Nema, focus on planning, not demolitions

A bulldozer demolishes a Shell petrol station in Kileleshwa
A bulldozer demolishes a Shell petrol station in Kileleshwa, Nairobi for encroaching wetland on August 8, 2018. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU | NMG   

Are we actually clowns? Or is it the act of a measured, responsible State to demolish almost new buildings with tenants still running in and out rescuing food cabinets and meals?

For sure, if our national environmental watchdog, Nema (National Environment Management Authority), was proving a point this last week, in demolishing the Kileleshwa Shell garage, Java coffee house and neighbouring pharmacy, perhaps we can all examine exactly what point it was.

A first point might be, perhaps, that Nema could do with some training and procedure in organising demolitions.

As it is, we now lay claim to funding a sovereign body that tears down buildings in use and argues afterwards that it sent a letter as its rationale for this act of wanton destruction.

No court action or procedure was invoked. Apparently even basic safety measures were impossible.


Indeed, we are to believe, it’s a war out there, those evil, crazy, riparian building developers and tenants, who must be shown.

Yet a little Internet search by our environmental hound dogs might have brought them up-to-speed on some handy measures like slapping notices on the building, fencing it off, and organising its evacuation.

Not to say that it isn’t bothersome to rescue an entire pharmacy’s worth of medicines. But, in the grand scheme of things, destroying a tenant’s drugs stock isn’t obviously an act of social good or social principle. Or even necessary.

Yet maybe Nema wasn’t just making a play for extra Treasury budget for the training of its staff.

Maybe the manager who woke up one day last week and said: ‘We’re sending in the demolition crew’ does actually believe there was some much grander point being fought for.

Was it to stop flooding in our city? So was the Shell garage causing flooding? Funnily, I was not aware of that.

If flooding is the point, there are floods in Nairobi every rainy season caused by poor planning. Not, for instance, caused by the oft-cited Westgate Mall, which does not create floods, but generated by the ridiculous culvert underneath, which causes a force of water so great that sometimes bricks and surfaces are lifted by the sheer force of the resulting water pressure.

But maybe removing a culvert that acts as a bottleneck and water pressure point is less dramatic and less fun than demolishing pharmacists.

As far as I know, however, the point was not to stop flooding, and the demolished building was not causing flooding.

The point was to uphold the law, which states that buildings cannot be located within 30 metres of a river or stream.

Whether this law has a point is another moot issue. As it is, Nairobi is not some isolated city on planet earth, there are some others. And many of the world’s capital cities are built on rivers.

London has the Thames, Paris the Seine: Amsterdam, Florence, the list of cities built on waterways is a long one.

I cannot think of one of them that is without buildings at the water’s edge.

Sometimes, and especially with huge tidal rivers such as the Thames, that has required massive infrastructure investment in flood control.

But most of those rivers are not tidal and built river banks and practical attention to flood control have achieved security.

In our own city, rescuing our rather small river from filth and overspill actually is to be welcomed.

In enforcing a second aim again of ensuring 30-metre borders, a green and beautiful river is certainly an urban asset.

Yet this is not actually a war. It’s an upgrade, a development of better systems and processes, a comprehensive review.

So can we not be civilised in building our own more beautiful in the future?

If we behave like thugs on the claim that others are thugs, then we are thugs.

And sorting out our river is something we can do in a better way than that.