The ongoing demolition of structures built on riparian land confirms the rot in Nairobi and the impunity that has reigned for several years. It is also an indictment of the regulatory bodies.
A quick look at some of the constructions in Nairobi gives a picture of a city that has not paid due attention to the basic principles of sustainable urban planning and development.
A number of structures are built on riparian land, public spaces, road reserves and others are in complete violation of zoning.
The government must be commended for finally waking up and being courageous enough to bring down some of the buildings put up in contravention of the law. We encourage the government to not only go after the buildings on riparian land but also reclaim the grabbed public spaces and road reserves.
However, even as we applaud the government for bringing down the offending buildings, we must look at the root cause of the problems and prescribe cure.
The 1948 master plan for Nairobi gives an indication that planning for the city was intended to be based on the neighbourhood concept with adequate provision for public spaces and protection of natural resources like the rivers.
Unfortunately, this was abandoned and compromises made. The 1973 master plan equally had progressive recommendations but again implementation was minimal and development challenges got worse.
Uncontrolled development crept in and public spaces increasingly came under threat from unscrupulous developers.
The city now has the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN). Its implementation will be the big test.
It is, therefore, clear that these development challenges resulted from lack of proper implementation of development plans and weak enforcement of physical development laws.
Lack of commitment and political goodwill made the unscrupulous developers and corrupt public officers bolder and to act with impunity. While the demolitions may serve to reclaim the riparian and road reserves as well as public spaces and perhaps send out a warning to those intending to engage in illegal development, it is not a sustainable solution to the broader urban development problems facing Nairobi. A multidimensional approach that takes into consideration both preventive and curative measures must be employed.
To begin with, the Nairobi County Government must demonstrate commitment to effective implementation of the integrated master plan to manage urban development in Nairobi.
Strict adherence to the plan will provide spatial order of physical investments and ensure that no approvals are given for development of structures on riparian land, public spaces and road reserves.
Strict enforcement will prevent construction of illegal structures and secure the reserves and public spaces from interference. There is also a need to strengthen co-ordination among the various urban development regulatory bodies.
Buck-passing and blame game confirm that the agencies don’t consult among themselves before final approvals are given.
The County Government, National Environment Management Authority, Water Resources Authority among others should not work in silos but rather co-ordinate activities for strict compliance with the law.
The design, approval and construction processes for any physical development involves professionals at various stages.
Some of the professionals are, therefore, accomplices in the development of illegal structures and must be held responsible.
The professional bodies must call out their members involved in illegal practices and take disciplinary actions against them. This will ensure that professionals uphold integrity at all times and refuse to facilitate illegal processes.
The fight against illegal physical development cannot be won without involvement of communities. A number of resident associations have been passionate about protecting their neighbourhoods. It is important for the government to support such efforts by facilitating structured and effective engagement with them and other community groups.
Nairobi County should ensure full implementation of the recently enacted Community and Neighbourhood Associations Engagement Act.
Henry Ochieng,CEO, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations, Nairobi.