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Court saves leafy Karen suburb from unwelcome structures

By James Mwangi | November 25th 2021


The recently constructed Karen bypass interchange along Southern bypass road in Nairobi, Kenya [Reuters, Thomas Mukoya]

The Environment and Lands Court has pulled a plug on Nairobi County government’s issuance of building approvals in Karen.

Every new development will have to be vetted and given the greenlight by residents, even if such a project has been approved by City Hall.

The move by Loice Komingoi is a relief to residents who have been fighting to save the suburb from going the direction other former upmarket areas like Kilimani, Kileleshwa, Lavington and Hurlingham have taken.

County officials have been dishing out development permits, threatening to turn the serene leafy neighbourhood into a shantytown of sorts.

Justice Komingoi ruled in favour of the Karen & Lang’ata District Association (KLDA), saying City Hall breached the Recognition Agreement signed in 2017 between City Hall and the residents regarding control of developments locally. KLDA filed the case after proliferation of multi-dwelling developments, business premises, kiosks and hawkers “posing a threat to health, security and traffic safety”.

Karen, which sits on 13,838 acres, is a low-density suburb primarily inhabited by the affluent, who live in serene, spacious and lush compounds. This was beginning to change since the advent of devolved system.

The six zones constituting Karen; Miotoni, Windy Ridge, Mbagathi, Bogani, Karen Plains and Karen Triangle have undergone adverse changes, slowly turning the posh neighbourhood into a choked up middle-class estate.

“Commercial activity is rapidly growing around Karen shopping centre, resulting in congestion, lack of access and parking, dumping of refuse on open spaces and rampant hawking,” KLDA stated.

Besides developments that are at odds with the general appearance of Karen, the suburb is experiencing rapid division of land into spaces below the legal minimum of 0.4ha.

And although Karen is home to Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga, former vice presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi, among other political and corporate bosses, clean water supply is nonexistent.

This has triggered uncontrolled drilling of boreholes, emergence of illegal laundry and car wash points and discharge of sewage into Mokoyeti river.

The association had objected to a total 368 planned developments. Before the ruling, about 82 contentious structures were either completed, undergoing construction or stopped in court.

KLDA has, however, stopped Chinese company Power China International group from building a regional headquarter and staff houses on a 10.48-acre at the junction of Warai road and Dagoretti road.

Construction of a centre by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church along Mukoma road was successfully halted in court. The SDA retreat centre was being erected on land belonging to CS Fred Matiang’i and former Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea.

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