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Lack of proper urban planning costs Kenya dearly, experts say

Thursday August 29 2019


A lady on September 14, 2017 demonstrates how illegal water connection is done within Mukuru kwa Njenga slum, which is next to Imara Daima Estate. Sewage often mixes with clean water because some of the pipes are broken. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Anami Daudi, 21, lives in the impoverished Mukuru kwa Njenga neighbourhood, where he was born. He is the chairman of Amusha Mukuru Youth Group (wake up Mukuru), an organisation founded by locals in 2005 to voice their problems.

The area’s challenges include lack of a clean living environment, clean water, sanitation, good roads, healthcare, schools and economic opportunities.


The settlement, located to the east of Nairobi and marooned within the expansive Industrial Area, is home to an estimated 301,000 people.

Mr Anami says he joined the group because he felt the urge to press for change in his life and that of fellow residents.

“We take part in community development projects and civic and political education for possible solutions. When I marry, I would like to live in a clean and safe environment with access to basic needs” he remarks.


Mr Anami says the only significant public school in the area, Kwa Njenga Primary School, cannot accommodate all pupils.

“Parents have to seek admission in private schools. Fees in those schools are out of reach of most parents hence the number of school drop-outs is high”.

Prof Isaac Karanja Mwangi, head of the Urban and Regional Planning Department at the University of Nairobi, warns that Kenya is in a crisis due to lack of modern planning laws and policies.

The battle of prioritising planning was lost during the Constitution-making process, the don says.

“The Bomas delegates concentrated more on political and institutional reforms, failing to incorporate planning, which is an integral part of policy and institutional reforms and a key factor in realising social justice and equity,” he says.


While the Constitution created the National Land Commission to deal with land registration, administration and conveyance, the Bomas team failed to consider land in the greater context of progressive planning.

On the other hand, political patronage has continued to inhibit planned development.

“This neglect of planning presents current and future generations with the daunting challenge of balancing socio-economic welfare with mushrooming environmental concerns, especially in the face of global warming, food security and good standard human settlement.

“In countries that have realised rapid growth for their people, land and planning are taken as complementary concerns,” Prof Mwangi notes.

He warns that lack of a clearly defined role of planning in the Constitution has left county leadership vulnerable to haphazard planning.

“Even if citizens are empowered by the Constitution to have their say, it matters very little if county executives don’t engage planners during strategic development mapping,” he says.

Wafula Nabutola, an associate professor at the Kenya School of Government, calls for coordinated planning from the grassroots to the national level.


“Planning creates economic opportunities. From the city fathers to village elders, all must learn from failed planning in the past,” he states.

Prof Nabutola served as chairman of the Nairobi Central Business District Association between 2005 and 2008.

The business community lobby pressured the defunct Nairobi City Council to solve the mess created by a largely unplanned city.

This followed the Nairobi City Commission’s 10-year reign — March 1983 to December 1992 — marked by inability to plan and manage a city whose population was rapidly growing.

The commission took over a skeletal planning department that was struggling to upgrade infrastructure. By the time the planning section was overseeing design of North Mathare, Kayole, Dandora, Umoja II and Komarock estates to community friendly status, the project failed due to the commission’s interference leading to the current mess in the estates.

Earlier, planners had effectively developed the community-modelled estates of Harambee, Buru Buru, Umoja I and Kimathi in Nairobi’s Eastlands.

Another example the negative effects of political patronage can be seen in the 1996 Nakuru Town upgrading programme that sought to integrate modern housing with social amenities such as hospitals, schools, and leisure spaces.


The idea was mooted during the 1992 World Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was meant to develop urban centres as boroughs (municipal regions) each with its own unique characteristics.

The programme took off in 1996 under the Nakuru Strategic Structure Plan and saw creation of an urban planning section in the then Nakuru Municipal Council.

However, gerrymandering and bad politics led to the programme’s collapse. By 2002, the UN-Habitat had ended it and the municipality had reverted to its poor state of planning.

The UN-Habit was implementing a similar project in Essouri, Morocco, and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Min City.

These projects were successful and are a showcase of proactive urban planning.


Dr Romanus Opiyo, a research scientist based at the Stockholm Environment Institute — Africa Centre in Gigiri, Nairobi, says that the current governance structure puts bureaucrats at loggerheads with the political class, hence preventing policymakers and planners from delivering efficiently on their dockets.

“The two parties need to agree on the plans and provide budgetary allocations for implementation and monitoring. This often results in a mismatch between the plan and budgetary allocation.

“It gets worse when the political class has overriding interests,” he says.

Kenya must also learn from its failure in land banking, which has made implementation of designed plans expensive, with enormous public funds use to buy land.

However, putting up realisable plans can help recoup the investments as reliable services and infrastructure will make urban areas to function optimally.

Planning is a data-intensive process and Kenya should invest in reliable data collection, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.


Our planning mostly takes a top-bottom approach.

This explains the failure to implement the 1973 Nairobi Metropolitan Regional Plan that had proposed designing of bypasses, leading to the current traffic gridlock, pollution and human traffic congestion.

Mr Pius Masai, the director-general of the Global Bureau of Safety, Emergency and Disaster says poor planning contributes to disasters.

“Criminals and corrupt people construct substandard buildings without considering the size of roads, traffic flow, road reserves, waterways, and power wayleaves among other risks and hazards.

Proper infrastructure set up would reduce disasters and loss of lives,” he says.