Filthy business

If you ever happen to find yourself within the Nairobi CBD, just consider driving 16km to your east. There  you will be witness to perhaps what is the largest dumpsite this side of the Sahara. The Dandora dumpsite stands expansively, filthily and dangerously on a massive piece of real estate acreage. This wholly negative description could be in the process of undergoing an “extreme makeover” if plans by the City Council of Nairobi do not face the same inglorious fate that befalls  many other noble ideas borne by the capital’s local authority. This follows the Town Clerk’s recent announcement that there is a search for contractors to convert the city’s main dumpsite to a recreational park, as well as to treat and dispose garbage in an alternative site in a more environmentally acceptable and creatively profitable way. While the nominated companies are bound to rake in very good money, it is a well known secret in the streets of the suburb, that money is also the main reason why previous initiatives to relocate the site have failed again and again over the years. Attempts by lobby groups and local leaders to mobilise relevant authorities to relocate the dumpsite have been met by strict, sometimes violent resistance.  Experts note that the site provides income to thousands of street families who collect and sell the recyclable items they manage to scavenge from the heaps of garbage in the site.  Unconfirmed claims also indicate that businessmen linked to garbage collection and disposal ventures have over the years pulled the critical strings needed to frustrate efforts of relocating the dumpsite. The investment by the long list of firms lined up for Public Private Partnerships with the City Council of Nairobi is seen as a long awaited remedy by the thousands of residents who inhabit the neighbouring low income estates of Dandora,Kariobangi and Korogocho. Apart from being an eyesore and a hideout for criminal gangs and drug peddlers, a recent study commissioned by UNEP indicates that these areas have in their atmosphere, overconcentrated levels of lead which have proved fatal to many children inhabiting this area. To think that someone would put their business interests ahead of the concerns of poor children’s health is plain selfish if you ask me. This story goes a long way in displaying how Africa’s problems are created by African’s themselves. Press reports claim that 33 firms have been asked to submit proposals on how they intend to implement the projects with the intention of evaluating their technical and financial ability. Unsurprisingly, over 95% of these firms are foreign. If selfish officials at the local authority do not have it their way and mismanage the section of the funds being availed by the Central Government of Kenya for the projects, then Nairobi and many other African individuals and nations will have  enjoyed free lessons on using business for the common good of society. Contextually, it is hard to even start comparing the two scenarios. While we see the selfishnessof greedy businessmen aiming to make a few thousands for their benefit only, we also see a sea of  opportunity in the scientific know how that can be passed on to locals by the firms eyeing one of the Council’s projects. Far from the common belief that business and charity always have to be separated; this is a classic example of how doing business with the social good in mind can bring in even more profits. In the case of these particular projects, the Town Clerk estimates that both of them will cost over 8 billion Kenya Shillings (approximately 800 million dollars). This is way above what the mean, individualistic initiatives that entertain the hazardous site could ever reap in a lifetime. Clichéd as this statement might sound, it’s about time African entrepreneurs started thinking more outside the box, and more significantly start thinking of society and how it will wholly benefit from their income generating creations. Then maybe, Africa will shed it’s hitherto dark image which it has battled with for centuries now.

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