I love driving along Nairobi’s bypasses. They remind me of the battles we fought to save the respective road reserves. Most of them had been allocated, and some even developed. Saving them took hard work, thanks to those in government and professional leadership at the time. As a result, today’s generation can enjoy a decongested city. Can we try to figure Nairobi traffic without the bypasses and their link roads? But perhaps greater credit should go to yesterday’s planners. Those who had the mind and vision to reserve and, where necessary, purchase and reserve land for the bypasses and link roads! Hadn’t they done so, perhaps these projects would have turned unaffordable when we embarked on them at the turn of this century.
Bypasses are turning out to be the lifelines of our fast growing regional and county towns, including Eldoret and Kisumu cities. Land reserved long ago for the purpose has come in most handy today. Previous and smart long-term projections of public land needs, and subsequent reservations, bequeathed us land for lots of today’s physical and social infrastructure like roads, schools, hospitals, airports, parks and forests. A lot of our urban areas have also sprang up on land earlier reserved for the purpose during public land allocation drives and the mass adjudication programmes of the past. But there is growing concern that today’s generation is not projecting and reserving adequate land for our future needs. There is concern that authorities for the existing urban centres, including major towns and cities, aren’t going far enough to secure land for their expansion and future public needs. Instead, there has been a propensity to privatise every available public land, and to only acquire land for today’s expediencies, and not the future. Unless checked, this will cost us dearly in the long run.
Our towns will degenerate fast and our roads will be stress corridors. It’s already evident that some of our towns and roads are hitting load limits, and unless there are contingency arrangements for extra land for their expansion and to divert traffic, reverse dynamics will obtain.
Look at small towns at Nairobi’s periphery like Kiambu, Ruiru, Limuru, Kikuyu and Ngong. Look at what’s happening in Ongata Rongai, Kitengela and Athi River. These small places are beginning to feel congested, have hardly any green areas and have disproportionate traffic jams. People feel trapped in there. Key roads need to be expanded or diversionary bypasses constructed. There isn’t much space for new schools, hospitals and recreation, yet their population continues to rise. The scenario provides an ultimate test for urban and traffic planners, along with land administration officials.
Luckily, our policy provides for the establishment and build-up of land banks, or if you wish, reserves of land for vital needs. Strategic facilities like seaports, airports, security facilities, agriculture and livestock research will always require public land. Land is also needed for housing, industry an investment. Unfortunately, there is little public land left for such needs. So it makes lots of sense to protect public land for the existing facilities, and to make arrangements for the purchase or compulsory acquisition of much more. Buying or compulsorily acquiring private or community land has always posed a major challenge for the national and county governments. It spells big budgets. It is further compounded by speculation and distorted market rates, and of course the risk of process irregularities, delays or price fixing. I have heard lamentations from both levels of government whenever proposals for compulsory acquisition are tabled to the National Land Commission.
But this notwithstanding, Kenya must move on. Postponing the acquisition and banking of adequate land for future needs, for whatever reason, will be tantamount to abdicating our planning and patriotic duty in our time. It therefore behoves the planning and land administration organs in the national and county governments to prioritise and engage this intervention. For most counties, there still exists a good opportunity to purchase land from communities and private land owners at the moment. If we think prices are high today, they will be much higher in future. Deliberate measures should be taken to ensure the use of any remaining public land must be very well rationalised. Then programmes to buy some land with every annual budget could be instituted. This buying could also be guided by the medium and long-term development plans for the respective counties, and the national spatial plan, which help to indicate the spatial zones for the prioritised public facilities.
But some pundits argue that the accumulation over-exposes such land to grabbing, particularly by cartels with insider links. And that such land remains unproductive for the periods it lies uncommitted for development. My view is that these are lower level risks and mustn’t be allowed to immobilise us on such a compelling matter. It should be possible to come up with appropriate mitigation and safeguard measures.
Mwathane is a surveyor: [email protected]