Illegal constructions that do not spare riparian lands

Nairobi residents say they wake up to new, poorly planned buildings

In Summary

• The face of Nairobi is changing as authorities seemingly ignore illegal constructions

• Lack of public participation and environmental degradation are among issues raised

The once leafy surburbs of Nairobi are now morphing into concrete jungles with poor living standards.

Illegal constructions, including on riparian lands, are stifling amenities, causing perennial water shortages and snarl-ups.

Residents of Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Lavington have decried the seemingly uncontrolled surge in highrise buildings.

“In the past two years, our neighbourhood, Tabere Crescent in Kileleshwa, has witnessed the construction of more than 10 structures,” a tweet on X by King Kinyanjui stated last week.

“However, none have been occupied and more are still being built, posing a genuine concern.”

According to what is documented in regulations, Kilimani is supposed to be a four-storey zone, but this is a far cry from what is now evident in the said estate.

In April last year, Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja said his government is in court battling close to 800 developers.

The developers moved into construction sites without approval, developed beyond the approved structures or just ignored county disapprovals to continue building apartments.

We would see trees being felled, trees that were there for decades, and what followed was construction of highrise buildings
Jerotich Seii


Residents of Church Road, Westlands, on Saturday came out in large numbers to oppose the construction of a 17-storey building with three basement parkings on a small piece of land on the banks of the Nairobi river.

Sky Valley Ventures Kenya is the company planning to develop the 17-storey block of apartments. The stakeholders invited the residents for a public participation meeting for the proposed development.

This among other developments in the area have recently sparked a debate on X, with Jerotich Seii strongly condemning the growing trend by rogue developers.

She was later interviewed on Spice FM’s Situation Room, where she said, “Right next to where my business is, we have a seven-tower, 18-storey building that was erected with no public participation or change of user communication to the residents.

“To date we have never seen the plan. We would see trees being felled, trees that were there for decades, and what followed was construction of highrise buildings.” 

The residents would then receive questionnaires to fill as a part of a public participation exercise conducted by some developers.

Seii was equally against the launch of the Chinese Property Developers Association, which is linked to a number of the construction projects in Kilimani, among other areas.

“Nairobi has been auctioned off to the highest bidder under the solicitous gaze of Governor Johnson Sakaja,” she said.

She accused the Chinese of operating with impunity in the country.

“They have seen the loopholes, they know we are susceptible to bribes, they know we are susceptible to inducements. They work it into their budget, they know it is the cost of doing business,” she said.

“They will continue to exploit grey areas despite the clear zoning regulations, environmental codes and constitutionally enshrined public participation requirements because they know that the top leadership backs them.”

Other critics say the developments are compromising the city's future while enriching only the Chinese shareholders and their Kenyan associates.

Even though these concerns may be valid, it is worth noting that not all Chinese investments pose these threats.


Construction of buildings on riparian land is endemic in Nairobi. In August 2018, the Sh1 billion South End Mall on Langata Road was demolished as a part of the national environment watchdog's campaign to reclaim grabbed wetlands in Nairobi.

In that same year, former President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the arrest and prosecution of government officials who approved the construction of buildings on riparian and other lands without due process.

“We are now demolishing properties that have been built on riparian land along our riverbeds; a scenario that has resulted in flooding and other issues that make Nairobi uncomfortable to its own residents,” the then-President said.

“But equally, we are not going to just punish those who built. I want to assure you that we are going after all those who issued those permits.

“Those ones will be prosecuted, be they county officials, lands officials or Nema officials. They will be prosecuted because they are equally at fault as those who built.”

The then Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko said the demolitions spearheaded by his administration would continue to help reclaim riparian lands and developers who flout planning laws.

“We are also going after grabbed land that has been set aside to be used as markets, schools, hospital, playgrounds and other public utilities,” he said.

In 2018, Nema hit the ground running with the demolition of property and structures built on riparian land in Nairobi, but the process fizzled out due to the legal headwinds it encountered.

Recently, the Ihithe-Ndunyu-Njeru road that is to connect Nyandarua and Nyeri counties finally got approval for construction by Nema.

This is despite opposition from conservationists, who have been opposing the planned construction since 2009. The basis for opposing the construction was the potential disruption of the Aberdare ecosystem, as they say it would interfere with water catchment areas around the Aberdares.


In December 2021, the Nairobi Metropolitan Services withdrew an approval that had been granted to a developer after residents' associations decried the construction of the apartment.

In a letter to the developer, the director of planning and urban development said the building plans were not properly drawn and did not provide sufficient information .

“Lounges are not well ventilated, 870 number of units on 0.463 ha are not acceptable since they exceed the ratios provided, setback on basement is not observed, no traffic management report was provided,” the director added.

However, the developer allegedly brushed off the warning and carried on with the construction.

Highrise apartments now abound in virtually every estate in Nairobi. The proliferation of illegal constructions in neighbourhoods is increasingly becoming a cause for concern for many residents as the regulatory bodies seem to look the other way.

In September last year, the residents of Parklands were up in arms over what they claimed was the National Environment Authority’s failure to address the inundation of illegal construction projects in the neighbourhood.

Other government institutions, such as the National Construction Authority and the county government of Nairobi, denied the approval of the illegal constructions.


In February last year, the government declared an all-out war against rogue developers who construct structures that end up crumbling and claiming scores of lives.

Interior CS Kithure Kindiki made the announcement in the wake of multiple buildings collapsing in Kiambu and Nairobi counties early last year, including nearly six highrise buildings in Kiambu in less than two years. 

“We will not allow our people to die or to be hurt for the government to move in here and start crying with the citizenry,” he said.

“For this reason, we have declared a war on contractors and builders who are defying government procedures in the construction industry by putting up buildings illegally and in a manner that is posing danger to people and dwellers therein.

“We will not wait for another house to collapse and therefore, we will enforce the law on the regulation of buildings and construction activities.”

On September 10 last year, the National Construction Authority caused the construction of eight buildings in Parklands to grind to a halt due to permit issues.

The buildings were located on Woodvale Groove, Fifth and Sixth Parkland avenues, Mtama Road, Mwambao Lane, City Park Drive and Taza Lane.

The move was in response to the grievances aired by residents over how shoddy some of the buildings were erected.

But even with all these previous efforts by regulators to rein in unscrupulous developers who bypass regulations, questionable construction projects are still poppoing up across the length and breadth of Nairobi.

After coming to power, President William Ruto unveiled the Nairobi Rivers Commission, which was charged with cleaning up the rivers to restore its once clean state and to support socioeconomic developments in the riverbanks.

However, more needs to be done in the fight to end constructions on riparian lands.

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