“If we blink even once, all these public spaces will be gone,” Oscar Beuttah, the vice chairman of Ngei Two Langata Resident Association, tells me during an afternoon drive in the estate.
Beuttah explains how residents of Ngei Two, one of the oldest gated estates in Nairobi, have been in and out of court fighting with land grabbers. “We have many cases of land grabbing in the estate. Many involve outsiders, but even our own members connive with other people to grab public utility land in the estate. We have battled land grabbers in courts and had a fair share of successes considering we still can utilise two main fields that have been targeted,” he says.
Beuttah says that despite their efforts, there is a church and a private school within the estate with whom they are in constant engagement over public land issues.
Home & Away is in possession of the copy of a letter by the resident association objecting to the continued development by the church. The residents say the church is built on an open space that was not initially meant for religious purposes and that the developments at the church have interfered with water supply and sewerage in the estate
The letter reads: “From inception plans, Ngei Phase Two, Langata, has never had any provisions for churches in any of the public utility areas in the estate...The existence of the church right in the middle of Ngei Two Estate, compromises the security of the estate as people stream in and out unabated under the guise of going to the church.”
The letter further says that the loud noise from the church interferes with the estate’s tranquillity, peace and quietness. It also states that the heavy trucks bringing building materials to the church, particularly during rainy seasons, have contributed a lot in damaging the already dilapidated estate roads.
In Nyayo Embakasi, another gated estate, it is a case of the same script but different cast. The estate, the largest in Kenya, was built by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). “Nyayo Estate Residents Association has issues with how NSSF wants to build more housing units on pieces of land that were initially meant to be open spaces for schools, playgrounds, churches, hospitals among other social amenities,” Robert Alai, the chairman of the association, says.
Alai claims that NSSF has plans to build the sixth phase of the estate on infill plots. He handed us a copy of the initial master plan map of the estate with the public spaces clearly marked. A second copy of the alleged current plan has outlines for Phase 6 units on open spaces.
“Nyayo Estate residents will not allow that. NSSF should just hand over the public spaces to the county government for development,” he said, adding the estate has a total of 49 undeveloped pieces of public land. In a recent land tussle, angry residents brought down a new development near Gate C of the estate.
“People are hungry and eager to develop any open space in Nairobi. We should worry about what we will turn this city into, with congestion and lack of public utility spaces after erecting unplanned and illegal buildings everywhere,” laments Alai.
Recently, Nairobi Governor Dr Evans Kidero revealed that 1,180 pieces of public land in Nairobi had been grabbed. The governor said the county was in the process of repossessing the parcels of land for public use.
Henry Ochieng, the CEO of the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (Kara), says that grabbing of public land is rampant in many estates because of corruption, poor enforcement of the law and residents’ negligence. “Sometimes residents just do not want to protect public land, until it is grabbed or encroached. This negligence by residents encourages unscrupulous private developers to continue with impunity,” Ochieng says, adding: “Soon, we will have children playing on the roads and estates with no social amenities if residents do not come out to protect their neighbourhoods.”
Ochieng says estates with strong and well coordinated resident associations have fewer or no cases of land grabbing compared to those with weak or without associations. He cites Karen-Langata Resident Association and Loresho North Resident Association.
“We are sensitising residents on the need to use public spaces and suggesting to others to fence off these spaces to protect them,” Ochieng adds. He says Kara is working together with the county government to devise ways of protecting open public spaces: “The county government has taken an inventory of the number of public spaces. We are pushing them together with the National Land Commission to issue tittle deeds for these pieces under community names.”