Our failure to act on housing more sustainably is a major source of Kenya’s economic instability. If the problem of housing is not addressed, the situation could get worse.
I got to this conclusion after an interview with Tengo and Samuel. Both are in their early 30s, work in the public sector and commute daily from one of the emerging peri-urban estates. Their savings and credit co-operative (Sacco) helped them acquire the one-eighth piece of land that they are building homes on to avoid rent.
Like many Kenyans running away from rental homes, they have been living in half-finished homes. In their upcoming neighbourhood, common infrastructure like water, power, roads and sewerage does not exist and they have no idea whose responsibility it is to ensure it is done. The county governor thinks his responsibility ends with natives and the national government thinks its is the governor’s jurisdiction.
Security is increasingly becoming a nightmare. Some young men terrorise residents so much that security has become a major concern in Tengo’s house. The wife wants to move out into the city for the safety of their daughter.
As it is the seven-year-old has to be up at 4 am and on the road in order to be in school by 8 am. She spends a minimum of five hours daily commuting with her parents to the city where the schools are better.
Samuel, on the other hand, wants to lease his house and move to the city until more people move into the neighbourhood. The problem is that the house is not complete and no one is interested in living where there is insecurity.
Transport cost eats up to more than 40 percent of Samuel’s salary. As you drive to Tengo and Samuel’s homes, you are greeted by many unfinished homes, rotting roofs and overgrown grass, all signs that no one has visited the homes for years.
This is money Kenyans have buried that is not bringing any form of return. It is dead capital, not of the rural kind that I once wrote about, but of a the urban variety.
It is a similar story in many of the emerging residential areas surrounding the city of Nairobi. Billions of shillings are tied up in assets that do not yield returns.
Productive land has been chopped into one-eighth-acre plots, which is bound to exacerbate food insecurity. Commodities like coffee, tea and other cash crops are being mowed down to create room for unplanned structures that will cost a fortune in the future to correct.
Former President Mwai Kibaki had foreseen an urban crisis emerging when he created a Ministry for Nairobi Metropolitan Development (MNMD) whose mandate was to develop a master plan to guide the development of the Nairobi Metropolis as well as transportation, environment and economic empowerment. This was in recognition of the fact that the metropolitan region’s population was to rise from 7.6 million in 2012 to 10.8 million and 14.3 million in 2022 and 2030 respectively.
In 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta created Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (Namata) as the successor to the ministry to ostensibly “formulate a sustainable integrated public transport strategy based on the development of a sustainable urban mobility plan that will be the basis for the orderly and structured development of the proposed Metropolitan Area mass-transit system, which incorporates both bus rapid-transit and commuter rail.”
Although Namata will address transport issues, it does not tackle the housing problem as envisaged in MNMD, which was to regenerate, infill and densify inner city areas such as Makadara, Bahati, California, Kariokor as well as outlying areas such as Dagoretti, Kasarani and Njiru to take in more people within the proximity of Nairobi City.
Unless the government moves ahead of the current Wild West type of investments, the economy will continue to be stunted, with money tied up in non-productive assets.