The Land, Housing, and Urban Development Ministry and the National Land Commission have begun investigations into the manner in which the bulk of City Park was allocated to private developers.
The allocations, which were made between 1997 and this year, are a threat to a plan by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to rehabilitate and improve the park, one of Nairobi’s oldest and largest recreational areas.
It is also the only park within the capital city’s boundaries that has an indigenous forest, which is to form the largest part of it and is to be preserved in its pure form.
Officials from the trust told the Lands Committee of the National Assembly on September 4 that the restoration of the park could now depend on whether the commission and the ministry will reverse the allocations.
They spoke after making a presentation of their plans to restore and improve the park, a concept hailed by members of the team as impressive and worth implementing.
“This is a very impressive plan and it is our prayer that it will become a reality,” said Moses ole Sakuda (Kajiado West, TNA). MPs Shakila Abdalla (Lamu County, Wiper) and Paul Otuoma (Funyula, ODM) were also in agreement.
From the presentation by Jurjen van der Tas, the deputy director in the Historic Cities Programme, the park was originally 90.25 hectares at its creation in 1932. With a large portion of indigenous forest bordering Karura Forest, the park proved to be an ideal recreational area for Nairobi residents.
The designers, keen to go beyond creating just a bulk of green on the fringes of the city, went ahead to create a maze — known in those days as “Mtego wa Panya” — put in a bandstand, and designed a sitting area where, in the park’s better days, families would gather on sunny Sunday afternoon for entertainment.
Although now overgrown with weeds and grass, Francesco Siravo, a senior project officer at the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, said the landscaping is still good and would be spruced up during the planned rehabilitation.
The park’s 90 acres shrunk to 66.19 hectares when the northern and the southern tips were hived off and allocated in 1997. These areas are now occupied by a mall and the City Park hockey pitch.
Officials from the trust have found out that more areas of the park have been allocated and that there is now only about 19.45 hectares available.
“If the 19 hectares are all that is there, we will walk out,” Mr van der Tas told the committee.
However, he said the latest allocations were reversible as the developers are yet to start utilising the land.
Confusion has also arisen over the manner in which the land was given out.
When the Lands Committee visited the park on an inspection tour, the Nairobi County’s chief valuer told them that the title deed for the land was in the possession of the commissioner of lands.
However, there is no longer a commissioner of lands as his role has been taken over by the National Land Commission.
And even then, the commissioner does not keep titles as his office usually has a copy of the document.
Mr Otuoma said the committee was of the understanding that the land was acquired by the Housing Ministry, now under the Lands docket, and that the title deed is held by the Treasury on their behalf.
He said the trust was much more aware of the issues around the land than its owners, the Nairobi county government, as it had been on the ground preparing for the rehabilitation before the issues arose.
Mr van der Tas said they had found out about the allocation of the land as they prepared to start implementing the project for which the trust is providing technical and financial support and expertise.
He said they have held meetings with the National Land Commission and the governor of Nairobi in a bid to resolve the issues before the project can start.
“The National Land Commission believes that most of the title deeds were allocated through an illegal process,” the deputy director said.
The project was initially slated to start in September but has been held back by the land issues and a delay in getting a building permit from the county government.
The National Environment Management Authority also wants a public hearing held before the environmental impact assessment licence can be issued.
In the planned rehabilitation, the 60-hectare park situated in Parklands is to be transformed under a programme run by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which last year signed a memorandum of understanding with the government.
The agreement was reached after negotiations over two years on the possibility of returning the facility to its original use.
This means that the trust will collaborate in the rehabilitation and restoration of the park to international standards in terms of architecture, landscaping, and horticulture.
“The agreement marks the initial steps to give the park a metropolitan face, which will enhance its appeal to Kenyans as well as visiting global citizens,” said Prince Hussain Aga Khan at the time.
“It is an important step towards ensuring that the historical and cultural heritage, as well as the significant biodiversity of Nairobi City Park, are conserved now and for generations to come.”
The project, estimated to cost about Sh2 billion, will create an example of urban park rehabilitation in Kenya and restore it in such a way that it complements the existing environmentally important areas, besides becoming an attraction of repute.
The agreement anticipates a partnership through environmental improvements, landscape architectural conservation, and enhancing or creating new facilities.
These activities will improve the quality of the site, making the environment safe for visitors to the park while respecting its natural and cultural heritage.
The renovations will involve reconstruction of some of the disused facilities such as the bandstand, grooming of the maze, and planting of more indigenous trees to improve shade, besides providing security lighting.
When the recreational facility is completed, it will become the third such project the trust has carried out on the continent.
In 1984, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture financed the creation of the Azhar Park for the residents of Cairo, Egypt, at the rundown Darassa site in the central part of the city.
The place had been a derelict debris pit for more than 500 years, since the reign of the Fatmids, the ancestors of the Aga Khan.
Specialised plant nurseries were created to identify the best plants and trees for the soil, terrain, and climate.
The $30 million project is now said to rival Egypt’s famous pyramids as a tourist attraction.
The trust also helped to elevate the National Park of Mali in 2010, where a forest had been threatened with extinction from loggers.
These days, the Malian Park is protected although the public can still enjoy it as before.