The changing face of Nairobi's River Road

Increased security and redevelopment of this segment of the city’s downtown has boosted its profile, writes AUSTINE OKANDE

Meja Mwangi’s 1976 novel Going Down River Road tells a story of urban poverty and juxtaposes the narrative with ‘Development House’ that ironically gives the people working here little to think about, development wise.

Today, however, the area that gave the book its name is seeing redevelopment that is slowly giving it a new lease of life, away from the cheap karara liquor and roach infested rooms that colour the life of Meja Mwangi’s protagonist.

And the fiction was not too far off from reality, think of art imitating life. A few years ago, the thought of setting up a business or seeking a decent accommodation in Nairobi’s River Road would have been considered a big joke or a recipe for disaster.

These were the days when a newcomer to the city was always advised not to answer a phone on the streets or even ask for directions from strangers.

While there is River Road proper, the name has grown to mean most areas east of Tom Mboya Street.


This part of the city literally scared off potential investors, many others closed down their businesses, while the few businesses that remained operated on losses or minimal profits.

River Road, at that time, was regarded as one of the most insecure parts of the city, with daylight muggings and burglaries being the order of the day. This section of the city was known for its array of dingy noisy clubs where prostitution occurred round-the-clock.

However, according the Nairobi Central police boss Patrick Oduma, River Road is currently one of the safest and busiest streets in the city.

“We have both uniformed and civilian police officers on routine patrol in the area. The officers closely monitor the area to avert in security threats. Most streets in this section of the city today are lit up,” he said in an earlier interview with this writer.

Oduma’s sentiments are shared by business personalities and developers in the city, who attribute the booming business in the area to improved security and readily available market.

Withstanding the noisy environment, traffic congestion and dusty roads, a number of buildings are coming up in the area to take advantage of the increasing demand for office space and business spaces.


While traversing the expansive River Road, the writer counted five towering new buildings under construction.

Moses Gicheru, one of the developers in the area, says that rising demand for commercial space in River Road has seen an increment in goodwill charged on business spaces, with most of the available spaces now demanding at least Sh2 million as goodwill.

“With guaranteed markets for their products and services, most businesspeople seeking such spaces are willing to part with such amounts,” he says.

One development that is currently decorating River Roads’ skyline is the four-storey Crossroad Business Centre, a modern structure located off Cross Road.

The contemporary buildings sprouting up in this part of Nairobi’s downtown offer an array of space options ranging from business stalls (which can be used as shops and offices), restaurants, furnished accommodation facilities to open office spaces.

‘Our development (Crossroad Business Centre) is inspired by the need to create job opportunities and the urge to benefit from the thriving business community of downtown Nairobi,” says Gicheru.


On River Road, a square metre of rental space goes for Sh1,300 per month, compared to Sh2,700 per square metre per month in a prime retail space of Nairobi.

Located on the eastern side of the Central Business District (CBD), River Road holds gems of Eastern architectural designs.

The underlying identity of buildings in this part of the city was an artsy display of Indian-style balconies and intricately curved door and window designs. Most of the buildings serve both as commercial and residential houses.

However, this might soon be a thing of the past as the developers buy, demolish these old buildings to construct more commercially viable structures.

Mentor Management Limited recently released findings of the office market and forecast, covering eight years from 2009 to 2016.

The findings predicted that overall, there will be an excess supply of office space in Nairobi in the next two years.

The report further indicated that new-build across all office nodes may lead to oversupply in all areas by 2016 and this could correct the high rental prices as landlords start serious competition for tenants.

The report also revealed that many developers are not building offices that are in sync with what many companies are looking for.