Four big names will be fighting it out for the job of governor of Nairobi. In the race are the incumbent, Dr Evans Kidero, Mr Peter Kenneth, Mr Mike Sonko and Mr Miguna Miguna.
We must demand big, bold, and new ideas from these guys. I say this knowing very well that — as a society — we set very low standards for leadership.
As a people, we suffer from a culture of low expectations. We allow our leaders to go to the roof to celebrate mere gestures in place of solid game-changing policies.
I want to suggest that in choosing the governor for Nairobi, we should raise the bar very high. I say so because when you study the trends in the rest of the world, what matters today — in terms of driving industrialisation — is the competitiveness of cities and regions. Trends show that the attraction for international capital is no longer the country itself.
ISLAND OF COMPETITIVENESS
Cities are campaigning between themselves for talent, innovation and investment. So much so that when even where the economy of a country is weak, there will still be cities and regions that will be bubbling with economic activity, making them islands of competitiveness in seas of mediocrity.
These guys who are gunning for the position of governor of the city of Nairobi must demonstrate to us in manifestoes and position papers that they are fully abreast with international trends and that they have what it takes to deliver.
Call me an idealist, if you like. But in an economy whose capacity to create new profitable companies, well-paying jobs, and whose ability to secure food security is waning at a fast rate, we must seek to create islands and clusters of excellence somewhere where greater experimentation and risk-taking is allowed.
Today, we aspire to establish the proposed Nairobi International Financial Centre. As a matter of fact, a Bill establishing the proposed centre is in its first reading in Parliament.
The ambition is to create the largest sector of the city economy, a city within a city in an image of similar international financial centres in Mauritius, Hong Kong or Singapore. Nairobi will have to build new Class A infrastructure to accommodate the centre.
Admittedly, cities don’t have healthy balance sheets. But the trend you will see in places such as South Africa today are cases where cities like Johannesburg have come up with creative ways of raising capital such as ring-fencing revenues in the healthy segments of their operations, issuing bonds in capital markets against the revenues.
Even the defunct City Council of Nairobi used to issue bonds in the 1970s and 1980s. Clearly, the scope of what must be done is way beyond the grasp of a populist whose only claim to leadership is the ability to sway irrational mobs by telling them lies, or a thug imposed on Nairobi by tribal bigwigs.
We forget that these guys are running to govern a city that is in competition with other cities of the world.
What then should be the top priorities for the next governor of Nairobi in the medium term?
I can’t claim to have all the answers. But I think that first priority for the next governor should be how to take the county government to the next level in terms of modern public financial management.
If you read from successive reports of the Auditor-General on the Nairobi County Government, you will realise that the heart of the rot of public financial management in the city government is an antiquated cash-based accounting system that cannot support robust internal controls.
The next governor must seek to implement a modern accounts payable system that is based on double entry book keeping and operates in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) environment. We should demand regular financial statements for Nairobi.
In addition, the county government needs a Treasury Single Account. I say so because if you don’t address financial management, Nairobi’s usual story of revenue leakages, hundreds of millions not remitted by lawyers and billions owed by parastatals and government departments for years will persist forever.
The job of governor will require a man or woman of calibre, knowledge and experience, especially because our capital city is urbanising in very complex ways.
The informal sector is growing faster than the formal sector. Nairobi does not have a functioning urban commuter system. I want a governor who will be prepared to take bold decisions even when such decisions threaten supporters and vested interests.
I want a governor with a costed plan for dealing with matatu chaos and committed to returning the commuter system to what it used to be in the heyday of Kenya Bus Service. I want to hear fresh and researched ideas on how to deal with markets, housing, health and education.