Miji Bora: Mombasa City on the pathway to SMART and Sustainable City Status

A meeting of minds:

Building relationships and sharing ideas will potentially put the coastal city of Mombasa onto a smart and sustainable pathway and strengthen its ability to withstand the impacts of climate change.


Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city and home to 1.2 million people. Its location on the south coast of Kenya makes it a strategic trading centre that plays a significant role in the economy of Kenya and her landlocked neighbours, including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Like many African cities, Mombasa faces a plethora of challenges in the areas of water and sanitation provision, solid waste management, transport and energy, and these problems are expected to get bigger in the face of climate change impacts such as sea level rise and changes in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms. Already, saline incursion into boreholes and aquifers is a major problem in the north of the city, and this exacerbates Mombasa’s endevours to provide clean water to its residents.

Just over 3 000 kilometres to the south of Mombasa, the South African city of Durban faces very similar challenges. Now, through the Miji Bora project, officials in the County Government of Mombasa and the eThekwini Municipality (which includes the city of Durban) are sharing ideas and prototyping solutions, with a view to improving the functioning of their cities in the context of climate change.

The three-year Miji Bora project is funded by WIOMSA through its Cities and Coasts project, and implemented by Coastal and Marine Resources Development, a non-governmental organization. Project partners include the County Government of Mombasa, eThekwini Municipality, the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), Macquarie University (Australia), Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, iLab Africa (Strathmore University, UK) and UN-Habitat.

A good example of the collaboration between the County Government of Mombasa and Miji Bora is a planned climate change policy for the city of Mombasa. Mjii Bora was invited to contribute to the drafting of the policy, which is now in final draft form.

“That is what we want,” says Justus Kithiia, principal investigator of the Miji Bora project, “we want to produce results and findings that can be used right away. Although policy making is not our role, we can contribute policy information and we have been invited to do that.”

Mombasa is one of the first cities in the western Indian Ocean region to formulate a climate change policy which contains cross-cutting actions related to energy, transport, health, the built environment and the coastal environment. Once the policy is adopted, the actions will be streamlined into the various sectors of the County Government through the Annual Development Plan and budget will be allocated for their implementation.

According to Kithiia, climate change is at the forefront of the Miji Bora project.

“You can’t talk about sustainability in Mombasa without talking about climate change,” he says.

Peer-to-Peer learning exchange is another major component of the Miji Bora project. In November 2019, the first of a series of planned exchange visits took place when officials from eThekwini Municipality visited Mombasa. Unfortunately, the scheduled visit by the Mombasa team to Durban in March 2020 was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, as both Kenya and South Africa invoked travel bans and lockdowns to try to limit the spread of the disease. Over the intervening months, Miji Bora participants and partners have adapted to the hiatus in regional and international travel – webinars have replaced face-to-face engagement and lockdown hours have been used to good effect with the publication of an initial two journal articles: Motion but no speed: Colonial to post-colonial status of water and sanitation service provision in Mombasa City which was published in the journal Cities in July 2020 and The socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 restrictions: Data from the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya, which was published in Data in Brief in September 2020.

On 23 July 2020, a webinar on the subject of eThekwini’s Transformative River Management Programme (TRMP) attracted a number of participants who were eager to learn about the ways in which eThekwini Municipality is working to clean and green the rivers that run through the city of Durban. During the session, a number of similarities were identified between the TRMP and activities that aim to restore riverine vegetation and wetlands, and improve waste management in Mombasa. A positive outcome of the July webinar was an agreement by the County Government of Mombasa to develop a concept for the integrated management of the Mtopanga River that mirrors the TRMP. This initiative will be led by Miji Bora and will involve the County Government departments of Water, Environment, Transport, Infrastructure and Public Works. As with Durban’s TRMP, the river restoration initiative will strive to involve local communities and create employment.

Motion but no speed: Colonial to post-colonial status of water and sanitation service provision in Mombasa Cityhighlights the water and sanitation challenges faced by the County Government of Mombasa. According to the study, which was published in the journal Cities in July 2020, two thirds of low-income residents have no access to safe and affordable water. The problems with sewerage provision are equally disturbing. Mombasa’s reticulated sewerage system has deteriorated since it was constructed in 1952 and 1962, to the point that today raw sewage is discharged into the ocean. Rapid population growth (3.29%) and a consequent increase in the volume of wastewater will only exacerbate these problems.

“The problem is dire and something needs to be done about it – and something is being done,” says Kithiia. “Durban is ahead in this area and there is a lot to learn from them.”

A webinar in May 2020 focused intently on the subject of water and sanitation, with experts sharing information about eThekwini Municipality’s sustainable sanitation initiatives, the objective of which is to provide water and sanitation services outside of formal urban zones. Some of the sustainable sanitation technologies tested by eThekwini in informal and rural settlements include a low-tech wastewater treatment system that uses gravity and biological processes at street level; a toilet block and a wastewater treatment system that treats and recycles wastewater; a household toilet for residents of informal settlements that are able to pay for a higher level of service than shared community ablution blocks; and treated wastewater and desalinated water for industrial use.

Kithiia says the webinars have opened up Miji Bora’s peer-to-peer learning component to a larger number of participants and thereby compensated for the current lack of face-to-face engagement. The webinars have also provided a platform to establish and maintain relationships between highly diverse project partners, a factor that is key to Miji Bora’s success.

“Academics are able to provide research guidance and put information together, whereas the County Government is actually working in the urban core,” explains Kithiia. “We know we cannot put Mombasa on a smart and sustainable pathway in three years. That is why we are working so closely with the County Government of Mombasa. They are on the ground and they will keep progressing some of the initiatives that Miji Bora has started.”

The projects and activities supported by Miji Bora are grouped into three categories: examining key urban drivers (such as water, sanitation, waste disposal, urban ecological footprints, and transport); predicting future trajectories through a climate change lens; and exchange learning between Mombasa County Government and eThekwini Municipality.

WIOMSA ScienceNews provides updates on current WIOMSA-funded research projects. Grantees share their field experiences as well as their research results. In this week’s update, we present a  video from the Smart and Sustainable Transitioning for Coastal Cities in the Face of Global Environmental Change (MIJIBORA) project which has developed a draft Climate change policy for the County Government of Mombasa, Kenya.

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