Disaster in the buildings

By Monicah Mwangi

The incidents of buildings coming down in the city are raising eyebrows. In less than a month, 2 buildings have collapsed in Nairobi killing and injuring many.

The recent collapse in Nairobi’s Pipeline Estate of the development on plot No. LR. 7107/2 which left four people dead and a dozen others injured and the Langata collapse should, by all means be the last witnessed in the country.

However, this could be just a wish since there are many such disasters in the waiting if nothing is done. The collapse the buildings have been attributed to lack of proper building laws with the involved parties coming up and shifting blames.

Citing the Pipeline incident, Town Clerk Phillip Kisia was in the local media saying the council had moved to enforce its by-laws by issuing enforcement notices in 2009 to stop the development of the killer building the court issued interim orders a month later adding that such a tragedy would have been avoided. This is a clear indication of conflicts within the building sector in the country.

I am wholly blaming the judiciary for the lives lost for interfering with the council’s mandate in enforcing its by-laws and other laws related to constructions in the city,” Kisia was quoted.

The Eastland part of Nairobi is most affected by the poorly constructed houses as many houses are built without putting the required guidelines set by the City Government. Some of these houses are built on swamps making it even more dangerous since most of them are already occupied.


According to Waweru Gathecha, an architect and planner with the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), Kenyans should not be surprised by the collapse of the buildings and urged that many more could be coming down in the future. “I am amazed only one building has come down in Pipeline, the buildings there are poor constructed and its true there is a disaster in waiting for the country” Waweru said during an interview.

He went ahead to say that 50% of the buildings in Eastland part of Nairobi are not technically sound warning that there is no 2 way about it than collapsing. “Most of those buildings you see in Eastland’s will come down at some point,” he said with ease. He attributed the poor constructions to the developers who he said opt for shortcuts adding corruption into it. “The greedy developers are to blame since they have the money and belief they can buy anything including the right to put up a building without following the set rules,” he said.

Waweru also put the blame to the Government citing chapter 5, article 66 of the Constitution which states that the state may regulate the use of any land or any interest in or right over any land in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or land use planning.

He cleared AAK from the whole matter saying none of the collapsed building had been planned by an architect from the association. “As a matter of fact no building planned by our architect has collapsed and we have set mechanisms for disciplining any architect in our association who does a shoddy job.” He however said there is nothing the association could do about the collapsing buildings since they don’t have the mandate to arrest or punish any person who is not in their membership list.  He confirmed the fear that many buildings in this city are death traps and Kenyans should take charge of their lives.

A storey-building under constraction within embakasi area

The city council bylaws states that any house that goes up beyond the fourth floor should have lifts but this law has highly been violated by developers who care more about the money than the lives of Kenyans. Some buildings have been built up to the seventh floor most of them with single rooms and no lifts. This is also evident in places like Embakasi, Utawala, Kayole, Umoja, Dandora and even Mwiki. Most of these are residential areas occupied by the middle level Kenyans. 

According to the Town Clerk, the Nairobi City Council had identified most of the above estates adding Kahawa West Phase II, Tassia, Umoja Zone 8 & 9 and Roysambu as areas where unauthorized constructions were rife and appealed to residents of these areas to demand approval records of the structures they were occupying and verify the information with the NCC.

The council will carry out an assessment on all structures in the city and those that would fail integrity test will be demolished,” Kisia said. He went ahead to say that, “there will be no mercy, there will be no sympathy and there will be no complacency. It will be firm and decisive”.

The Town Clerk urged the public to support the council’s enforcement actions of demolishing unauthorized constructions.

Kisia said he gets concerned when the public rises to protect the developers who violate NCC laws and rights of the citizens whereas when a building comes down the same citizens get affected and go ahead blaming the council claiming they are not doing their work.

Due to the multiplicity of laws and regulations guiding planning and building in Kenya, various conflicts have been witnessed in the past. There is lack of a mainstream mechanism for physical development planning thus creating a conflict between the national, regional and local levels of planning.


Whereas the plan formulation and preparation is undertaken by the Central Government, plan implementation is the responsibility of the Local Government. This has manifested in physical development plans not being informed by local needs thus failing to address local realities.


The building industry lacks a comprehensive and integrated framework within which to operate. There are many pieces of legislation scattered in many statutes that impact on this huge industry. This scattered nature of the legislation makes it difficult for developers to understand the requirements and creates ambiguities that make effective enforcement of the law difficult leading to the disastrous incidents witnessed.

Waweru Gathecha an architect and planner with the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK). By Monicah Mwangi

The administration of the various statutes is carried out by several agencies making it even more difficult to regulate the industry. For instance, the sanitation aspects are the responsibility of the public health officers regulated by the public health Act, fires control regulation is under the fire officers while the construction of the building is by local authorities under the Local Government act. This multiplicity of institutions creates conflicts and confusion that inhibits the proper functioning of the industry.

A Planning and Building Bill which was tabled in Parliament last year is yet to be signed into law showing a clear absence of political will to regulate the building sector. If the Bill was signed it would have enabled the creation of the Planning and Building Authority that would enhance the coordination of the planning and building sector actors. These would have brought the functions of the various institutions under one roof bringing an ease of coordination and implementation.

Waweru claimed the Bill was frosted by competing interests within the government adding that the whole exercise which he said had eaten much of their time produced nothing. “We were too much for the Bill but was disappointed at the end of it and there was nothing we could do about, we just hope someday it will be re-tabled before Parliament and bear fruits,” Waweru concluded.  




Ng’ong forest

By Monicah Mwangi


Being the only indigenous forest in the environs of a city, Ng’ong forest has for a long period been endangered due to the illegal logging which has been going on.

The threat has however gone down since the government went into an agreement with the Ng’ong Forest Sanctuary to guard part of the forest. The Sanctuary which was established in 1993 has been in the forefront in performing its duties of conserving the forest.

The Sanctuary which is estimated as 588.18 hectares is covered by 80% of indigenous forest while 20% is plantation, mostly eucalyptus (Blue gum) species.

“Biodiversity inventories have so far realized over 316 species of vegetation, over 200 species of birds and over 50 species of reptiles and amphibians within the Sanctuary,” said Simon Ng’ang’a, the project co-coordinator of the Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary which boarders Kibera slums on one side has introduced income generating activities within the forest to try curbing the poverty levels in the area.  “We have introduced activities like Tree nursery groups where members from the local community have come together and prepare nursery beds for trees which they later sell to corporates who approach us for afforestation,” Ng’ang’a said.

The strongest group has however turned out to be the bee keeping project which has seen more than 200 hives installed within the Sanctuary. According to Ng’ang’a, the Sanctuary recognizes the importance of ensuring that projects are relevant to adjacent communities. “The Trust seeks to play a role in poverty alleviation by establishing projects that are beneficial to the communities but at the same time environmental friendly,” Ng’ang’a reiterated.

The bee keeping enterprise which is funded by UNDP’s Small Grants Programme has seen women from Kibera, Ngando and Mutoini slums (all bordering the forest) come together for a common goal.

Veronicah Kanini, one of the women taking part in the project says she nowadays gets a living from bee farming in the forest. “I have one hive and it gives me good money during harvest, we appreciate the Sanctuary’s good will to trust us and let us into the forest,” Veronicah said.

The women who came together 4 years ago were trained by Honey Care Africa on bee keeping and the company occasionally sends personnel to watch over the project.

“Honey Care have been very supportive to the project; they come to offer advise to the women at no charges at least once a month,” Ng’ang’a said.

The product has a ready market as Honey Care purchases all what they harvest, “We agree on when to harvest and Honey Care comes to fetch the product from the ground,” said Jane Njeri, a hive owner.


Ng’ang’a said the Sanctuary is working closely with the people in awareness campaigns to inculcate the culture of sustainable use of natural resources. “We are currently thinking of starting a project of generating alternative oil and energy and hopefully it will be on before the end of this years,” Ng’ang’a concluded.

According to Ng’ang’a, tree porching has gone down especially after they erected a 20.6 kilometer solar-powered electric fence round the perimeter of the Sanctuary.

A woman’s determination to help the poor

By Monicah Mwangi

As Magdaline Ogutu attended a church service one afternoon in 1998 at Mathare, she realized the low turnout of women and children and out of good will she decided to do a follow up on the same.   This was the beginning of a long journey which would later make her resign from her full time job as an accountant to follow what became her passion. Her bold step has in the years bore fruits and is today a success story as behind Magdaline are 3 primary schools, a secondary school and an orphanage.

“The situation I found in Mathare when I went to do my research was wanting. Kids, who had reached school age, were just loitering around, most of them looking for food; that caught my eyes and moved my heart,” she said.   Sitting in her office atMathareCommunityOutreachPrimary School, which is one of the schools to her credit, situated in the heart of the Mathare slum, Magdaline tells us how she began.

Mrs. Magdaline Ogutu in her office at the Mathare Outreach Primary School. Picture by Monicah Mwangi

“When I saw the bad situation deep in the slum, I went back to the church,OutreachCommunityChurch, which is owned by my husband Bishop Ogutu and explained the situation,” she remembers. It was at that point that she got a volunteer who joined her and together they started gathering children from the Mathare community and join them at a common ground where they taught them songs and had bible lessons. According to her the turn out was so high that in a period of just one week they had managed to get 150 children for the lessons. “I realized the open ground was not very healthy for the kids and from my pocket I decided to hire a room for Sh200 a month where they (children) would sit on the floor as we took the teachers’ role,” she remembers vividly.   Magdaline knew the children needed food and because she could not afford to feed them she wrote a note to all kids requesting their parents to go to school for a meeting to discuss the issue. “We agreed that each parent would contribute Sh20 a month which would be used to buy flour and prepare porridge for the children.”

Children at the Mathare Outreach Primary enjoy porriage provided by the school. Picture by Monicah Mwangi.

She brought her sufuria’s and just for the porridge the number of kids attending the lessons doubled. “It was such a motivator but I still knew I needed to do much more,” she said Magdaline started looking for funds and when persons from Compassion International visited the area they decided to take the role. “They gave us funds for complete balanced diet for the children, and we got staff on board on their budget.” One step led to the other and they added the rental rooms and started a baby class and a nursery school. “We advised the parents to take the kids to public primary schools after they leave our nursery class but we later realized that most of them were going to waste because not many could afford the little money they were asked to pay for admission,” Magdaline said. That was challenge enough to make them proceed on to starting a class one in 1993. Each year from then they went a class higher until their first class 8 batch did the KCSE examination and cleared in 2001. The Mathare Community Outreach Programme today has 3 primary school, 1 secondary school and an orphanage. She estimates the number of students as 1500 in all their schools and 114 kids in their orphanage at Kariobangi. To their credit are also more than 10 churches inNairobiwith a branch in Banana, Nyanza and Kisumu. Magdaline declares that before they went to the community people were dying of hunger but now the situation has gone down by 50%. “We started classes to educate women on how to get and prepare readily available foods to get a balanced diet.” Most of their former students who have cleared secondary education have returned back to the community to offer their support.

Children in class at the Mathate Outreach School located in heart of Mathare slumd. By Monicah Mwangi

“We have a number of our former students as staffs here, most of them waiting to join colleges or universities. They help in social work or teaching the lower classes,” Magdaline said.   She gets her motivation from the lives she has watched change in Mathare. “Seeing kids who have gone through my hands get to university is the best proudest thing I have seen,” she says happily adding that 2 of her former students are at the Nairobi University. To avoid dependency syndrome, parents are urged to partly contribute for their children’s education. “We realized parents were relying too much on us and we decided they should also feel accountable for their children’s learning,” she says. The programme is currently being funded by the World food Programme with others chipping in to supplement. Magdalene says their next project is to put up a Discipleship Programme which is more of a spiritual learning institution where they will be putting form 4 leavers who would be willing to learn theology.

Mathare slum, Where Chang,aa is brewed in the open….


It’s drizzling when we take the dirt road leading to Mathare slums in Nairobi. Every inch of the earth appears occupied by the pedestrians angling for any open space place one foot after another, some barefoot and unsteady from drink despite the alcohol ban or ‘Mututho rules’ as many have come to know them. This is why we are here, to confirm allegations we received from third parties that illicit brew (‘changaa’) is prepared openly at the Mathare valley.

It is mid morning and petty traders howl themselves hoarse, calling the passers-by to the wares and food stuffs on the road. Amid the din, we squeeze ourselves through jumping over raw sewerage to get to our destination.

We caught up with these men preparing Changaa along the Nairobi River in Mathare slums. Picture by Monicah Mwangi


The tour guide of the day, a Mrs. Nyaga (not real name) warns on receiving or making any phone calls while in the slum. “Here you don’t make calls when you are not well known unless you don’t need your handset any longer,” she said with a great sense of humour.

Just before crossing the Nairobi River to get deep into the slums a group of young men catch my eyes from a distance catch my. Some burning frames could also be seen as dark smoke goes through the skies. On noticing my concern to find out what it was, Mrs. Nyaga cuts me short saying that this is the Mathare ‘brewery’.

This is where changaa is made and what you see has been happening for many years and residents of this place have named the place as ‘brewery’,” said Mrs Nyaga. She also said we should not attempt to take any pictures if we loved our lives.

After watching in shock for a few minutes, we notice the men, most of them in their mid twenties regularly fetching the rather contaminated water from the Nairobi River to either wash their hands or clean the containers used in preparing the product. The same water is also used as a cooling plant for the brew.

To avoid any suspicion we walked off through the muddy paths where we talked to a few residents who agreed that the ‘brewery’ has destroyed and continues to destroy their families. “Those men you saw there are our husbands and our children, we have tried to talk to them but they say that that is their cash crop and they cannot stop,” said a woman who did not want her name disclosed for security purposes.

These men continue with their illegal business of preparing changaa in public at the Mathare slums. Picture by Monicah Mwangi


Another woman who also talked on condition of anonymity said police are to blame for all the damage that has been caused by the changaa in the area. “Our police have been poisoned by corruption, they pass at the river many times but pretend not to see what is going on.” She went ahead to say that sometimes women spend a lot of time trying to conceive a baby boy who later joins that group at the river to make the illicit brew.”Most of our boys have gone to waste because once they join the ‘brewery’ they don’t behave normally any longer,” she said bitterly.

The high poverty levels in the area are also to blame for the current condition, “because of poverty, not many people manage to complete their education and for lack of something better to do they end up at the river,” John said.

Knowing very well no story would be complete without images I requested my guide who has lived in Mathare for more than 10 years to get me some men who would act as my security. She immediately remembers a man who had been working at the ‘brewery’ but was now reformed. She calls him up and after 10 short minutes Sam, (not real name) appears and agrees to accompany us back to the river.


A pile of garbage along where the changaa is made. Picture by Monicah Mwangi

On approaching, he tells us to stay a few metres behind as he tried to convince his former colleagues to let us take the pictures.

They greed, though not for free, we had to part with a few coins. We were also given another condition of not moving an inch nearer. We managed to capture a few shots and I could not wait to get out of the slum in fear of being followed. Mrs. Nyaga again requested Sam to walk us out just in case.

I left the place thinking maybe the ‘Mututho rules’ are targeting the wrong people, this is the place they should focus on more seriously.

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