Utawala’s evolution from wilderness to bustling urban hub


Utawala business centre pictured on June 11, 2024. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

When Canisius Makori, 38, bought land in Utawala, a neighbourhood that borders Nairobi and Machakos counties, it was a jungle. Tall grass covered the land and hyenas would laugh and grunt at night. There were very few people who had built their homes there and those who did never walked out at night. That was 17 years ago.

Mr Makori was 21 years old then and bought a 40 by 80 plot in Utawala near Kinka. He paid just Sh80,000.

“When I first arrived here, there were only murram roads. We had to come home early to avoid human-wildlife conflicts,” he tells the BDLife.

Over the years, Utawala has transformed. From an area with no accessible roads, it is now a thriving neighbourhood with several tarmacked roads and booming businesses.

Many people who had land there have made mid-rise and single-family homes.

However, amid the construction boom, those who had built bungalows have been forced to bear with infringement of privacy or sell off their parcels of land as apartments come up.

One of those who have decided to sell their parcels of land is Mr Makori.

This year, he sold that same plot for Sh2.8 million, even though it was priced lower due to its proximity to the main road.

“I realised that the surrounding properties were being developed into tall rental buildings, making my homelessness visible. So, I decided to sell it at what I considered a throw-away price,” he says.

Mr Makori’s experience highlights the significant appreciation of land prices in areas previously seen as the outer parts of cities.

After selling his land, he moved to Malaa on Kangundo Road, where he built a new home.

But he regrets selling his Utawala land, believing its value will soon rise to between Sh4 million and Sh5 million due to ongoing development.

A majority of Nairobi satellite towns have recorded double-digit growth in the year to March 2024 driven by high demand, according to a land index report by real estate firm Hass Consult.

“It was easy to buy land in 2007 because the demand was low. I found land, negotiated with the owner, and paid in installments,” says Mr Makori.

The construction of most roads leading to estates within Utawala, which began in 2017, has also contributed to the increase in land prices.

“The construction of the road to Kinka, for instance, started in 2017 as part of the bypass road extension,” Mr Makori explains

This improved accessibility has attracted both homeowners and renters.

Early settlers

Grace Nyambura, another long-term resident of Utawala, says she picked the area because of of its potential to grow.

She moved to Utawala in 1989, when she was just 25 years old. She had just gotten married.

“Back then, Utawala was almost unrecognisable compared to today,” she recalls. “There were very few buildings, and the shops were sparse and far between.”

Ms Nyambura says her husband saw potential in the undeveloped land and bought one hectare for Sh100,000, a price that seems almost unimaginable today.

“We were among the early settlers here, and it felt like we were pioneers, carving out a home in what was essentially wilderness,” Ms Nyambura says.

“The area was very quiet, with only a handful of families scattered over large distances. We had to travel long distances for basic amenities and services,” she adds.

Despite the initial hardships, Ms Nyambura says she and her husband were determined to capitalise on their investment.

They built a modest house on their land and started a small farm to sustain themselves.

“Those early years were tough,” she says, "We had no proper roads, and during the rainy season, the murram paths would turn into muddy quagmires. It was a challenge just to get to Nairobi for supplies.”

As the years passed, Ms Nyambura witnessed firsthand the gradual transformation of Utawala.

The construction of new roads and the introduction of essential services marked the beginning of change.


The Nairobi Eastern Bypass Highway passes through Utawala, Nairobi as pictured on June 11, 2024.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

“When the road to Kinka was tarmacked in 2017, it was a game-changer for us,” she says. "Suddenly, we had easier access to Nairobi, and more people started moving into the area.”

Ms Nyambua also noted the boom in local businesses and housing developments. “It’s amazing to see the number of new buildings and businesses that have sprung up. We now have shopping centres, schools, and hospitals right on our doorstep. The once quiet and isolated area is now a bustling urban hub,” she says.

Recognising the increasing demand for houses, Ms Nyambura and her husband diversified their investments.

“We decided to build rental units on part of our land. With the influx of people, especially construction workers and young families, the demand for housing has skyrocketed. Our rentals have provided a steady stream of income and significantly increased the value of our property. Seeing Utawala evolve so drastically over the years has been incredible. We’ve gone from struggling to get by to enjoying the conveniences of modern urban living. It’s been a long road, but it’s been worth every step,” she says.

She is now living with her grandchildren in her home.

Christine Litswa, the Assistant Chief of Utawala, attributes the rise in land prices to several factors, including high demand, the availability of water, enhanced infrastructure, and proximity to Nairobi city centre.

“Today, you need between Sh3 million and Sh4 million to buy a plot here. The geographical location, proximity to Nairobi CBD, security, and infrastructure have driven up prices,” she says.

Ms Litswa also highlights Utawala's straightforward land transaction process and robust security, which contrasts with the high incidence of fraud in other areas. The area also boasts hospitals, two public primary schools, and over 10 private schools.

However, Utawala faces challenges, particularly with its drainage system.

“Poor drainage leads to flooding during the rainy season, causing significant hardship for residents,” Ms Litswa says.

Ongoing projects include the installation of freshwater systems and the tarmacking of the RDU Road.

The rental market in Utawala offers a diverse range of housing options, catering to different budgets and preferences, reflecting the area's mixed-use character and diverse population.

With growth, rent prices have also gone up. Single rooms range from Sh2,500 to Sh6,000 per month, depending on size, style, and amenities. Bedsitters are available for Sh5,000 to Sh12,000 per month.

Modern one-bedroom apartments typically range from Sh12,000 to Sh18,000 per month. Two-bedroom apartments vary from Sh14,000 to Sh35,000 per month, while three-bedroom units go from Sh25,000 to Sh70,000 per month.

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