The recent documentary regarding the faded glory of the once enviable Buru Buru estate is a classical example of what happens when there is total disregard of physical planning laws and regulations.

A number of estates in urban areas, that were once well planned and attractive have gradually turned into semi-slums and become an eyesore.

So where did the rains start beating us? In 1973, Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy was developed to provide a guiding framework for development in the city. The strategy had implementation time frame ending in the year 2000. The plan was however not effectively implemented and after a while various government departments and agencies chose to develop sector plans to address issues related to their dockets. Poor coordination and lack of harmonization of the various sector plans led to confusion and uncoordinated development in Nairobi. By the time the growth strategy expired in 2000, it was clear that its implementation was poorly executed and most development approvals were given based on other considerations and not the strategy or law.

From the year 2000 to 2014, Nairobi operated without an urban development guiding framework. What followed was an avalanche of uncontrolled developments; illegal structures; inadequate infrastructure to support the rising development; poor coordination between various state actors responsible for managing development; and general deterioration of living conditions in several estates. Zoning laws that provide guidance on the types of dwellings or businesses for a particular area were blatantly ignored and development approvals given based on how well connected one was and the amount of money he/she could part with in form of bribes.   

With increasing population in Nairobi, the demand for more housing and space for carrying out incoming generating activities significantly increased. In the absence of a development plan, structures were erected in road reserves, footpaths and houses built without due consideration to relevant planning laws and regulations. This has led to the sorry state being witnessed in Buru Buru and other estates today. 

So what should be done? It is comforting to note that after 14 years of operating without a master plan, Nairobi City County recently launched the Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan (NIUPLAN) to be implemented over a period of 16 years. The County Government led by Governor Evans Kidero must ensure that the plan is fully implemented in order to address development challenges confronting the city. Relevant policy guidelines and legislative frameworks should be put in place to facilitate smooth implementation of the plan

Secondly, it is time the County Government embraced structured partnership with Residents Associations in order to strengthen policing of developments at the neighborhood level and ensure that necessary laws are adhered to. The County Government should fast track the enactment of the Nairobi City County Community and Neighbourhood Associations Engagement Bill, 2015. The Bill, initiated by The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) gives statutory recognition to Community and Residents Associations by the County Government and enables structured cooperation between the County and the Associations.

The County Government should also encourage Residents Associations to develop Local Physical Development Plans (LPDP) for their respective neighbourhoods by endorsing such plans and ensuring that developments that contravene the LPDP or other planning regulations are not approved. Effective collaboration with Residents Associations will greatly complement the work of the County Government and restore order in the City.

The biggest threat to addressing development challenges in Nairobi is corruption. The mushrooming of uncontrolled developments and illegal structures in various neighbouhoods can be largely attributed to corrupt officers at the County Government. The officers collect bribes from developers to approve structures that contravene planning laws and regulations. The Governor should be bold enough to completely overhaul the lands and physical planning department and put in place stringent measures to deal with corruption.

Unless deliberate, bold and sustainable steps are taken to address development challenges facing the City, more estates will face the same fate as Buru Buru and we will soon be dealing with a crisis that may not be easily curable.

Henry Ochieng
Chief Executive Officer
The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA)