Nation: After living in Zimmerman for most of his life, Mr Dennis Gatune, an IT manager with a city-based firm, decided to move out after seeing the estate decline drastically.

Once a well-organised suburb with ample amenities such as water, it began declining as more people moved to the area.

“As the population increased, many developers put up high-rise buildings, most of them haphazardly. We began experiencing water shortages and power blackouts became the norm as some residents tapped electricity illegally. The sewer system started failing, often pouring its contents onto the streets and exposing us to water-borne diseases,” he says.

The streets became crowded, hawkers invaded areas close to their homes and traders put up kiosks on every available space. The homeless swarmed in too, bringing with them a security concern that would plague Zimmerman for years.

So three years ago, Mr Gatune moved to Kiamumbi Estate, a more serene neighbourhood located off Kamiti Road.

“I was attracted to Kiamumbi because it was designated as a low-density area. That meant that the plots came with a single-user permits for residential use only, and people were prevented from putting up high-rise and commercial buildings,” he says. And because the area was previously agricultural land, the estate had plenty of trees, which provided the tranquil environment he had sorely missed while living in Zimmerman.

Two years down the line, however, Mr Gatune is worried that the locality he cherished has started on a downward trend. Last year, a private developer started building a high-density residential flat without the approval of the National Construction Authority (NCA).


Worried that it might set a precedence that would see Kiamumbi littered with high-rise flats, the residents formed Damview Estate Kiamumbi Residents’ Association to advocate for their rights. The association has a membership of more than 100 households.

“We approached the developer and pleaded with him not to put up the flats since the plots here are designed for single-family use but our pleas fell on deaf ears,” says an exasperated association official. “We then approached the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), which issued a “Stop notice” to the developer but he continued building.”

The residents say that officers from the NCA visited the construction site on July 20 this year and marked its entrance with X, indicating that it lacked the authority’s approval.

After the developer ignored the Nema notice, the residents sued the NCA, Nema and the developer (Nairobi Environment & Land Case No. 912 of 2016). They accused the developer of starting a construction in breach of clear directions from the NCA. Besides, he had not sought clearance from Nema, which would have called for public participation. The residents maintained that unless he was restrained, he would continue with the project.

Their lawyer, Mr David Githinji, on July 28 this year argued before High Court Judge Nyambura Gacheru that the law required all residents to adhere to the construction and development standards of the areas in which they build. However, the High Court declined to issue an order stopping the construction and directed that the respondents, the developer, the Kiambu County Government, the NCA and Nema be served with the suit papers for further hearing on August 8.

But on the material day, only the Advocates representing Nema and the developer went to court and asked for time to file their replies. The case was due for further directions on September 7.

“Kiamumbi area does not have enough facilities like roads, sewer lines and water to support a high-density residential estate. We get our water from a nearby dam which will run dry if the demand ever surges,” say the association’s officials.

Commenting on the case, the Kenya Alliance of Residents Associations (Kara) says that it is just one of the many instances in which previously prestigious and functional estates lose their lustre. Registered in 2000, the national umbrella organisation has since handled many similar complaints by residents.

Mr Henry Ochieng’, Kara’s chief executive officer, says that a number of estates in urban areas that were once well planned and attractive have gradually lost value due to uncontrolled development. He cites Zimmerman and Buruburu as cases in point, adding that the situation is similar in other towns like Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru.

Mr George Karoki, a consulting engineer who has participated in the implementation of various projects in and around the city, says that Kileleshwa is fast heading in that very direction.

When several high-density residential buildings are approved in a low-density designated neighbourhood, the area automatically becomes a high-density area, as witnessed in the recent past particularly, in the case of Kileleshwa, he says.

With the population of Nairobi increasing, the demand for housing and space for carrying out income-generating activities significantly increased, says Mr Ochieng’. But in the absence of a development plan, structures were erected on road reserves, riparian land and footpaths.

Engineer Karoki says that the local governments that existed before the new governance structures were ushered in failed to plan for the anticipated increase in urban populations.

“In 2011, for instance, 30 per cent of Kenya’s estimated 40 million people lived in urban centres. This has grown to about 41 per cent in 2016 and very soon half the country’s population will be urbanised. The congestion will definitely see many single-user residential estates converted into high-density areas,” he says.


To cater for the population influx, both levels of government have set in motion an ambitious urban renewal plan that will see old estates owned by the national government like Shauri Moyo, Park Road and Starehe redeveloped to accommodate more residents. It is an ambitious programme that is to be implemented under a public private partnership.

As for Nairobi City County, its urban renewal plan targets the improvement of old, local government estates such as Jevanjee, Old Ngara, Pangani, Uhuru, Ngong Road, New Ngara and Suna Road estates. It is estimated that 100,000 units will be put up in the areas they occupy.

Given that the average household size is 6.5 in most city estates, Mr Robert Sang’ori, a housing expert and United Nations National and volunteer project officer on energy efficient buildings in Kenya, says that focusing on the redevelopment of various estates in the city can lead to the provision of housing for about 650,000 residents, which would significantly reduce pressure on housing while improving the quality of life in Nairobi.

He says that all these efforts should be implemented bearing in mind resource efficiency, particularly the buildings’ energy requirements, and are achievable if there are strong, transparent and effective residents’ associations.

Such associations should be the drivers of sustainability by ensuring that best practices are used whenever a housing project is coming up in the neighbourhood, including the provision that built-up areas occupy no more than 60 per cent of the project, as well as the integration of renewable energy and the use of energy-efficient appliances in the buildings.

While acknowledging that the urban renewal policies by county governments are commendable, Mr Ochieng’ says that even the proposed estates will turn into semi-slums if they are not well-managed.

“The government has failed to properly maintain estates under its care over the years. Some buildings have not be repainted for decades, making them unfit for human habitation,” he says.

Mr Ochieng’ argues that private developers flout zoning regulations with impunity thanks to the country’s weak, bureaucratic land laws, which allow cases filed by residents’ associations against rogue proprietors to drag on for years.

“As Kara, we have handled cases that have taken more than 10 years to conclude. By the time such a case is determined, the unscrupulous proprietor will have probably have completed construction and recouped their initial investment. Also, buildings that flout zoning laws might never be demolished because, by the time the cases are concluded, the areas in which they are situated might have been re-zoned, changing the localities from low-density to high-density areas.”

But perhaps the greatest problem is the rampant corruption that Mr Ochieng’ says has engulfed the lands and planning offices, both at the county and national level.

“Regulators such as the NCA and Nema might try hard to keep the industry in check, but they are at the mercy of corruption cartels that control the planning and issuing of permits,” he says. “Illegal subdivisions thrive because corruption allows some people to buy their way out of the legal requirements for minimum plot sizes for certain areas.”
How to stop unplanned development

Despite the chaotic situation in many urban areas, Mr Henry Ochieng, the Kara CEO, says all is not lost.

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

Another option is for the government to delegate some of its supervisory roles to residents’ associations. County governments, for instance, should encourage residents’ associations to develop local physical development plans (LPDP) for their 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, Mr Ochieng says, will greatly complement the work of the county government and restore order in the city.

“County governments still insist on sending their inspectors to the field even when it is clear that they do not have the capacity to patrol the entire city. This role can easily be designated to residents’ associations, which will do it better. Residents associations can also collaborate with the county governments on solid waste management to keep their estates and surrounding neighbourhoods clean,” the Kara boss says.

Housing expert Robert Sang’ori agrees, saying that most residents’ associations are poorly structured and often voice their concerns when it is too late. There are however, success cases.

“In estates like Runda, Karen and Muthaiga where the residents associations are vocal, the zoning regulations are rarely flouted,” he says.

Kara has since initiated the formulation of a Bill aimed at promoting structured partnership between residents’ associations in Nairobi and the Nairobi City County Government in order to strengthen the policing of developments at the neighbourhood level and ensure that the relevant laws are adhered to. The Nairobi City County Community and Neighbourhood Associations Engagement Bill, which was recently signed into law by Dr Kidero, recognises community and residents’ associations and provides clear mechanisms for collaboration on planning and other service delivery issues.

“We are also championing for residents associations at the national level to ensure that residents’ associations across the country are strengthened. The draft Bill is currently in the National Assembly and we are working with a member of parliament to push it through,” Mr Ochieng’ reveals.