms of our incompetence, rather than addressing the root cause of the problem.

The use of private automobiles is the cause of gridlock. Get rid of them. Create a disincentive for use of private cars. Such disincentives must be complemented by realistic choices for private care users.

Five measures could limit use of private cars and alleviate gridlock: 1) Create a metro system, with express lanes for commuter services and car pool; 2) Enter a public private public partnership to provide park and ride services; 3) Eliminate of 60 percent of public street level public parking; 4) Develop regional planning framework between Nairobi county and the counties of Kiambu, Machakos and Kajiado to contain urban sprawl; 5) Introduce of road toll charges within a radius of 15 km from the CBD.

Expensive infrastructure or elimination of the roundabout will not solve Nairobi’s traffic gridlock; near extermination of use private cars will.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Kenyatta Owes Ruto Nothing

DP William Ruto has considerable political skills, no doubt. But he also has immense vulnerabilities and failings. Just like we all do. I am astounded by Ruto’s incessant bouts of political and tactical naiveté. What is also baffling is hard, often at the risk of sounding ridiculous, he tries to give the impression that everything is okay in the Jubilee tent. We all know that treachery is the currency for transacting politics.

Over the past couple of weeks Ruto has vehemently reaffirmed that Jubilee is strong and that his relationship with Kenyatta is cordial and strong. He has made this claim more than 10 times in just two weeks. This has been the preface of his public statements, at funerals, in church and at fundraising events. The question is why is it important for Ruto to defend his relationship with Kenyatta? Who needs to be reassured that Kenyatta remains loyal to Ruto and that he will hand him the presidency in 2022?

There is something going on here. One thing that you can take to the bank is that not all is well in the Jubilee Alliance. In many ways things aren't going quite as well as the Ruto had plotted. Remember he had this halo of Kingmaker, which comes with comes with an outsized proportion of entitlement. We saw this with Jaramogi Odinga (with Uluru na Kenyatta); with Tom Mboya (when he neutralized Odinga in 1966 and helped Kenyatta contain Odinga); with Njonjo (when he thought that he fended of the Change the Constitution move that would have made it impossible for Moi to succeed Kenyatta); with Raila Odinga (When he "betrayed" Nyachae and proclaimed Kibaki Tosha). Kenya's political winners sprout on the manure of shameless deceit and treachery.

Why does Ruto think it will be different for him? He gravely antagonized Moi in 2007 and sought to dethrone him, extinguish his legacy and install himself as the King of the Kalenjin. One would think that Ruto was disgusted by politics of patronage an hegemonic control of ethnic  enclaves., that he would favor egalitarian , merit based politics. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ruto want his own Kalenjin Empire. According to Ruto and many really cleaver Kenyans, Raila threw Ruto under the bus after he fought for him so hard in 2007. Bear in mind that the Hague victim narrative made Ruto, and legitimized the "coalition of the accused" in 2013.

Ruto has realized that his path to the presidency in 2022 , solely on the basis of loyalty to Kenyatta, is highly improbable. I think he is trying to build a narrative that indulges the state of being victim. He want to be the one that stands up and say that Moi and his son Gideon gloated over his ICC tribulations. While Ruto says that Kimemia and other Kibaki bureaucrats nailed him on ICC, he also maintains that Raila was responsible for his indictment.

Ruto also wants to say in 2022 is that all he got after helping Kenyatta win the election in 2013 is betrayal. Ruto is just getting ready his victimology discourse as a tool to rally Kalenjins for political purpose.

To remain relevant in Kenyan politics Ruto has to give up this angry victimology narrative. He must roll up his sleeves and fight politically, convince Kenyans that he can compete for the highest office, rather than sit and wait for Kenyatta to endorse him in 2022. That will not happen and I think Ruto is smart enough to understand that. There is nothing personal in politics, it just politics.

So Ruto, you have a chance to run in 2017. You don't have to win. But you have to show Kenyans that you have fire in your belly and an appetite for the presidency. Saitoti always waited for an endorsement from Moi and it never came through. Loyalty is not the currency of Kenyan politics.

Moi succeeded Kenyatta not because he was patient and loyal and could take crap from Kenyatta's inner circle. He became president because he outwitted Njonjo, Mungai, Koinange, Mahihu and Kihika. The game was different then and Moi played by the rules of that game.

Ruto must understand the game and play by the rules or DP will the best he will ever achieve.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Universities can help build innovative, thriving cities

That our kind has entered the Urban Age is unequivocal. In 2008 we become, Homo urbanus. About 54 percent of our kind – circa 3.95 billion people now lives in cities of various sizes. By 2030, about 5 billion people will live in cities. This is perhaps the most consequential social transformation in the history of our civilization.

The Urban Age presents the most important development challenge in the 21st century. This is especially true in the developing world, where the rate of urbanization is most rapid. In Africa especially, rapid urbanization seems to be inextricably bound with massive expansion of squalor, poverty and isolated pockets of odious wealth.

Today, with very few exceptions, African cities are characterized by poor physical planning, lack of basic services such as water, sanitation, housing, transportation, health and education. Here in East Africa, the major cities of Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Nairobi are bursting at the seams. These cities are sprawling uncontrollably, strangulated by traffic gridlock, choking in poisonous air and plagued by slums. This apparent dystopia is largely due to failure in planning and governance.

Despite crippling governance failure, East Africa’s premier cities are resilient concentrations of ingenuity and innovation. They like hundreds of smaller cities and towns across Africa represent Africa’s potential and promise. For instance, In February Nairobi was crowned the city with the greatest capacity to prosper in the broadband economy hence, the most intelligent city in Africa.  Dar es Salaam, according to a 2013 report by Oxford Economics, will lift more citizens into the middle class (earning $5,000 to $20,000 per annum) than any other African city. Home of East Africa’s oldest university, Kampala has been transformed a looted shell during the long civil war to a thriving modern city.

Cities, more than rural spaces will shape the future of East Africa. Cities present our best chance at building a more energy efficient, prosperous and equitable society.  The future of our cities is especially bright in a knowledge-based economy. The competitive advantage of our cities is contingent on effective utilization of a super high concentration of intangible assets such as knowledge and skills.  

Coincidentally, in this knowledge economy, we are witnessing an unprecedented urbanization of higher education. For example every university in Kenya, and there are more than 50, has a campus in Nairobi. This means that now, more than ever before, universities can make a significant contribution to the unprecedented surge of urbanism. Universities can contribute to the socio-economic advancement of the city, as well help improve the quality of decision-making and governance in our cities.

The bricks of the ivory tower must be brought down to build bridges into the communities of our cities; from the city hall to the slums and to the suburbs, working with residence associations and leaders of business. This new relationship could provide an opportunity for students, faculty, cityzens, city government and local businesses to come together to find appropriate solutions to the pressing challenges of the Urban Age and create new jobs.  

One of the most pressing challenges of Kenya’s Urban Age is traffic gridlock. It is a wicked problem with causal factors including land use planning and urban design, inadequate urban infrastructure capacity, lack of public transit, an exponential rise in the use of private cars, and lack of discipline, vested interest of the police and courtesy among Kenyan drivers. As always wicked problems abhor simplistic solutions and a proclivity top down executive fiat. Wicked problems are susceptible to interdisciplinary and consultative approaches, where plausible solutions are exhaustively interrogated.

Can you imagine a partnership between Nairobi county government and a consortium of city universities to find solutions to Nairobi’s traffic gridlock? The solutions would be holistic and, appropriate, while providing a great opportunity for professors, students, city residents, local entrepreneurs and government functionaries to learn and work together. There would be limited room for a consultant or task force who prescribe nightmares like colored drums and moronic U-turns at the roundabout.

We must begin the process of re-making our cities. Our universities must be in the driving seat, from where they address the urgent challenges of urbanization while creating solutions that catalyze socio-economic transformation at the urban and regional scales.

Leaders of city universities must rethink their institutions’ relationship with the city, being more deliberate in the deployment of their research assets and service learning programs.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Kenya must rethink anti-terror strategy

The dawn of April 2, 2015 will go down in history as one of Kenya’s darkest moments. Garissa University campus was choked with the stench of death and drenched with innocent blood. Hundreds of young men and women were murdered. Scores were injured. A nation is grieving.

Al-Shabaab, a Somali group affiliated to Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the unspeakable horror. This despicable and cowardly attack comes just months after Al-Shabaab killed 36 quarry workers. We still remember Westgate. In a brazen attack on a church an Al-Shabaab militant’s bullet killed a mother and lodged in a baby’s skull. In November Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked a bus and murdered 28 passengers.

The unrelenting, sustained assault by Al-Shabaab militants has left us befuddled. The political grievance behind these attacks is lame. Al-Shabaab has not put forth a coherent or compelling ideological front to justify the scale of violence unleashed upon innocent Kenyans. This is not to discount that fact that Al-Shabaab militants have often claimed that terrorist attacks have been provoked by Kenya’s military presence in Somalia and the crack down on radical Muslim clerics.

Terrorism, especially the kind executed under the pretext of preserving Islam is now the biggest threat to global peace and development. This is the Jihadist ideology, which holds that the rest of the world is comprised of unbelievers whose sole mission is the destruction on Islam. Moreover, Jihadists claim that the only morally correct form of governance is the Caliphate, under the supreme law of Sharia.

Images of burqa-clad women, the plunder of Islamic shrines and beheaded infidels in Islamic State (IS) controlled territories have led many in Christendom to believe, out of ignorance, that Islam is inherently hostile to modernity and human rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The attacks in Kenya and the barbarism of IS in Iran, Syria and Yemen are perpetrated by a small but potent minority of evil human beings, heretics, who claim to be custodians of Islam. They must be condemned in the strongest terms. In my view, mainstream Muslim clerics and scholars have been passive and too slow to respond to the orgy of unspeakable decapitations and other despicable horrors promoted by jihadists.

The relationship between peace loving people of Muslim and Christian faiths must not be defined by ignorance and bigotry. Such a clash of ignorance will embolden potent minority groups such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab and IS who sow conflict, hatred and death.  It would be unfortunate for religious leader to suggest that the Garissa attack or other previous attacks constitute a systematic persecution of Christians by their Muslim brethren.

Terrorism, as advanced by the Jihadist ideology is a complex existential global problem. It is certainly not a religious war pitting Christians against Muslims. In Kenya, it is not ethnic Somali people against other Kenyan ethnic communities. Elsewhere, Shi’a Muslims have had their Imams murdered and their followers persecuted, accusing them of failing to enforce Islamic law or even the proper veiling of women.

We must halt the march of violent extremism.  We must apply new tools, build new coalitions and advance more peaceful means to resolve conflict and promote pluralism. For over two decades now we have used military methods to prosecute the so-called war against terror. The idea that you can torture and blast terrorist groups out of existence has run its course. Boko Haram is alive and well. IS is on the march. Al-Qaeda affiliated groups are emboldened.

To win the war against Al-Shabaab Kenya must not resort exclusively to the use of military force. Heavy-handed approaches such as raids in Somali neighborhoods and indiscriminate mass arrest of ethnic Somalis fuels resentment and give ideological ammunition to demented Jihadists. Extrajudicial, gangland execution of Muslim clerics plays into the hands of violent extremists and fuels resentment among moderate Muslims.

President Kenyatta acknowledged that the “planners and financiers of the Garissa University College attacks are deeply embedded in our communities”. Moreover, radicalization that breeds terrorism does not happen under the cover of darkness. The point is that Jihadist extremism is not always imported. The deranged murderers are our fellow citizens.

I hope this signals the dawn of a new approach in the fight against terrorism. We need an approach that wages a blistering propaganda war to win the hearts and minds of segments of our society who are susceptible to radicalization.


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