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When land in Nairobi was sold for cents per square foot

By Amos Kareithi | May 5th 2022 | 2 min read
Nairobi City in 1964 [File]

Imagine owning a slice of Nairobi’s Industrial Area just next to the road for a mere Sh1,830? Suppose the deal was further improved with a promise that you can get all adjoining plots at the same price?

This is not fantasy but a reality of how the colonial government promoted development of Nairobi, just a year after Kenya became a colony.

The foundations of the current land craze in Nairobi and along other prime areas bordering the major roads and railway lines were laid bare by a July 4, 1923 announcement.

While politically connected individuals with the governor’s direct line on speed dial could access hundreds of acres around Nairobi, land in the heart of the country’s capital was still measured using human steps. Even then, a square foot was sold by the government at 24 cents (Sh0.244) and annual rent of 4 cents (Sh0.04 per year).

According to the notice, “the plots are being offered for the purpose of accommodating industries. A sufficient number will be put up to meet the requirements of intending purchasers."

The average size of the plot then was supposed to be 150 feet by 50 feet but there was a rider that "a purchaser shall be entitled to acquire such additional plots as he may require each at the same price as that paid for the plot purchased, provided that such additional plots shall adjoin.”

In the event a purchaser won the bid to buy a plot but was unable to pay, he was blacklisted from future sales. The grant was to commence on the first day of the following month of the sale, meaning the 99 years was to be calculated from August 1, 1923. 

But as the government was dishing out plots to well-heeled investors, Africans were rendered squatters on their own ancestral land by elaborate statues enacted to dispose them of this asset. This was the consequence of designating most of the land as crown land, meaning that whether it was occupied or not, the government could still allocate to the settlers and move the original inhabitants. By a stroke of a pen, Africans residing in such crown lands were now tenants at will on government land.

A lot of water has since passed under the bridge. The 99-year-old leases have expired and most of the properties have since changed hands. After more than half a century as a free country, the seeds of discords planted by the skewed land policy still persist.

Some of the industrial plots dolled out to the well-connected are now all built up. 

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