They say romance is dead, but nobody could have prepared Kenyans for the horrors of watching the jarring images of boulders knocking down Uhuru Park’s historical and monumental dias. Apparently, someone decided to take the old girl renovations, and nobody thought Kenyans needed to know of their plans.
It was like a knife through the heart; an arm yanked violently from the body by some person, or persons or a cabal of faceless people whose actions spoke louder than words. The message was received loud and clear: these people are people who have the money and the power to skirt the normal – and legal – procedures and customs when it comes to building and renovating public parks.
Such blatant disregard for procedure may shock for a while. However, we have since picked ourselves up and the questions must still be asked because Uhuru Park is our park and therefore the least we can do is fight for her.
With words on paper and tears in my heart, I hereby petition the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and the Uhuru government to give Kenyans an opportunity to talk as we seek to understand what has happened to our beloved Uhuru Park because that is the civilised – and legal – way to deal with these matters. My objective is to get answers, and find a way back to Uhuru Park even if the gates are currently closed and the place has been shuttered.
Less rumours, more facts, please.
Word around town is that the County Assembly of Nairobi City County approved a motion to renovate Uhuru Park, unfortunately, there are not enough or more details around this statement on such a huge project. Without facts, the space has become laded with rumours and conspiracy theories. We therefore need the details on what these ‘renovations’ may be, because the devil is in the details.
Top of mind questions: why the decision to renovate Uhuru Park? Is there a stand-in park we can use until these renovations are completed? When can we expect to get Uhuru Park back because we sure miss the old girl? Speaking of details, how much will this renovation cost and who is going to pay for it?
Here are some of the rumours that the NMS needs to address:
Is it true that while the County Assembly approved the renovations, the same County Assembly does not have the figures or a budget for the renovations?
Is it true that the budget for Uhuru Park’s renovation is unknown, but nobody knows where the money was going to come from? This seems like a big problem to have considering the boulders have already been unleashed into the park. There are rumours that the renovation might cost up to Kshs 4 billion, but a public project cannot in good faith or any grounds, operate under such dark budgeting conditions.
If that were the case, it would mean that the rumour going around that the person renovating Uhuru Park was given an open book to proceed with the work at a cost that will be met by the taxpayers are true! While this answers the question of who is going to pay for the ‘renovations’ it raises more questions than it quells. For example, how is it that the body which is constitutionally mandated with setting and passing budget limits on all city activities had not set a limit of how much was going to be spent?
This is not acceptable.
To make matters worse, it has been reported that neither the County Assembly nor it’s relevant committees – the ones responsible for oversight relating to planning, budgeting or environment – have been able to produce or seem to have ever had any plans for the so called ‘renovation’ project. If these renovations are actual and true renovations as renovations should be, where are the plans for the noble task?
Or, could this renovation be code for an illicit or non-existence renation where the park has been handed over to the mercies of personal and private capital interests in order to build high end hotels and car parks?
One can be fearful that this Uhuru Park might become one of those places that are sold and the privatized sections sealed off. This would turn parts of Uhuru Park into no-go zones for the ordinary public? They have sung a song about this tragedy because this is the way of corruption of governments, the destruction of the environment, and the erasure of history.
From the famous song “Big Yellow Taxi,” by Bob Dylan that was made famous by (xyz), the words say: “They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum, and then they charge the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.”
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They pave Paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Let us hope we will turn Uhuru Park into another tragic statistic
Clearly, all this could have been avoided had NMS followed the rules and procedures set out for situations such as this. This is nothing new: All buildings or renovations of public nature always have the plan in public at a place members of the public can access. For example, if you go to Green Park, you’ll see the models and plans of how it will look once it’s open for use.
Keeping these plans a secret takes one down a rabbithole of questions: Why is the plan for Uhuru Park being held in secret and only available to a few, not to even members of Nairobi City County Assembly? Why is it a project in secrecy? Or are they building a military installation in Uhuru Park that if the plan is made public it will compromise Kenya’s national security?
While it may be too late to stop the process or return to the way things were, there are still things we can salvage from this ordeal. After all, Kenyans have an established and powerful relationship with Uhuru Park. By choosing to provide oversight to protect our historical and shared history, NMS can:
Keep the skateboarding community that uses Uhuru Park’s dias as their recreational playground thriving. Skateboarding is now an olympic sport and Uhuru Park was also the headquarters of skaters.
Keep open – and affordable – the recreational park for children who came to the park to play at the swings or take camel and horse rides, among other activities.
Keep Processional Way open for motorists and pedestrians. As it stands, Processional Way will end at the Nairobi Serena Hotel. Cutting off the road will be an added inconvenience to Kenyans and such monumental decisions should not be taken in such a unilateral manner.
Protect our history. Uhuru Park is a place of great historical importance for Kenyans and we appeal to the NMS not to erase our meeting point and the history of the shared venue that makes this country what it is today. Remember, this is the place where Mwai Kibaki was sworn in to mark the end of 24 years of the Moi KANU era with all its atrocities. It is the place where the current constitution was promulgated and the place where Raila Odinga’s People’s President swearing-in took place. This is the place for workers, where we hold 90% of all labour day celebrations. It is the place for Kenyans who love freedom and democracy; taking it away will be like trying to erase Kenya.
Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) seems to be the only outfit in Kenya that does not need to follow any procurement regulations when awarding tenders or invite the public to make bids. That same “cabal” has already single handedly without public participation awarded all the procurement contracts and done the necessary recruitments relating to Uhuru Park renovations and they believe no Kenyan has any right to ask them questions.
If the ultimate goal is to renovate the park, there is no need to make the process necessarily painful because all it does is raises false alarms and makes what could be an innocent situation seem sinister and corrupt. NMS and the Uhuru Government must do the right thing and put things in context.
Furthermore, the questions raised here have also been (officially) raised with the office of Gen. Badi through a letter he has not bothered to respond to – he is an Army General who does not respond to civilians even just for information purposes – but the laws of the land take precedence over military protocols. A copy of that letter is hereby attached.
It is unfortunate that we may not get answers we seek and may have to go to court for the answers we deserve. For that reason, I urge you comrades to join us in this journey of protecting Uhuru Park from Uhuru Kenyatta and the “cabal” around him.
Booker Ngesa Omole is the National Deputy Chairman of the Communist Party of Kenya and a candidate for MP in Gem constituency. Follow him on Twitter @bookerbiro