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Why Our Cities Can’t Handle A little Rain.


Cover Image: Rains in Nairobi By Peter Ndung’u

Heavy rains pounding across various parts of the country for the past one week have signified the onset of short rains which are expected to last till the end of December. With each downpour, these rains are exposing the vulnerability of our urban infrastructure that we normally take for granted during the dry season.

The sights and sounds across the country point to various misfortunes that have befallen citizens ranging from the inconvenience of being unable to access various flooded areas to the extreme case where lives have been lost when people are swept away by flood waters.

Collapse of Weak Structures

Poorly constructed buildings and inadequately designed structures are more likely to collapse in the rainy season than in the dry season.

The risk is also eminent in ongoing constructions particularly walls under construction if not adequately propped or reinforced.

Precipitation exerts additional lateral and axial forces capable of  destabilize substandard buildings thus heightening the risk of collapse.

Occupants of such rickety buildings will always see or notice signs of imminent collapse such as major cracks in the walls, gaps between the floors and walls,frames of doors and windows appear bending or inclined to one side etc.

In Turkana, the Kainuk Bridge, a crucial link between Marich Pass in West Pokot County and Lokichar, was washed away when huge volumes of water from River Turkwel had weakened the bridge on Sunday.There were fears of a humanitarian crisis as Turkana largely relies on the bridge as a passageway for essentials that include farm produce from farmers in West Pokot and Trans Nzoia.

Irregular approval of plans for construction without a care about environmental consequences has seen a rise of buildings constructed on riparian land and natural watercourses.

These building on riparian land are at high risk of collapse with weak foundations that are not anchored on firm ground.

Buildings that are constructed too near to the river interfere with the flow of water causing floods in lower areas.

Areas such as South C, Nairobi West and Langata are prone to floods as a consequence of buildings have been constructed on the banks of Nairobi River.

Flooded residential areas

Some of the marooned houses in Mshomoroni, Junda ward, following heavy rains in Mombasa on May 10th 2017. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI

Floods are common in low lying areas, or areas where the water table is high. There are areas such as Narok and Budalangi that are well known to be vulnerable to floods yet people still live in such, somehow hoping that nature will be gracious to spare them when it strikes.

Every so often people die and properties are damaged when heavy rains strike yet the public and its leadership refuse to move the town to higher grounds . Once homes become flooded and boreholes contaminated then we have fears of outbreak of waterborne diseases.

Paralyzed Transport

Traffic Snarl Up In Nairobi Due To Rains

The joke doing the rounds is that all roads in Nairobi become rivers during the rainy season.

The underlying problem points to poor planning and the unhappy state of our drainage systems.

I have seen may roads especially in slum areas with absolutely no drains. A slight pour renders such roads impassable.

The obnoxious habit of throwing garbage out of car windows leaving it to be tendered by nature has seen a deluge of garbage clogging existing drains resulting to inevitable flooding when it rains.

As major road sections become impassable, motorists have to bear with huge traffic snarl ups as pedestrians are left to contend with increased fares and shortage of public service vehicles.

Power Cuts

Most power outages are caused by severe weather – high winds, lightning, rain or flooding. During a storm, power poles are vulnerable to lightning strikes while strong winds can snap off tree branches and down power lines.

In extreme cases, substations get submerged in water due to flooding and have to be switched off to protect equipment from possible damage and for safety reasons.

During such times, businesses are the first casualties as their activities get halted or slowed down due to lack of power.

Others are forced to use generators to serve customers and resort to doubling their service fees to cater for fuel expenses.


The Irreducible Minimums For County Development

Mombasa, second largest City in Kenya

Kenya recently concluded its first general election with county governments in existence. Previously, when the national government was centralized, it was only through political lobbying that an area got developed.

Inequitable distribution of resources meant that some areas, mostly backyards communities of the ruling party, were prioritized claiming a huge chunk of development programs and carrying most investors with it.

The 2010 constitution introduced to us 47 county governments with a grand idea of bringing services closer to the people.

The county governments became in charge of overseeing functions such as provision of health care, pre-primary education and maintenance of local roads.

The primary objective of devolution was to delegate power, transfer resources and provide extensive representation down to the local level.

This translated to great expectations in the heart and minds of Kenyans to cure regional inequalities that were a result of past social injustices.

The promise of faster development and access to basic amenities and services rests squarely on the shoulders of the governors.

We have already seen various flagship projects being launched all with the aim of improving the living conditions of county residents.

However, there are key areas that should be of the utmost priority to any governor in order to ensure high standards of living and equally high quality of life in their area.

These are the irreducible minimums that county bosses should be held accountable for and they mostly revolve around sustainability and accessibility of basic services.

Affordable Housing

Section of Kibera Slums, Image Courtesy: Portia Crowe

A large percentage of residents in emerging market cities live in slums. This is a direct consequence of a faster growth rate in urban populations than can be absorbed and managed, causing demands on services and infrastructure that massively outstrip supply.

Escalating land prices and the capital intensive nature of the housing sector has made owning a house an elusive dream for low income earners.

Housing is at the root of many of the other issues we work to address—the lack of quality shelter means people live in areas with reduced access to clean water and sanitation, unreliable and unhealthy energy sources, increased exposure to disease, and low levels of financial security.
Affordable housing solutions should go beyond the use of alternative building technologies since this does not necessarily make houses cheaper.
As policy makers, county governments have a myriad of tools at their disposal to create policies that will favor the poor. A perfect example is through zoning.
The physical development of land and the kind of uses to which each individual project may be put is controlled by the government through zoning.
This way, the government can control the demand and price of land in a given area.
Taking away demand makes land less given to speculation and house prices cannot go beyond a certain level. County governments could go a step further and decide that in each zoned area, only houses  going for a given price can be constructed.
Other policy interventions include subsidies and incentives. Subsidizing decreases the prices of houses in the value chain while incentives for affordable housing can be offered through tax rebates to encourage investors and developers to do more large scale affordable housing projects.

Education And Health Infrastructure

Rural School in Voi

Most of our learning institutions were used as polling stations during the August Polls and as Kenyans queued waiting to cast their votes, they couldn’t help noticing and raising the alarm over the deplorable learning conditions that students are subjected to. The loos were unsanitary and most classrooms were in bad shape.

Then came the school fires that exposed the overpopulated dorms that serves as accommodation to the boarders.

The fires brought to the fore the urgent need for the Government and parents to ask themselves how safe Kenya’s educational institutions, especially boarding schools, are. Most schools lack basic needs such as accessibility, durability, functionality, safety and sanitation.

As education is not a fully devolved function, county governments need to work hand in hand with the ministry of education to ensure education sector policies are adhered to to the latter.

Plans should always select a safe site for a school, adhere to building codes and performance standards and ensure buildings are designed to withstand disasters.

Above all, school buildings that include dormitories and classrooms should have adequate escape routes, such as wide doors and windows that can be opened easily.

This will go a long way in promoting the physical and emotional health of students as well as teachers.

Machakos Level 5 Hospital
The health sector has taken a big hit ever since it started being devolved to county governments.
It is no secret that our county governments refuse to prioritize their expenditure when it comes to healthcare, the evidence of which is the ongoing nurses strike.
A crisis in the healthcare sector, a lack of consistency in the hiring and remuneration of doctors across the country and the devolution of clear ethnic bias added salt to the wound – doctors unable to serve in areas where they are considered ethnic “outsiders”.
Devolution has brought new health facilities and medical equipment to all counties but health workers are largely dissatisfied.
Nurses and doctors unions – whose members are protesting delayed salaries and promotions in some counties – claim health was better managed by the national government.
The county health body should prioritize those services that they absolutely must deliver and can cause the most impact with such as childhood immunization, safe births and family planning rather than maintain a huge and inefficient network of costly and underutilized hospitals and clinics.
However, there should also be upgrading of areas that have few health equipment and also establishment of new health facilities especially in areas which are far to reach. All health institutions should be properly equipped and facilitated with enough human resources and infrastructures.


Sustainable Transport

Achieving inclusivity and equitable growth for various regions will be achieved only by investing in a road network and public transit system that caters for the masses. History is ripe with many towns that started off as headquarters of the rail network.

This just proves that whenever we build infrastructure, investors will indeed follow. Strong planning and funding should be geared towards sustainable transport system that is universal, efficient, safe and at the same time capable of connecting residents to job markets and social services.

Noting that transport accounts for about 64 percent of global oil consumption, out of the box initiatives that focus on reducing loses arising from costly, high-carbon transport systems based on private motor vehicles should be considered.

This may be as simple as providing ample walking and cycling options, encouraging and investing in public transit with an aim of reducing use of private vehicles.

You’d be surprised at how the traffic menace solves itself when such initiatives are implemented.

Architects Vs Construction Managers: A Game of Thrones

Architect Versus Construction Manager

The building construction industry is a wide industry that encompasses many professionals. Recently, a bill has been introduced in parliament touching on the little known profession of construction management.

The Construction Project Managers And Construction Managers Bill 2017 which is being fronted by the newly launched Association Of Construction Mangers of Kenya, ACMK, seeks to end malpractices that have bedeviled the local construction industry.

According to the bill, each construction project should have a a professional manager who will oversee the construction process.

Traditionally, this role was reserved for the architect and as expected the bill has raised mixed reactions largely by virtue of the fact that role of the construction manager is still a new concept in Kenya.

An architect is primarily a design professional who will come up with plans that will form the basis for construction.

A construction manager or CM will plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise the construction project from start to finish.

The purpose of the CM is to control a project’s time, cost and quality.

The profession is not new per se since “management” of construction has been around, of necessity, for as long as construction itself and was provided as an ancillary service by architects or engineers in other instances, and as a routine part of what construction contractors do.

The argument behind having construction managers as a separate profession relates to the changing times and demanding requirements of the industry.

Construction projects have become complex as different professions are involved in one single project and all these have to be managed and coordinated in order to achieve a project’s objectives.

In addition, tough economic times means that every penny counts. This results to a need to exercise higher level of control while executing the construction process so as to minimize delays and at the same time giving best value for money.

The building owner’s needs have also evolved. While, originally most owners were concerned with the initial cost, nowadays they will prioritize sustainable development and look at the overall asset life cycle performance to make decisions relating to the project.

For this, they will need an expert well versed in construction techniques and technology to advise them This is the niche that a well trained and experienced CM will be able to fill. The Construction Management Bill, therefore, is a definite step in the right direction to be lauded by all.

Buildings that broke the law and got away with it


An illegal structure can be said to be any structure that has been constructed without following the laid-down regulations.

This includes all substandard buildings and any building constructed on grabbed land. The latter vice seems to be a more prominent with the rich in Kenya, their powerful connections granting them ability to bend the law as and when it suits them.

We have compiled a list of buildings that have been on the spotlight in the recent past having been earmarked for demolitions but are still standing to date.

Taj Mall

A view of Taj Mall whilst ongoing expansion of Outering Road is in progress. Photo via Muuo_

The mall, which sits at the intersection of Outer Ring Road, North Airport Road and Airport South Road, had been the subject of controversy way back in 2012 when Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) said that part of the building sits on a road reserve.

It had been earmarked for demolition to pave the way for Outering Road expansion.With a street value of $5M or Sh.5B, the mall’s owner Gorasia couldn’t stomach the thought of losing this valuable property and threatened to sue the government for compensation were they to effect the demolition order.

Later on, KURA revealed that the mall will not be demolished after the Eastern Bypass was re-designed.

Nakumatt Ukay

Nakumatt Ukay Centre is caimed to be built on riparian land. PHOTO COURTESY

In 2009, the government said that it will demolish Ukay Centre, where the Nakumatt branch operates from.

Then lands minister James Orengo said that the building was among others earmarked for demolition stating that it was built on top of a tributary that drains into the Nairobi River.

Visa Oshwal and the parking lot at Westgate were identified as other buildings also sitting on the Nairobi river.

Even though the Nakumatt branch Ukay Centre has had to close down its operations due to flash flooding occasioned by heavy rains, the demolition orders issued by the government are yet to be fulfilled.

Building opposite TMall, Langata Road

Building opposite T-Mall on Lang’ata Road was being investigated when cracks were found on its wall

The construction of  MP Manoti’s building opposite TMall along Langata Road had been marred with controversies.

As the Sh1 billion commercial building was nearing completion, Nairobi Lands executive Christopher Khaemba had stated that it would not get an occupation certificate since it was built on the banks of Ngong River.

Ideally, developments must keep a 15m river riparian land reserve when putting up any construction.

Khaemba added that the building has been interfering with the flow of the river, causing flooding in South C, Nairobi West, Lang’ata and adjacent areas. Soon after it was opened, City Hall was assessing its safety after it emerged that the building had cracks on its walls.

The conclusion then was that the building was a disaster in waiting if it collapses because of its weak foundations.


Cracks In The System

Emergency personnel work at the scene after a building collapsed in a residential area of Nairobi, Kenya June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

An all too familiar scene seems to be playing out this time in Kware, Embakasi where an eight storey building was reported to have sunk more than four storeys into the ground.The manner of collapse suggests that the building had been set up in a wetland and the possibility of poor workmanship cannot be ruled out.

Two lives have so far been lost and rescue operations are still underway. A similar fate befell residents of Nairobi’s Huruma Estate on 29 April last year, where a building collapsed after heavy downpours claiming more than 23 lives.

Initial investigations indicated that the structure with 198 rooms was established on a weak foundation and had been erected on riparian land.With the frequent occurrence of these manmade disasters, it is obvious that someone is sleeping on the job.

Just who is in charge of regulating the Construction Industry in Kenya?

Collapsed Building in Kariobangi South Area

The construction industry is characterized by the intertwining of various players notably the local government, state corporations such as the National Construction Authority (NCA) and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), private developers, contractors,  the general public as a stakeholder and  various professionals within the sector. When a building fails, it is critical to examine the players and the role played by each.

County Governments

The function of development control is the mandate of the County Governments. In Nairobi,for example, all architectural and structural drawings for proposed developments should be submitted to the planning department at City Hall, under Nairobi City County (NCC), for approval before a building permit is issued.

This is a move aimed at stemming improper use of land and subsequent demolitions as well as check on the growth of unplanned settlements and slums. NCC also carries out inspections on building sites mostly to check on compliance with the approvals.

It is important to note that most of the cases of buildings collapsing due to poor construction are in poor neighborhoods where there is little or no inspection. According to Transparency International (2014), contractors and owners of the buildings bribe the NCC inspection unit to bypass the inspection process.

It is the low income earners in search of affordable housing that end up suffering due to poorly designed structures and live at risk of injuries and even death should the buildings come tumbling down.

The National Construction Authority

Quality Assurance Inspection by an NCA official at a site in Kasarani

The National Construction Authority was constituted under ACT No. 41 of 2011, in a move to weed out rogue contractors and reduce the amount of malpractices that have seen the collapse of buildings due to poor workmanship.

It appears as though NCA came late to the party because realistically speaking, some of these buildings were erected well before the authority’s formulation. Still the authority has a long way to go before its presence in the sector can be adequately felt. Professionalizing the industry will require a complete overhaul of the status quo characterized by quack contractors, an unskilled labor force, blatant disregard of health and safety of workers in construction sites and the existence of several informal businesses within the entire supply chain of construction.

So far, their notable achievement has been registering all contractors under one roof and ensuring relevant classes are given to each as well as accrediting about 150,000 construction workers and site supervisors.

They have also conducted various sting operations in conjunction with the County governments in order to enhance quality assurance and compliance.

The clock is ticking and only time will tell how well the NCA is able to inspect upcoming and existing construction sites to enhance compliance of the rules and regulations as stipulated in the NCA Regulations 2014.

National Environment Management Authority

NEMA was established under the new Environment Management and Coordination Act on February 27, 2009 to care for all issues affecting the environment.

This is the body that should propose effective mitigation measures for significant negative impacts of building construction projects, issue guidelines for the management and conservation of natural resources and the environment during construction and carry out onsite inspections properly and on time.

Currently, the system suffers from inadequate funding, corruption, a lack of engagement with important community stakeholders, gaps or duplications of regulations, and a misunderstanding by society at-large of the benefits of a sustainable project.

These serious issues result in little oversight of development projects with potentially huge environmental impacts. Regulation of construction projects is superficial, reaching only as far as the environmental assessment.

In addition, those agencies responsible for drafting reports tend to falsify them in order to satisfy construction entities.

National Buildings Inspectorate

The National Buildings Inspectorate is a state department under the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development that audits buildings to check for conformity with land registration, planning, zoning, building standards and structural soundness.

In May 2015, the NBI working with the County Government and NCA concluded that out of the 2601 buildings inspected in Nairobi, 226 had serious structural issues and 58 of those were marked for demolition.

According to the law, before any demolitions are carried out, the residents ought to be served notice by the Nairobi County Government to vacate any such residences and accorded ample time to leave.

The building owners likewise are issued notice of the intended evacuation and demolition and given first option to demolish and salvage any materials that they deem useful. Failure to comply would result in forced demolition by the County Government working with the NBI assisted by the National Youth Service.

Non-compliance of residents and building owners coupled with scarcity of resources to carry out forced demolitions has seen unsound buildings still standing to date posing serious risk to their occupants

Industry professionals and professional organizations

Noting that the local authorities are often understaffed with not enough technical personnel, an extra pair of eyes would be the industry professionals.

Depending on the contract agreement, the architect, engineer or even project manager who has been contracted by the developer should offer periodic supervision of the building construction until the building is complete and ready for human habitation.

Professional organizations such as BORAQs, AAK, IQSK, ACMK and EBK exist to ensure their members direct, co-ordinate, design and supervise works executed as per the building contract. True professionals will place the public good before mere financial reward.

This is the concept that is embodied in many of the professions’ codes of conduct.

‘’In principle, we can conclude that though not perfect, there exists sufficient regulation of the sector that seeks the protection and benefit of the public at large.

Strict adherence to the law by all citizens and close monitoring of compliance by the regulatory agencies is the only sustainable approach towards a safe and vibrant construction sector.

Corruption is a thorn in the flesh in this country therefore because residents are on location where all abuses of zoning and building regulations are taking place, they are the most strategically placed to detect malpractice on ground as it emerges before it escalates to complete buildings.

According to our constitution, sovereign power is vested on the citizens of Kenya so it’s about time Kenyans hold their leaders accountable for their actions or lack thereof. ‘’


The Smoke signals: Fire Safety Requirements For Learning Institutions

Fire Alarm systems are vital for communication

It is exactly one week since the fire incident that razed down the top floor of Infill Academy situated in Komarock Estate and claimed the life of a five-year-old child.

It brought to mind the unrest that was experienced last year, when secondary school students went on a rampage setting alight school buildings, especially dormitories, administration blocks, classrooms and food stores.

Such events have highlighted the vulnerability of Kenyan schools to fires and rebuilding the destroyed facilities will no doubt be an expensive undertaking for all stakeholders involved.

The top floor of Infill Academy in Komarck Estate was razed by fire on May 26, 2017. PHOTO COURTESY

Designing the buildings envelope

It is vital to consider fire safety implications of new buildings or other construction or refurbishment projects at the concept design stage.

The design should ensure that the spread and intensity of fires within the building and the spread of the fire to other buildings is minimized.

The structural components of the building should be of sufficient stability to ensure that such a building will not endanger another building and in the case of any multistory building, no major failure of the structural system will occur.

The generation and spread of smoke should be minimized or controlled to the greatest extent reasonably practicable and adequate means of access of equipment for detecting, fighting, controlling and extinguishing such fire should be provided.

For storied school buildings, the stairways should be wide enough and located at both ends of the building. It should be clear of any obstructions at all times.

The construction of stairways should give provision for learners with special needs/disabilities.

The handrails in the stairs should be strong and firmly fixed. The corridors should be both well ventilated and lit.

The width should be wide enough for the learners to walk along without bumping into each other. Each block should be fitted with serviced fire extinguishers.

Fire safety versus security

According to the building code, provision should always be made for the safe evacuation of a building’s occupants or users in case of fire.

The challenge lies in finding a balance between the need to secure a premises against unauthorized access, and to ensure that people can escape easily in case of an emergency.

It is always recommended that the exit doors on escape routes and final exit doors should open in the direction of travel, and be quickly and easily openable without the need for a key unless there are specific security reasons.

The schools safety manual issued by the Ministry of Education requires that, every dormitory should have a door at each end and an additional emergency exit at the middle. It should be clearly labelled “Emergency Exit”.

In addition, all doorways to the dormitories should be wide enough, at least 5 feet wide, and they should open outwards. They must not at any time be locked from outside when learners are inside.

The manual also states that classroom and dormitory windows must be without grills. This makes perfect sense if the windows are to provide an alternative means of escape.

From a security standpoint, the practicality of this directive is contentious. Statistics show that windows are the most preferred entry point for intruders .

The best option would be to have window grills that are openable from the inside.

Fire detection and alarm systems are vital for communications. All fire alarm systems essentially operate on the same principle.

If a detector detects smoke or heat or someone operates a break glass unit (manual break point), then alarm sounders operate to warn others in the building that there may be a fire and to evacuate.

It may also incorporate remote signaling equipment which would alert the fire brigade via a central station.

Construction in the digital age: a glimpse into light gauge steel technology

Light gauge steel trusses. Photo courtesy of smartbuik.ae

Light gauge steel technology fits in quite well in the digital age where instant gratification seems to be the norm. Judging from recent consumer trends, the millennials will develop a liking for anything that’s lighter, faster and gives better value for money.

Consequently, many millennials would opt for light gauge steel technology if they were made to understand the myriad of opportunities it presents. Sure, we all know about structural or heavy steel as a common construction material favored for large construction projects without which, skyscrapers wouldn’t be in existence.

Steel, unlike masonry, wood and other construction support materials, has a terrific strength-to-weight ratio and is very flexible: it can bend without cracking. That’s why a steel building can flex when pushed to one side either by great wind pressure or an earthquake.

Light gauge steel construction gives you speed, strength and sustainability at a fraction of the weight and at a more affordable cost compared to conventional construction. The difference between structural steel and light gauge steel lies in how they are manufactured.

Light gauge steel sections are cold formed sections, meaning that the sections are shaped into strong “C” or “Z” forms, capable of holding heavy loads, at room temperature.This is in contrast to thicker hot rolled sections, that are shaped while the steel is molten hot to form structural steel.

Light gauge steel is then coated with zinc (called galvanized) to protect it from corrosion. From the manufacturing process, lower production costs are realized since LGS does not involve heat input and its associated expense.

The foundations for an LGS structure will be similar to the conventional masonry building method for example strip footings etc. but will require less reinforcement because steel frames are lighter than masonry frames.

Light gauge steel framed structure

In construction, time equals money. LGSF system, design, production & shipping can happen within days or weeks, instead of months. Because most of the construction components are manufactured in the factory, frame erection and construction at site can begin immediately due to the pieces being exact specification, pre-cut, pre-punched & pre-marked.

No additional work to be done at site. Additional advances in the speed of projects are attributed to the near 100% computer controlled accuracy(+/-0.5mm) of the frame ensuring a near 100% square and straight frame which benefits other trades. Its lightness makes for easy handling on site that contributes to faster erection.

Light gauge steel trusses in a residential development

The uptake of LGS in Kenya is now fast growing with developers mainly testing it as a truss structure replacing traditional timber trusses. Unlike wood, steel is stronger and more durable.Steel does not burn or rot and is not susceptible to moisture damage, termites or other wood destroying insects.

It helps preserve our environment for the future by decreasing the consumption of wood. It is 100% recyclable, can be used again and again, without losing its properties.

An economical LGS frame system is increasingly being used in America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand as a serious alternative to lumber in residential construction where wood frame construction was previously popular.

Light gauge steel framing has a few minor disadvantages first being with regard to its fire resistance properties. Although noncombustible and thus will not fuel the fire, the steel studs are directly affected by high temperatures.

Since there is not much mass to the steel studs and joists in this type of construction, the steel trusses and bar joists are likely to be weakened quickly by heat and are prone to early collapse.

An easy way to work around this is ensuring the steel is clad by fire resistant material and provide cavity insulation material.This will protect the steel sections from heating up rapidly when exposed to fire.

The issue of thermal conductivity has been a concern especially since steel is a good conductor of heat. This could potentially result in increased heating costs in cold climates, and in hot climates heat gain could result in moisture damage. Again, insulation placed between the steel frame (batt insulation), will give a better overall thermal performance of LGSF walls.

The pros far outnumber the cons and the technology can be widely used in residential, commercial, and industrial construction.

Keeping Up with Legislation


In a fast paced world, change is the only thing that remains constant.

The construction industry has been identified as one of the most rigid sectors not being able to adapt fast enough to it’s changing environment.

It is only by being slapped with new legislation from some of our governing bodies, that industry players are awakened from their slumber to embrace better methods of building and simpler ways of achieving results.

We have compiled a list of some of the most recent regulations that are causing ripples in the market and are sure to affect all stakeholders within the industry.

Solar water heating mandatory for buildings

Pursuant to the Solar Water Heating Regulations 2012, all premises with hot water requirements of a capacity exceeding one hundred litres per day are required to install and use solar water heating.

This affects all facilities ranging from residential premises, educational and health institutions, restaurants and hotels as well as laundries.

The compliance deadline is before 25th May 2017, after which the Energy Regulatory Commission will carry out random spot checks and surveillance on buildings under construction to enforce compliance.

KEBS Outlaws twisted bars for buildings

Through the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBs), Kenya has banned the manufacture, usage or importation of twisted steel bars in construction.

As from beginning of April, builders will only be allowed to use ribbed steel bars considered to be superior to square twisted bars.

The ribs or projections give better anchorage of the steel to concrete providing a mechanical lock that is critical in the overall bearing capacity of any reinforced concrete structure.

The move is expected to improve the safety of buildings under construction in the wake of rising cases of collapsed buildings.

NCA and NEMA scrap off levies

Even though the fees charged by The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the National Construction Authority (NCA) had been scrapped off as early as last year’s budget reading, the reprieve to private developers only came into effect in January this year.

NEMA has been collecting 5 per cent levies on the cost of projects to certify its environmental fitness while the NCA has been asking for a 0.5 per cent levy on each housing projects being constructed.

The levies were a major hindrance in establishing new businesses and largely contributed to Kenya’s low ranking on the index of ease of doing business.

Kenya Bans Use of Plastic Bags

The new law by Environment CS Judi Wakhungu banning the use, manufacture and importation of plastic bags for commercial and domestic use in Kenya came into effect on the 28th of August 2017.

For the longest time, plastic bags have been a major eyesore in all parts of the country with a major challenge on the mode of disposal.

Drainages in most towns and cities in Kenya remain clogged with the effect being felt during the rains. Reusable bags, though costly to produce may be the long term solution.

There is also a critical need for sensitization on waste management especially in the public space to ensure that littering along roads, drainages and undesignated dumping areas is tackled.

The ABCs of a construction site

A busy construction site, photo courtesy

If you have ever worked at a construction site, then you probably know just how dreadful it is for the person in charge (either the supervisor, site agent or foreman) when one of the city council field inspectors pulls a surprise visit.

Always without warning, they will descend on you asking for relevant site documentation and checking for compliance with County By Laws.

All rules exist for a reason, more so in the construction industry, but lack of awareness of exactly what is required has led to many site bosses being whisked off by the council askaris to spend either a few days in jail or be let off with a fine.

A site inspection ongoing, photo courtesy

Relevant Site documentation

It goes without saying that all construction sites need to have a signboard showing project details such as the name of the project and plot LR No, name and addresses of the client and consultants involved in the project, name and addresses of all contractors and subcontractors, together with the county council, NCA and NEMA approval number. In addition, always have a hard copy of the stamped architectural and structural plans on site.

For small renovation works, a letter granting authority for the works will suffice, just make sure to have it hang somewhere visible by all and sundry. It always helps if you have up-to-date rates payment receipts to verify the credibility of your documents.

Hoarding and Site Facilities

During construction, the developer should provide washroom facilities for all the workmen on the project and also erect and properly maintain a hoarding.

The hoarding protects the site and passersby from getting injured by falling material. It also keeps the surrounding environment free of dust and materials that may fall off the construction site.

A hoarding permit is always sought from the County Council before putting up the actual hoarding around you building. Where it is not practical to put up hoarding then barricade tapes come in handy as temporary barriers to warn and keep the public away from the working area.

A Construction site under a barrier tape, photo courtesy

Occupational Safety and Health of workers

Workers in PPE, photo courtesy

All construction companies are required by law to be registered under NCA. Site supervisors need to be accredited by NCA and are charged with the mandate of ensuring that all works are carried out in a safe manner.

Most construction companies will hire a safety and health expert specifically to look into matters regarding work site safety and ensure that everyone is in proper PPE (personal protection equipment).

Considering the high hazard nature of the industry then it is of paramount importance that we ensure we promote a safety culture in our sites.

Other Licenses and Permits

A tree felling license is sought from the department of forestry before you are granted permission to cut down a tree or even prune a hedge, falling within your working area. The fee charged will vary depending on the size of the tree in particular.

In addition, only licensed tree fellers can carry out the activity. There are fees charged for carrying out excavation and you will require a dumping permit to ensure waste is disposed off on council approved waste grounds. Any works involving use of a

Make or Break: How Politics affects the Construction Industry


Every five years, Kenya is subjected to an economic cycle that revolves around the before and aftermath of the general elections.

With the nominations still fresh in our minds and with just months to the August 2017 general elections, the country has been plunged deep into campaign mood and as history would have it, we are already experiencing a slowdown in economic growth.

The Standard Gauge Railway  is one of the infrastructure projects that has raised eyebrows with regards to its economic viability. 

Growth in the construction industry has slowed down due to delayed spending as investors and key businessmen postpone key decisions till a new government is in place.

Most investors are waiting to gauge what the future policy will be before launching big projects.

A report by the parliament’s budget office released on May 19th 2016 is quoted as saying “The election mood currently being experienced as the country is gearing itself for the 2017 elections have dampened the investment mood of the country as most investors are practicing the wait and see approach”.

Other economic factors such as inflation have a direct effect on the construction industry. Record election spending will boost economic activity around election time, driving the inflationary pressure on the upside.

As campaign money is released into the economy and the IEBC begins to spend the staggering 45billion shillings as quoted in their budget for the 2017 polls, we’ll have a alot of money in circulation.

Opportunistic spending such as these will fail to lift the economy and instead stoke the fires of inflation.

This in turn points to a rise in construction prices, with cost overruns becoming the norm and an increased likelihood of project abandonment as an extreme measure.

A section of newly completed Southern bypass along Mombasa Road, part of vision 2030 infrastructure project.

Experts say elections, especially in emerging markets such as Kenya, are high stake affairs dominated by a ‘winner takes all’ mentality.

The Ruling party from the electoral outcome in Kenya is bound to have a majority both in the Senate and the National Assembly hence its ability to push through bills in parliament, and muscle in the awarding of tenders.

The government invests in the construction industry by initiating infrastructure projects. According to political scientists, political parties are still owned by their financiers.

In an article by the Daily Nation, Prof Karuti Kanyiaga of the institute of Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi, is quoted as saying “The initial thinking was that political parties would evolve into institutionalized bodies, but they are still personal outfits run like private companies”.

It is no surprise hence, that some builders will divert funds to fund political campaigns with the hope of securing massive government tenders in the future once the party wins. The contract amounts awarded in such are normally higher than what would be considered the best price.

It becomes a never ending cycle of corruption with the common mwanachi bearing the brunt of this “tenderprenuer” culture.

The new guidelines to control polls financing for candidates and political parties by the IEBC is a welcome move to prevent money driven politics.

The Election Campaign Finance Act provides for the regulation, management, expenditure and accountability of campaign funds during election and referendum campaigns. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and all eyes are on IEBC to see how this law will be operationalized and enforced.


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