The desire of every human being is to live in a neighbourhood that permits a life of dignity.

People are keen to live in places that guarantee access to clean water, secure neighbourhood, clean environment among other basic services. Sustainable Development Goal number 11 envisages sustainable cities and communities by the year 2030. What this means is that the world should work towards making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This is achievable but challenges are expected given the rapid urban population growth that will increase demand for basic services in urban areas. Governments across the world must therefore come up with effective mechanisms that will lead to attainment of the goals.

In Kenya, it is estimated that the population will stand at 63 million by the year 2030 and 33% of the population will be living in urban areas. Nairobi alone will be home to over 14 million people by 2030. With the expected high urban population, provision of acceptable standards of services will require joint efforts from various players such as the government, private sector and ordinary citizens. The citizens can only be effective in their role if they are well organized and have well established mechanisms such as Resident Associations as tools for engaging the government on service delivery issues.

Over the years, Kenya has seen rapid growth of Resident Associations and more citizens are embracing the need to take charge of their neighbourhood through the Associations. The concept of Resident Associations started gaining ground in the 90’s when majority Kenyans were frustrated by the poor services from the government and felt that they needed to develop structured ways of advocating for better services. The last ten years has seen rapid growth of Resident Associations as citizens are increasingly becoming aware of their rights, roles and responsibilities and making demands for better services from the government. Currently there are over 3,000 registered Resident Associations spread across Kenya with a larger concentration of the Associations in the urban areas.  

The Associations have been instrumental in advocating for better services and demanding compliance to the rule of law. Residents are no longer willing to sit back and lament about poor services or wait for the government to avail services. Through the Associations, residents have taken charge of their neighbourhood and are actively involved in ensuring that they can access services such as garbage collection, security, water supply, protection of open spaces within the neighbourhood among others.

The Associations have also been instrumental in protecting the property value and aesthetic appeal of their neighbourhood by demanding that any new development taking place within the neighbourhood must conform to the planning and zoning laws governing the area. For example, recently, Karen Ngong View Estate Association went to court to stop construction of Karen Village Culture and Heritage Centre on the grounds that it didn’t adhere to the relevant laws and the development will be a danger to their right to a clean, healthy as well as safe environment that is free from noise, stress and air pollution. Similar moves have been made by several other Associations across the country.

The place of Resident Associations in the achievement of sustainable cities and communities cannot therefore be overemphasized. The Constitution has elaborate provisions for public participation in decision making and Resident Associations have emerged as one of the most effective ways of promoting public participation at the neighbourhood level.  

Kara as the national umbrella body of Resident Association is keen to support and strengthen the work of the Associations to make them more effective in pushing for better services. The Associations require an enabling environment to thrive and Kara is at the forefront of facilitating formulation of the necessary legislations to support their work. A Resident Associations Bill, formulated by Kara, is currently at the National Assembly and will soon be introduced in the floor of the house for debate. The Bill seeks to provide Resident Associations with legal framework to hold the government accountable and structured mechanisms for engaging the government on issues affecting them.

At he County level, The Nairobi City County Community & Neighbourhood Associations Engagement Act has been enacted with a view to enhance participation of Resident Association in decision making by the County Government; recognize and facilitate community and neighbourhood initiatives in complementing the County Government services and establish a legal framework for the engagement, promotion and facilitation of Resident Associations in their support and co-operation with the County Government in the delivery of services. With the law in place, the Resident Associations will have more influence on government decisions affecting them.

As the population in urban areas grow and with it the demand for services, urban residents must be encouraged to form Associations that will enable them find solutions to the challenges they face at the neighbourhood level. Even with the current relatively lower population, government has not been able to directly provide all the services needed by the citizens. Resident Associations should be able to fill this gap by partnering with the government to provide some of the services under an agency agreement. The Nairobi City County Community & Neighbourhood Associations Engagement Act already has provision for this type of arrangement and cooperation agreement has been drafted to support the same.

By Henry Ochieng, Chief Executive Officer, The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations