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Ukambani

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The Treasure

Follow  the ‘Countdown to 50’ Campaign!

Get to KNOW, EXPLORE, PROTECT and CELEBRATE Kenya

Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.

This week we visit  Ukambani: The Mysterious Marvel

Kamba Land or Ukambani is divided in to three administrative county regions namely, Machakos, Makueni and Kitui counties, stretching east of Nairobi along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway towards Tsavo National park and North East to Embu.  It is widely perceived as a region regularly haunted by long drought seasons. Far from this notion, there are green and fertile stretches which make up for a wonderful destination outside Nairobi. Machakos for example, which was actually Kenya’s first inland capital, is surrounded by green hills. The Makongo Valley…

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Nairobi Westgate Mall Terror Attack, And The Folly Of ‘Otherness’ – What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us

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NAKED CHIEFS

USE -westgate-shopping-mall_kenya2_mainAROUND noon on Saturday September 21, a group of terrorists believed to number 10 to 18 stormed the Westgate Mall in western Nairobi.

By the third day, 69 had been killed during the attack, or died later in hospital. Another 175 had been injured. Today the crisis entered its fourth day. In the evening a downcast President Uhuru Kenyatta, came on TV to give heartbreaking news. The crisis had come to an end, but the three floors of the mall had collapsed from explosions, and the terrorists and an unknown number of people were trapped in the rubble.

Amidst the tragedy, we are about to forget that the first day of the crisis offered quite troubling insights about how we the media view the world.

Some Kenyan journalists, especially TV presenters, inundated their audiences with references to Westgate mall being popular with “wealthy Kenyans, expatriates and diplomats”. It was also…

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Top senator slammed for comparing Italy’s first black cabinet minister to an orangutan

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Italy, Italy, Italy…

National Post | News

Prime Minister Enrico Letta has harshly criticized a top Italian senator who likened the country’s first black Cabinet minister to an orangutan, the latest episode of high-profile racial tension in a nation grappling with immigration.

In a statement Sunday, Letta denounced Roberto Calderoli’s words as “unacceptable” and “beyond every limit.”

Calderoli, the Senate’s vice-president and a leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, made denigrating remarks about Immigration Minister Cecile Kyenge while he was speaking at a party rally Saturday in northern Italy, the populist movement’s power base.

“When I see images of Kyenge I cannot help think, even if I don’t say that she is one, of a resemblance to an orangutan,” Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted Calderoli as saying. On Sunday, Calderoli said he was making a joke, and meant no offence to the minister.

Kyenge is a Congolese-born doctor who became Italy’s first black minister when Letta’s…

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Don‘t imitate New York. Fix Nairobi

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Wishing Nairobi were more like the affluent cities of the world is good and expected. However, I would urge caution when dealing with best practice vignettes and success stories . The major lesson from examples such as Mr. Penalosa of Bogota and Mr. Bloomberg of New York, is that people-friendly projects are, by nature, inclusive. They flow from a political decision to invest in all urban residents, rich and poor alike, and not from urban envy, or a mere desire to imitate more affluent cities.

Many cities we may seek to emulate have long taken care of both the physical fundamentals, including firefighting, building safety and sewerage, and the political fundamentals, including finances, fair electoral representation of urban residents and executive powers of elected officials. If these things are not in place, then Bloomberg-type inspirational leadership becomes almost impossible to achieve.

Nairobi, viewed through this lens has a wonderful opportunity, through the election of a governor with executive powers and some presumably predictable financing, to effect change. Making this city more liveable and people-friendly involves, first, including the less fortunate in improvements of fire safety, living conditions, transportation, education and wherever else the city has a mandate, and second, increasing public participation and transparency in governance.

We should ensure adequate firefighting for the whole city, because we believe that Eastlands matters as much as Westlands, that safety from fire in 2012 should not depend on our ability to afford G4S. Our firefighting mess is a shame and this city’s business potential, much of which lies east of Tom Mboya Street, shall continue to smoulder until fire is effectively controlled.

Whereas the loudest complaints about our traffic jams typically come from drivers and and matatu users, 47% of this city’s commuters walk to work. In addition to buses and trains, an adequate public transportation system should specifically target this group with safe bicycle paths closed to cars, throughout the city, because they also matter. Similarly, we should provide parks in Kayole, South B, Embakasi and elsewhere not just because New York is providing parks, but because we do, or ought to recognize, that every Nairobian is deserving of green space, yet hardly any can routinely access Karurua Forest, the Nairobi Aboretum or Uhuru Park, which looks rather dry at the moment.

Creating people-friendly cities also goes beyond revitalizing town centres to attract creatives a la Richard Florida, whose name is rarely mentioned in Kenyan newspapers, but whose creative class theory is writ large in planned developments such as Tatu City and Konza. To invest tax shillings in the less fortunate represents significant government spending, and so a leader is required who believes that all Nairobians are worthy of investments in basic livability and can make a case for such spending in the face of more fiscally conservative opposition. Such a leader should also be willing to take on those who profit from our shortcomings in public infrastructure in defence of the public interest.

Transparent governance, the other requirement of a liveable city, does not just involve public participation as set out in the Cities and Urban Areas Act of 2011, but also the right to observe local government as it executes substantive business. In Nairobi, the public is not allowed to witness municipal decision-making around development control, zoning and other otherwise public decisions. If Parliament allows the public to observe debate and motions, if the courts allow the public to observe acquittals and convictions, then city hall should allow the public to observe zoning, development, and other approvals. The effective Official Plan and Zoning By-law, which currently decide how land should be used in Nairobi, ought to be on the website of the Nairobi City Council today.

A city that values all its residents, cares for the most vulnerable, and is not afraid to transact business in the public eye is far more likely to be people-friendly. We must learn this lesson if we are to successfully emulate Enrique Penalosa and Michael Bloomberg. Merely wanting a better city won’t get us there.

At this rate, G4S should levy taxes

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Jeff Koinange interviews an eclectic range of guests on his K24 show, Capital Talk, and I watch it when I get the chance.  At the climax of each episode, his Bench catches fire. ‘Somebody call G4S!’, he goes. It’s a great line. It captures brilliantly Nairobians’ lack of faith in their taxpayer-funded fire service, and I have always wondered what Nairobi Town Clerk Phillip Kisia thinks of it. Maybe he should tell Jeff that on his next visit to the Bench.

Currently, there is one fire station in Industrial Area, and another opposite the old Nation Centre, very close indeed to the new Nation Centre. Lucky Nationeers. Those of us who live and work farther away from either must hope the firefighters arrive in time. Nairobi’s firefighting capacity has not kept pace with the growth of the city, and so not only is the fire station distant from the majority of urban dwellers, but also from the locations where most fires break out, going by recent events.

It is not clear whether there are serious plans to set up another fire station, or to ensure that should a fire break out in the outer reaches of Nairobi, the fire department will arrive in time. The fires, it appears, will keep breaking out, and the fire department will keep having to lose precious time crossing the city, arriving only to aid salvage efforts long after the fire has prevailed. Promoting Konza City is all very well, but the benefits of an additional fire station would be rather more immediate. If not, then perhaps G4S should levy taxes, so we know where we stand.