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Tragedy of filth choking Nairobi streets as City Hall runs on autopilot

When Marcellus, a sentry in the Danish town of Elsinore in Shakespeare’s ”Hamlet”, said “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, he could as well have had Nairobi in mind. That is, if the physical degeneration of East Africa’s largest city is anything to go by.

From a metropolis that was once termed “the green city in the sun” due to its lushness, the capital is now a cesspit of garbage and effluent that reeks to the high heavens.

Everything is rotten in Nairobi, and it all begins with its failed leadership which, like fish, starts decaying from the head.

Last week, residents woke up to a littered city centre and most must have thought that the mess was a temporary oversight by wayward cleaners.

But, alas, the sight of overturned trash cans along Moi Avenue, Tom Mboya Street and parts of Kimathi Street has now become a daily spectacle that smells of epic failure on the part of the city fathers to get to grips with its numerous problems.

The capital has gradually degenerated into a filthy and dirty city whose mounds of stinking garbage pose a health hazard. Nairobi is feeling the pinch of years of neglect by the county government.
What’s rotten in Denmark?

Basketfuls of decaying fish in neglected market stalls, dead dogs, sewerage discharge, broken bottles, faecal matter and rotten fruits clogging storm drains.

There are gaping potholes in the middle of most of the city’s roads. A walk down its streets and lanes requires one to have a thick skin and blocked nostrils to survive the putrid stench of urine and faeces.

A spot check by the Nation revealed a city on its deathbed. From streets to avenues and alleyways; from markets to parking lots, the situation is dire as residents, already burdened with a congested city centre, also have to weave their way through mountains of waste.

River Road, Tom Mboya Street, Moi Avenue, Haile Selassie, Landhies Road, Wakulima, Gikomba and Muthurwa markets, Machakos Country Bus Station, residential estates and informal settlements — they are all choking on filth.

Moi Avenue takes the medal for the most unclean stretch. Two huge trash bins overflowing with garbage are deposited right next to the Kencom terminus.

Just next to this eyesore, business goes on unperturbed at shoeshine stands. The fence around the Kenya National Archives is bedecked with trash. Next to the Tom Mboya statue, a popular spot for magicians, fiery preachers and acrobats, a rainbow of waste spreads out across the walkway.

Mountains of rubbish at Muthurwa Market on Monday. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO

On Tom Mboya Street, the famous Ambassadeur Hotel terminus, where the Buru Buru and Embakasi-bound matatus queue for passengers, is now an official dumping site. Dirty water forms pools in the broken pavements and kerbs while the walkways have been taken over by hawkers.

Right next to the bus stage and smack in front of the Tuskys Supermarket, where the Eastleigh-bound matatus are boarded, hawkers and other small-scale traders compete for space with pedestrians and noisy, wildly driven matatus on the narrow street, creating a bedlam of urban chaos.

The wide trenches on Kenyatta Avenue just opposite the Naivas Supermarket are uncovered and filled with all kinds of waste. The wide advertising wall at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street is now a favourite dumping spot for paper, plastic and human waste.

Horrifying piles of rubbish line the pavements on Kimathi Street, with some finding their way under parked cars. At city ward reps’ parking lot near the Supreme Court, the situation is no better.

On Ronald Ngala Street, other than the exhaust fumes from the hundreds of matatus, pedestrians have to contend with mounds of rubbish from the overflowing bins and rivers of raw sewage flowing down the storm drains.

Going down River Road and Kirinyaga Road is a veritable nightmare. The kerbs are teeming with discarded fruit peels, torn clothes, egg shells and food remains. There is plastic waste in every imaginable corner.

One would think that, by virtue of hosting a fresh produce market, Haile Selassie Avenue would be the cleanest of the city’s thoroughfares, at least in the interest of public health. Sadly, the opposite is true. The state of the avenue drastically changes after one passes the precincts of the Central Bank of Kenya and the Co-operative Bank building.

The roundabout at the Railways terminus marks the beginning of a trail of filth that streaks down towards Wakulima Market and Coffee House, where lorries ferrying farm produce offload their cargo. The area just before the roundabout connecting Haile Selassie Avenue and Landhies Road, from Muthurwa Market to the Machakos Country Bus Station, is one huge festering cesspit.

Nonetheless, hawkers and other small-scale traders go about their work oblivious of the mess. Mr James Njoroge sells bags and shoes in the area. He says that the garbage menace has been there since he started selling at the market three years ago.

“We are used to the garbage now. The county has been clearing it at least once a week but it has not done so since the beginning of the year,” he said.

The road heading to the famous Gikomba Market is a muddy, stinking stretch of raw sewage and solid waste.

Mama Abi, a trader selling household items next to Nairobi River, says the polluted river is a health risk but she has nowhere else to go.

“I have fallen sick several times because of the foul smell emanating from the river but I am now used to it. I have never seen anyone from the county government cleaning the river,” she says.