Let's be wary of rising 'vigilante' resident groups

When the Court dismissed the government's quest to repossess a piece of land that could have seen several houses in Runda Mimosa demolished. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

When I began my practice 11 years ago, I was quickly inducted into the intrigues of how it was difficult to get projects done in the Runda in Nairobi.

The ‘original’ Runda I mean, not the pseudo one being bungled nowadays for marketing purposes of upcoming projects. It is hilarious that we are nearing Kiambu town and still calling it Runda or maybe we should change Kiambu town to Runda town…maybe. It was well known how the Runda Residents Association had the knack to stall projects they believed didn’t warrant construction approval in their neighbourhood.

One time in fact, about four years ago, I had a run-in with the group over a project I was managing in the area. What shocked me was that even the County government which I believe should be the final authority as regards project approvals seemed to kowtow to their whims. The county, unabashed, asked us to seek approval from the association as well. But what concerned me then, and still do, was how it would be possible to carry out projects with an increase of such associations. 

Just a week or so ago, a dominant discussion ensued after the Karen residents association stated that they will not allow inappropriate buildings in their neighbourhood. I mean what is an inappropriate building? Who is the beholder of this measuring tool? Are we going to surrender the decision on what is built or not to resident associations? No. we shouldn’t. The rise in what I now seek permission to call the vigilante residents association is a symptom of a failed County leadership.

In properly functioning municipalities, such associations would be unnecessary or much more for luxury purposes - nothing else. I concede that ours isn’t. The blatant disregard for zoning regulations coupled with the inherent corruption is driving many residents across the city to gather to protect their neighbourhoods. And it is not necessarily a bad thing either. The jest that has become of our city planning over the last decade or so calls for residents to be up in arms. As Gobind Singh says: “When all other means have failed, it is righteous to draw the sword.” This is their sword of protection.

What remedy would residents have when nightclubs are built in residential areas and bars are built within the precincts of kindergartens? Drawing the sword is indeed righteous by all means. However, we must be cautious of this voyage we are taking. Globally, resident associations have also been shown to stifle meaningful developments. The effects of ‘Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) residents on city developments are well documented. The obvious partiality to protect their areas can lead to subjective decisions in evaluating new projects.

We must be wary; I caution against the creation of “powerful’, rigid associations across Nairobi. I understand the need and where they are coming from, but this is not a lasting solution. I believe demanding accountability leadership at City Hall would be an acceptable for a city that is still growing like Nairobi.

Writer is a construction, real estate expert

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