Nairobi’s Informal Modernism

C PROFANYAMBATOMTEBESI. "Nairobi’s Informal Modernism.". In: 6th N-AERUS Workshop, Promoting Social Inclusion in Urban Areas: Policies and Practice. Lund, Sweden; 2005.

Date Presented:

September 2005


Nairobi was established more than 100 years ago as a transit point for the Uganda
Railway. The Uganda railway was built by the British Colonial Administration, to link Mombasa on the
Indian Ocean coast with Lake Victoria in the interior of East Africa, in order to extract natural resources. In
1900 commissioner Charles Eliot introduced hut tax, and encouraged European settlement based upon a
policy of integrated development. However the advent of the first European settlers swiftly changed this
vision, and separate development was established as policy. These were the beginnings of social, economic
and spatial exclusions. By the end of the Second World War, most of the land in Nairobi had been
privatised, making it almost impossible for any inclusive civic development to take place.
At independence in 1963, the restriction of the movement of Africans was relaxed, creating a large influx
of people into the city. These people were excluded from main stream formal operations of the city, and
had to survive from their own `wits’. In recent times, neo-liberal policies have had no meaningful impact
on the provision of urban services to the poor. The reduced role of the state has created a haven for
privateers to exploit the urban poor. In the process an informal modernism has emerged in Nairobi, where
moneyed developers build 8-10 storey rental business cum residential blocks, further marginalising the
poor. This paper further argues that for there to be any meaningful progress, the state should provide
subsidised rental housing for the poor, as they are unable to get into the home ownership bracket based on
market rates.

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