When Ewart Grogan started rehabilitating the Nairobi swamp — and later got a title over what is today’s Kirinyaga Road and Kijabe Street — nobody paid attention to the riparian area that the Gertrude Swamp, as he named it, was occupying.
For many years during the colonial era, a large part of the Nairobi River section from the National Museum bridge to the Race Course bridge was used to provide the city with water and cabbages farmed by Indian migrants, who lived in the bazaar area after a canal was built in 1903 by the then civic authority.
And now Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko has told off a company claiming the Michuki Memorial Park — part of the riparian section of the Nairobi River — that wants the park’s rehabilitation stopped.
In a letter to MMC Aches, the lawyers for Uaso Nyarobe Waterfront Ltd, which is claiming the section between Globe Cinema and the Museum Hill bridge, Mr Tobiko has termed as “ill-advised and misguided” the little-known company’s attempt to take the government to court over the land.
“It is imperative to note that Michuki Memorial Park is not just a public recreation park, but is also a biodiversity hotspot, being home to crocodiles, different birds, monkeys and an ecologically sensitive area harbouring a number of watersheds,” Mr Tobiko says.
The CS say the land is a riparian reserve, and that bamboo has been planted on both sides of the river and gabions erected to protect it from damage.
“The Ministry of Environment has been in full possession and control of Michuki Memorial Park since 2008. The public has had unimpeded access and use of the park since then... and the restoration and rehabilitation was undertaken and fully funded by the national government,” Mr Tobiko says.
If the battle for Michuki Park goes to court, it will finally settle the question of riparian land ownership in Nairobi, which has been a source of controversy between developers and the government.
Last October, the High Court observed that riparian sections were protected under Article 69 (1) of the Constitution, and that the State had several responsibilities regarding environmental issues.
In his ruling, after some developers took the Nairobi Regeneration Committee and the Multi-Agency Team to court for demolishing some buildings on riparian reserves in Nairobi, Justice K. Bor said: “Construction of buildings on a riparian reserve would have a deleterious effect on the flow of the river, with serious consequences for the ecology, and the court is enjoined to apply the prevention principle in preventing activities that may cause damage or harm… the court is not satisfied that the Petitioner’s fundamental rights have been contravened as it claims.”
Before former Environment minister John Michuki rehabilitated that section of the river, it was used by waste paper collectors and also served as a dumping site. Another portion, Mr Tobiko says, was occupied by “illegal garages and kiosks and charcoal traders” and was home to “criminal gangs” and “street urchins.”
Last April, Uaso Nyarobe claimed ownership of the 26 acres and recently gave the Environment CS an ultimatum to order the Kenya Forest Service to vacate the premises within seven days or face court action.
In the letter, the company said accused Mr Tobiko’s office “have started undertaking some works therein without consent and/or permission from our client while knowing very well that the subject project is a private property and it has not been declared as a forest as required under Forest Act 2005,” said the letter.
And now, Mr Tobiko says that the government carried out the restoration over a long period of time and that this was widely covered by both print and electronic media. “Your claim that I, accompanied by armed Kenya Forest Service guards, invaded your client’s alleged property without any legal basis …on April 10, 2020 is unfounded and without basis.”