Mass demolitions mark start of Nairobi regeneration.

Author:Kabukuru, Wanjohi
Position:Around Africa: Kenya - Crackdown on illegal structures

In late 2018, Kenyans, especially in Nairobi, were shocked when the demolition of around 4,000 illegal structures began, including some properties worth billions of shillings. This was part of an ambitious plan to completely regenerate the capital, Nairobi, which had sunk into an ecological mess. Wanjohi Kabukuru reports from Nairobi on progress thus far.

Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa's bubbling commercial hub, whose history stretches back to the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway in 1896, has seen it all. Nairobi, which means 'a place of cold waters', whose freshness attracted the Grey Crowned Crane and other birdlife, is no longer the 'city in the sun' as it once proudly claimed.

Nairobi River, which snakes across the capital's central business district on its way northwards, had crystal-clear waters abounding with fish three decades ago. Today it is a sludgy canal heavily polluted with murky, brackish green effluence. And the city's main emblem, the elegant crested crane bird, which previously flocked all over the metropolis and was revered for its grace and virtuous nature, has not been sighted in Nairobi for decades.

Ornithological NGO, Nature Kenya describes the crested crane as an 'ecological illustration' of Nairobi, as a city of order, and a place of beauty, haute couture and class. This was the Nairobi of the 1960s up to the early 1980s.

Not any more. The Grey Crowned Cranes are all gone, while in their place, a new species of bird is well established--the Marabou Stork, visible to visitors to Nairobi from the Jomo Kenyatta Airport, all along the route to the city centre. The acacia trees lining the Mombasa Road-Uhuru Highway happen to be the site of the stork's colony. According to Nature Kenya, the stork is everything that is the opposite of a crane.

The Marabou Stork is a scavenger that is mostly found at dump sites and rubbish mounds, feeding on garbage and waste. To ecologists, Nairobi had become a decaying city. Where a Marabou stork will survive, a crane won't.

The departure of the crane signified Nairobi had lost its groove. Previously, Nairobi had a reliable public transport system, essential health care infrastructure, efficient refuse collection and a responsive social services system with well-managed estates.

The public transport system gave way to a chaotic and an unruly private-led sector, and the healthcare system is broken down and overstretched as health centres are inadequately staffed and lack medicines...

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