8 August 2012

Kenya: The Making of a National Urban Development Policy


After about 20 years of false starts, Kenyans promulgated a brand new Constitution on August 27, 2010. With the promulgation it was assumed that all the issues would be resolved overnight almost.

That is how the Constitution had been sold to Kenyans. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 was replacing the earlier one which had served us since independence from Britain in 1963. After its passage came the real work: implementation.

I could say that this part was rarely mentioned, if ever. The President's ink had barely dried before there was talk of what needed to be done in order to realise its fruits.There were policies and laws to be passed so as to properly and effectively ground the new Constitutional Order. One such policy was the National Urban Development Policy (NUDP).

I was privileged to be invited to participate and lead one of the 10 Thematic Groups in the NUDP making process. The other laws and policies were to do with Security, the Judiciary, Governance and Devolution, and Finance. It was deemed necessary and appropriate to have a commission to implement the constitution. The previous year (2009) the National Land Policy had been approved by Parliament, with the active participation of the ISK (the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya). This in itself was a milestone after many failed attempts.

Looking at the NUDP initiative, we acknowledge that Kenya already has cities and towns. A study done two years ago showed that out of the 175 local authorities, more than a third are not self-sustaining and were draining the Exchequer. Therefore the entities exist mainly on paper and at political levels of leaders (mayors and chairpersons) flying flags at official public ceremonies. The question is; do they discharge their mandates as by law established? Do they have the appropriate capacity and governance structures in place? Have they ever? The jury is still out.

A taskforce was formed to work on the imminent devolution and related matters. At the same time the NUDP was reconfigured and reconstituted, this was with the help of the Swedish Government. A team consisting of the Devolution Taskforce Leadership and the NUDP visited Sweden in June 2011 to see how devolution is done. Sweden has been at it for a long time and has a fully decentralised system of governance that works. Things work in Stockholm and other cities and towns. So a model exists.

The Cities and Urban Areas Act was passed into law as a matter of urgency, but there has been no movement on the ground. The question thus remains; will all these laws and policies deliver services to the citizens who for the longest time have felt short-changed? More needs to be done to sell the NUDP to the Cabinet, Parliament and ultimately the people of Kenya. Public relations and excellent marketing of the good aspects (especially as it relates to initial reduction and eventual elimination of poverty) would be the way to go. Sensitising and educating the citizenry is a good start.

The article is a summary of a paper presented by Mr Nabutola in Rome, Italy, in May, 2012, at the International Federation of Surveyors Regional Conference.

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