Kenya: How Earth Movers Ended Up at Uhuru Park

A marabou stork stands forlornly next to the imposing blue iron sheets forming a three-metre-high barrier around Uhuru Park.

The old-looking bird has probably known the 12.9-hectare recreation park adjacent to the Nairobi city centre as its home for years.

However, in the scorching sun on a Sunday afternoon, it looks lost planning its next move. Quiet life at an artificial lake at the park, opened in 1969, is no longer tenable.

But it is not only this bird that is pondering its next move. Thousands of Nairobi residents depending on the park are also affected. Uhuru Park and Central Park are now no-go zones. Roaring bulldozers have replaced park goers.

Heavy police presence is also on site as different activities continue at the famed park. Mounds of red soil have replaced the green grass that dotted the park and the main dais has been knocked down.

Apart from the artificial lake, Uhuru Park is home to several national monuments, such as the iconic Nyayo statue and Mau Mau freedom fighters memorial, and an assembly ground that was a popular skateboarding spot on weekends and a location for local skateboarding competitions.

The park has also hosted random political and religious gatherings at the assembly ground as different businesses thrived on the presence of visitors to the park. The green space is also the sanctuary for Freedom Corner.

The two parks were closed for renovations last month after Nairobi MCAs approved a motion giving NMS the go-ahead to close the two public parks for an upgrade.

Ward representatives had decried the state of the two iconic public parks, saying they were deplorable.

The motion by Majority Leader Abdi Guyo sought to have the parks urgently closed to allow for their rehabilitation to restore their former glory.

Mr Guyo said the iconic parks had suffered years of neglect and were in a state of disrepair, and risked losing their appeal, historical significance and recognition if they were not refurbished.

He explained that rehabilitation and retrofitting of urban parks and green spaces in Nairobi County are part of the presidential legacy project and therefore need the full support of the county.

However, he decried that the two parks, among a few such public spaces with historical and national significance, risked losing their international appeal, recognition and status given the neglect they had suffered over the years.

Earlier, in July, NMS Director-General Mohamed Badi had announced that the two parks had been earmarked for transformation into modern recreational parks to mirror similar parks in Dubai by making them more engaging to visitors.

The transformation will touch on landscapes, playgrounds, and the architecture of built structures to create compelling spaces that attract more visitors.

“By next week we will draw plans on how to transform the park. We intend to change Uhuru Park into a modern garden with flowers and waterfronts just like the ones in Dubai. We promise that you will see the change within six months,” said Mr Badi then.

Officials said the works will be completed by early next year and the parks will open to the public in February.

NMS spokesman Tony Mbarine said the rehabilitation will turn the recreational areas into facilities befitting a modern city.

“The parks have been outdated for a long time. A lot of things were not working and we are just doing what should have been done 20 years ago. By February, they (Uhuru and Central parks) will be open as very beautiful parks,” said Mr Mbarine.

He said the renovation involves fitting in modern facilities and amenities that the parks have been lacking.

Mr Mbarine said the basic facilities were built for people in the 1960s and ’80s, when the city’s population was less than its estimated four million residents today.

“The grass has not been managed well, where it was more weeds than grass, no services, no amenities like proper toilets, no activities for kids except bouncing castles and others brought from outside. We are now improving the features by putting up facilities that will make the parks look modern,” he said.

“NMS was created to undo things that have been done wrong as well as do things for the public good. This is our chance to fix the park.”

Seeking to allay fears that Uhuru Park has been grabbed by a private developer and a hotel was being put up, Mr Mbarine clarified that NMS is upgrading the parks using their own contractors and not a private contractor and “there is no way we can do the upgrade while the park is open”.

The fears reawakened echoes of 1989, when Nobel peace laureate Prof Wangari Maathai and many of her followers held a protest at Uhuru Park, attempting to stop the construction of a 60-storey business complex for Kenya Times Media Trust. The protests and the government’s response led foreign investors to cancel the project.

Nairobi County retains, operates and maintains various parks and green spaces such as Uhuru Park, Central Park, Michuki Memorial Park, Jamhuri Park, Jeevanjee Gardens and Uhuru Gardens.

The spaces are destinations for play and recreation, mediation, picnics, walking, exercising and jogging for fitness enthusiasts.

However, the areas have been thinning in the recent past due to neglect but since last year, NMS has embarked on their restoration starting with Michuki Park, which is now fully rehabilitated.

Consequently, the park has now been averaging about 400 visitors daily as it offers a special site for children and nature, and provides a conducive environment for students to read, host events and take weddings and graduation photos.


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Author : Nation

Publish date : 2021-11-25 09:15:56

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