A bulldozer has descended on Ukay Centre in Westlands as the national environment watchdog, Nema, steps up reclamation of occupied wetlands in the capital Nairobi.
The iconic mall, estimated to have cost Sh900 million, comes down a day after its owners failed to secure an injunction against its demolition from the High Court.
On Thursday, Kental Enterprises Limited sued the Nairobi County government, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), the Water Resource and Management Authority, the National Youth Service and the attorney-general.
According to Managing Director Bimal Shah, Ukay Centre adhered to all laws relating to riparian reserves and the recommended distance from rivers.
Before a judge
The disputed property is located near River Kinagare, a tributary of Nairobi River that flooded heavily in 2016, wreaking havoc for tenants in the mall.
The matter was placed before the vacation judge for directions, which are yet to be issued.
At the scene, heavy dust and debris filled the air with stranded businesspeople counting their losses as the green bulldozer hit and broke down one pillar after another.
The tenants told the Nation that most of their stock was inside the mall as the majority were not aware of the demolition.
Mr Kavit Shah, who owns a shop inside the mall, said the Nema bulldozer caught them flatfooted since they thought they had until Tuesday next week to vacate.
"We were notified that we had until Tuesday to move out but changed this morning when excavators arrived here. We are waiting for them to demolish then see what we can salvage,” he said.
Heavy police presence
There was a heavy police presence at the scene to deal with any resistance even though the demolition is going on smoothly.
But the demolition almost turned tragic after heavy debris from the building flew right over the bulldozer, nearly burying it.
After a few minutes of inactivity as the engine purred, the operator emerged covered in dust but was not injured.
The operation was stopped for several minutes to allow technicians to repair the wrecking machine.
The mall, which used to house Nakumatt Ukay Supermarket, closed for business after goods of unknown value were washed away from the supermarket's shelves following a heavy downpour.
Photos of the flooded store circulating on social media showed items such as detergents, toiletries and diapers among others floating on flooded floors.
The government has earmarked 4,000 buildings for demolition because they sit on riparian land, public utility plots and road reserves.
Nema said the buildings had been given a three-month notice, which expired on Sunday, after the launch of the regeneration plan to restore Nairobi city.
So far, a Shell petrol station and Java House outlet in Kileleshwa, and South End Mall on Langat Road are among iconic buildings that have been brought down.
The operation to reclaim riparian land in Nairobi is being led by the Nairobi Regeneration team appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The technical committee, co-chaired by Governor Mike Sonko and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, was formed to audit unsafe buildings and those built on wetlands.
It brings together officers from the National Construction Authority, Nema, Cabinet secretaries of Interior, Land and Housing, Environment and Water, the NYS and the office of the attorney-general.
The demolitions come after the team leaders committed to ambitious timelines for the delivery of results, ranging from garbage collection, cleaning up of Nairobi River to launching of a mortgage company.
“The Cabinet secretaries and the principal secretaries who are part of the team promised to tender their resignation to President Kenyatta while county executives will hand theirs to Governor Sonko if they fail to deliver,” read a statement from PSCU after the team met President Kenyatta in April.
In June, the parliamentary committee on environment and natural resources was alarmed by the extent of encroachment when it toured waterways.
It identified Limuru Road, Lang’ata Road, Arboretum Road, Spring Valley, Globe Cinema roundabout, Riverside Drive, Westlands, Parklands, Fuata Nyayo estate in South B, Village Market, Gem Suites in Riverside and Alina Villas in Spring Valley as among the areas where buildings are sitting on river banks.
Additional reporting by Harry Misiko.
Story originally published on Nation.co.ke