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Demolitions: A case of wrong priorities

By | January 27th 2011

By Parsimei Gitau

The recent gazette notice on compulsory acquisition of property on certain sections of Mombasa Road and Waiyaki Way calls for sober moments for the sake of posterity in our motherland.

Government institutions charged with the responsibility of development control are determined to reprimand those perceived to have breached the rules of the game. Never mind that some of the developments took place in full glare, approval and sometimes supervision of the institutions now purporting to have grown hysteria over the developments. The fact is no stakeholder of urban development can unanimously decide to negatively change the economic life of such a large section of society without invoking the principles of participatory development.

When did we err?

Challenges of urban development are not unique to us. Developed nations and even UN Habitat have been grappling with this agenda and none of their programmes has offered us solutions. Our lack of clear strategy makes us lag behind in urbanisation giving rise to infrastructural hell.

No wonder we have a super gate network of directionless infrastructure linkages because, as a nation we have not sat down to reconcile the small picture with the bigger picture of urbanisation. We need to visualise villages being smaller cities — the Pan city systems — well linked to Mega cities and eventually canopied under the umbrella network of a functional communication and development network.

It is even regrettable that subsequent regimes have watched us annihilate all our fertile agricultural land replacing it with human settlement. Sooner or later, we shall have the tag of a nation with a good agricultural base but ironically unable to feed her people.

Certain aspects of the proposed road expansion have been overtaken by events. The plan of bypasses is already underway to divert vehicles, which have no business in the Central Business District to their rightful transport arteries. Better still, in the next two years, Nairobi will not be the centre of focus but rather the county headquarters.

Unfortunately we are already talking of borrowing — as we cannot afford from our revenue base — to compensate and also undertake the proposed expansion. This is where as a nation we get our priorities wrong. First, the best use of urban land is to carry out development vertically as much as is practicably possible due to the scarcity and none-elasticity of the land resource.


As population soars in urban areas and the scramble and conflict of urban land between human settlements, industrial and infrastructural development increases, there is need for prudent policies in land use. The Chinese Government, which I suppose is one of the possible partners in infrastructure development, may not remember when they last expanded a road horizontally in their country. We cannot afford to waste land resource when we still have squatters 47 years after independence.

By borrowing to build and compensate demolitions only for the taxpayers to pay, we may be committing an act of fraud, as the beneficiary may be the lending country as they lend and take money back to their countries through mandatory contractual engagement. It is also not possible to claim compensation on development carried out in full knowledge and approval of Government.

Shall investors, therefore, be punished for a mix-up of Government systems and or lack of the said systems living up to the tenets of creating vibrant, viable functional and all-important sustainable urban centres?

The writer is a housing and urban management specialist

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