Nobel laureate and Kenya’s foremost environmentalist, the late Prof Wangari Maathai, once said, “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system.”
The Kenyan environment has over the years suffered because of impunity, which has been perpetrated by developers and government officials. This has seen buildings built on riparian land, on top of rivers and road reserves.
The action being taken across Nairobi and the rest of the country is something, like Maathai fought for, that should have been done a long time ago.
The National Environment Management Authority seems to have woken up and is now targeting properties that have been built on riparian land. Buildings that have stood with impunity over the years are finally coming down to safeguard the environment.
Unlike in the past, when it seemed easier to remove structures in informal settlements, the affluent and those who hid behind political patronage are also feeling the strength of the law.
All illegal structures must be destroyed, whether they are owned by the rich in the suburbs or are put up in the slums. What is most important is our environment and safeguarding spaces that are meant for recreation as well as expansion of infrastructure.
As President Uhuru Kenyatta noted, illegally built structures have been a source of nightmares for Nairobi residents, especially when it rains. Some have blocked the flow of water, causing flooding and destruction of property.
Impunity in the construction industry has been the norm, with people ignoring building codes and putting up structures however and wherever they like. Rogue government officials who take bribes to approve illegal constructions have aided this impunity.
It is commendable that the Director of Public Prosecutions has taken the cue from the President and ordered investigations into those who may have used their offices to facilitate these illegal structures.
Last week was also a win for the justice system, with the courts refusing to aid this impunity when owners of illegal structures sought orders to block the demolitions. We can no longer allow people to use the courts to shield their illegal activities.
Other than degrading the environment, illegally built structures have been a nuisance when it comes to the expansion of infrastructure such as roads. We have had instances where road designs have been adjusted to spare illegal structures.
If the section in Kibera slum that was cleared last month hadn’t been, how will the bypass from Ngong Road to Langata Road be completed? We must ensure that we don’t get in the way of development that aids all Nairobi residents.
We have people who have blatantly taken over road reserves and public land to put up private commercial structures. Organisations and individuals have taken it a step further by blatantly building on riparian land, next to and even on top of rivers.
The selfishness and greed of a few Kenyans has meant that the path of the Nairobi River has been diverted and destroyed. Other streams around Nairobi have dried up and only resurface as floods when it rains heavily.
Article 67 of the Constitution says riparian land is public land hence not available for allocation to anyone, while Article 62 says all rivers, lakes as defined by an Act of Parliament, and all land between high and low water marks are public land.
Impunity must stop. Nema must go on with the demolitions and remove every illegal structure without mercy. All Kenyans must support the actions of Nema in Nairobi and elsewhere in the country if the rule of law is to be respected.
As this is done, Nema must also ensure that the law is followed and this process does not morph into a witch-hunt, or is politicised to punish innocent property owners.
Political and communications consultant.