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Opinion & Analysis

The dubious origin of Nairobi bylaws

How did Nairobi end up with bylaws that are, simply put: unfriendly, anti-social and anti-business? That could be a question that Governor Evans Kidero should be grappling with.

Unless we understand the origins of these bylaws, we might continue thinking that they should be enforced for proper policing. Right? Wrong.

This is the true story: Nairobi town started without proper bylaws. But outside its borders was another powerful lobby – the Muthaiga Township Committee, which occupied what was known as Morison Estate, and other outlying plots along Limuru Road; the modern-day Muthaiga Estate.

For starters, Muthaiga was an exclusive suburb of Nairobi’s European community and had existed as a separate township since April 1922 parallel to Eastleigh township for the Indians.

To understand the current city bylaws, one must appreciate that the Muthaiga Township Committee, formed by residents, had powers to impose rates for street maintenance and advise the colonial governor on the rules that should be promulgated for the good order and government of the town (meaning Muthaiga area).

Actually, the Muthaiga Township Committee, had a clause in their statutes that allowed them “submit to the governor rules for the welfare, good order and good government of the township…”

The idea to have stringent by-laws was that some residents were not willing to pay for the maintenance of roads and so the residents came together and drew laws that could force the tax evaders. It was through this that they managed to craft their own bylaws, mostly targeting the African and the Asian communities.

When Nairobi became a municipality in 1919 it had no bylaws while the privately developed estates such as Muthaiga had their own which gave them pseudo-thinking that they were autonomous. Muthaiga’s bylaws had been adopted officially in 1922 after it became a recognised township.

Since Nairobi did not know how to deal with these independent districts, or townships the Justice Feetham Commission was appointed in 1927 to look into, inter alia, the future of Nairobi Municipality in relation to these “ring of townships”. (The Ring Roads connected these townships).

To cut a long story short, Justice Feetham proposed the inclusion of Muthaiga, Westlands, Kilimani, Parklands, The Hill and Eastleigh - into Nairobi. Muthaiga protested.

But the subsequent Local Authorities (Municipalities) Ordnance of 1928 allowed Nairobi to take over Muthaiga. Just to mollify Muthaiga residents, the Nairobi adopted the Muthaiga bylaws, then only applicable to its township as part of its own.

What followed next was a litany of rules based on the original Muthaiga bylaws to control the ‘native” problem in Nairobi under the Proclamations, Rules and Regulations of 1932. (The rest as they say is history).

Today, council askaris continue to enforce these laws, made more stringent over the years.

I will go back to what Tom Mboya told Parliament in May 1960 when complaining about anti-hawking bylaws: “We have to get used to the idea that we are in a developing country where the essence of our policy should be to encourage development rather than to establish standards…”

The Muthaiga by-laws as adopted by Nairobi was strict about standards. Dr Kidero must balance between the maintaining standards and also helping the Nairobians. There is something wrong with Muthaiga Area By-laws. Just thinking.

Mr Kamau is the Associate Editor, Business Daily. Email:[email protected]

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