The ongoing demolition of structures built on riparian land is a confirmation of the rot in Nairobi and the impunity that has reigned in the city for several years.
It is also an indictment of regulatory bodies charged with ensuring compliance to urban development regulations and laws.
Unscrupulous developers get away with glaring illegalities and irregularities because they work in cahoots with dishonest Government officers charged with enforcing the law.
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. It should also start reclaiming grabbed public spaces and road reserves.
However, we must now look at the root cause of the problems we are currently dealing with.
The 1948 master plan for Nairobi shows 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 rivers. Somewhere along the line, implementation of the master plan was largely abandoned and compromises were made.
The 1973 master plan equally had good recommendations but again implementation was minimal and development challenges got worse.
Uncontrolled development crept in and public spaces came under threat from unscrupulous developers.
The city now has the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN) and it remains to be seen how well it will be implemented.
Clearly, the development challenges we are currently dealing with have resulted from a lack of proper implementation of development plans and weak enforcement of physical development laws by the relevant authorities. Lack of commitment and political goodwill made unscrupulous developers and corrupt public officers bolder with their impunity.
While the demolitions may help reclaim 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.
Dealing with the current urban development challenges requires a multi-dimensional approach that takes into consideration both preventive and curative measures.
The Nairobi City County Government must demonstrate commitment to effective implementation of the integrated master plan, which provides a guiding framework 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 the development of structures on riparian land, public spaces and road reserves.
The implementation of the plan coupled with strict enforcement of physical development laws will prevent construction of illegal structures and secure reserves and public spaces from interference.
Coordination among the various urban development regulatory agencies, like the county government, National Environment Management Authority, and Water Resources Authority, should be strengthened.
Professional bodies must also call out their members involved in illegal practices and take disciplinary action against them.
Finally, the fight against illegal structures cannot be won without involvement of communities. Resident associations have tried to protect neighbourhoods from people keen on grabbing public spaces or building on riparian or road reserves.
It is important for the government to support such efforts by facilitating structured and effective engagement with residents’ associations and other community groups.
In Nairobi, the county government should ensure full implementation of the recently enacted Community and Neighbourhood Associations Engagement Act, which provides a legal framework for engagement with residents’ associations and promotion of activities that are complimentary to the work of the Government.
– The writer, Henry Ochieng, is the CEO of Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (Kara).