Why Governor Sonko’s coup on city toilets aborted
The public toilet sector in Nairobi was in the news last week when Governor Mike Sonko ordered its private operators to surrender the facilities to City Hall.
The fierce resistance with which the operators reacted to the governor’s directive, forcing him to back down, revealed a little known secret – that the sector is a multi-billion-shilling spinner.
The toilet industry in Nairobi rakes in more than a billion shillings every year. It is controlled by a few groups and individuals that operate like cartels. Fights for control are common and vicious as the groups jostle for a share of the money.
Nairobi County government says there are 68 public toilets in the city with 17 located within the central business district.
They are operated under the public-private partnership that came into effect in 1999 when the defunct Nairobi City Council engaged the business community to find a solution to the deplorable conditions of the facilities.
Many others were privatised during the regime of first governor Evans Kidero.
Dr Kidero said the toilets were privatised because City Hall had no capacity to run them. The operators were to charge a small fee for maintenance. There are a further 517 private toilets spread across the county in the city centre, estates and markets.
A single toilet in the Central Business District and markets, that charges Sh10 per visit, can collect as much as Sh30,000 a day while those in the estates realise between Sh1,000 and Sh3,000.
From 63 public toilets, it is estimated that more than Sh1.9 million is collected every day translating to Sh56.7 million in a month and more than Sh680 million in a year.
The 517 private ones, with an average daily collection of Sh2,000, bring in Sh1 million every day, over Sh31 million every month and Sh372 million in a year.
This money explains why this sector is fiercely guarded with even politicians once in a while being roped in to protect the operators.
The toilets are managed by individuals, youth groups, women groups and the Central Business Hawkers Association. Some are run by supporters of influential city politicians, who “constructed” several toilets years back.
Fighting for control is common. In March, more than 300 armed youths attempted to forcibly take over five toilets at Muthurwa market, OTC and bus station. They were stopped by police.
Governor Sonko explains that the fighting is common where the toilets are being managed by individuals and politicians, who incite youth groups to take over the facilities from their rivals.
Income from these toilets, he says, mostly benefits individuals. Mr Sonko said there are no fights in estates and markets where organised women and youth groups manage the toilets.
Mr Tom Makale, Toilet Association of Kenya chairman, agrees. He says that the youths might have been incited by some leaders to wrestle the control of the toilets from them.
He appealed to the governor to safeguard the interest of their businesses within the city.
The private operators pay City Hall Sh6.2 million per month or Sh74.4 million annually. The county through the directorate of Environment oversees the management of the toilets.
On Wednesday last week, Governor Sonko, in a notice to the operators declared that all public toilets will henceforth be managed by the county and that Nairobians will not be charged to use them.
But Sonko backed down after a week, telling the operators who had defied him that he had no problem with them managing the facilities. He asked them to end wrangles and give city residents quality services or risk losing the toilets.