Why we must move with speed to implement national land policy

Friday November 02 2018

Airgate Centre, previously known as Taj Mall, in Nairobi being demolished on September 15, 2018. PHOTO FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Not too long ago, I went calling on a friend whose residence was in one of the high-rise apartments. Just next to the staircase was a club.

There were some patrons and the music was rather loud. After basic courtesies, I sought to know how he navigated the inconveniences downstairs. It is hell, he said.

“The greatest challenge is in our growing children. The things they see through the window at night, and the items left around their walk paths are no longer tolerable. I will be moving out soonest,” he asserted. He soon did.

We all have had experiences with incompatible land uses. Religious houses or schools next to busy noisy pubs, factories within estates or bungalows and maisonettes whose privacy or skyline have been violated by emerging high-rise buildings are commonplace.


Even road reserves for highways and bypasses are slowly getting converted into informal business zones, usually obstructing the view for drivers and, in some cases, also grossly degrading the otherwise excellent aesthetics heralded by the new highways.


And in the peri-urban zones for most cities and towns, unplanned developments are coming up by the day. It is so mixed and incompatible that otherwise excellent residential or business points soon find themselves marooned by unexpected land uses. This matter of inappropriate or unplanned land use has few winners.

This is why, much as many may not have realised, our Constitution places a high premium on land use, planning and regulation.

The Constitution in particular places emphasis on the need to hold, use and manage land productively and sustainably, and requires that all land use must not offend public interests such as defence, health, safety, order and morality.


For this reason, anyone who offends such public interest stands to face censure or penalties once the State intervenes, regardless of the title held.

This is a bottom line that all land owners, users and professionals must constantly be aware of.

So I was particularly happy to note that the Ministry of Lands late last month launched the national technical committee established through the national land use policy which was launched earlier this year. The land use policy provides guidance on the use of land and land-based resources in the immediate and long-term.

It guides land use, planning and regulation at national and county level. This technical committee, which is chaired by the director of the department of physical planning, will provide technical guidance, while a national council under the head of the public service, will provide policy guidance to the implementation process.


At county level, county technical committees chaired by governors will be responsible for implementation. I would have wanted to discuss our land use policy a lot earlier but I was aware that readers are averse to reading about policies that are never implemented or take long to implement.

It is pleasantly surprising that the land policy is beginning to move within a year of its launch.

We all appreciate how fundamental land use planning and regulation is to this nation. Every time I take a drive to Mt Kenya, Kisumu, Namanga and Mombasa, I shrink at what I see.

I remember once observing to a friend while driving past Naivasha that I feared the likelihood of several developments there may have to be brought down in future or else the town will at some point come to a stop. This applies to many other towns including Thika which is now experiencing a development explosion, most urban centres in Kajiado, Mwea, Karatina and Nairobi’s periphery to mention just a few for illustration.


As soon as one gets to these centres, they begin to feel rather “caged and under pressure”. And it is all about planning order and aesthetics.

Ancient Europe underwent similar challenges before finally appreciating that towns and rural spaces must grow under some plan and order.

And those that have watched the regeneration of towns in the developed countries are aware that whole sections of cities are occasionally pulled down for redevelopment.

This is however done on some structured and pre-agreed relocation and/or compensation plan.

I witnessed several such redevelopments in London. So bringing down sections of cities or towns to create order and improve aesthetics is never a big deal in planning.

This is why the implementation of our land use policy is high priority. Most people would be happy to know ‘what is planned where’ in order to avoid possible future relocations.

Mr Mwathane is a surveyor. [email protected]