Why buildings in Kenya will continue to collapse

By Steven Umidha
Tuesday, January 26th, 2021
Housing construction.
In summary
    • There have been several attempts by the government to institute a revised building code that allows adoption of new building technologies that can  lower construction costs.
    • According to the Kenya Bureau of Standards Kenya is ready to discard the British Standards and Codes of Practice used for structural engineering practice in favour of new European construction guidelines.
    • The new set of rules, commonly known as Eurocodes, that  was pected   this month, will provide a common reference point for all builders in the country – replacing the British Standards that have guided contractors for five decades.
    • Currently, developers cannot be granted regulatory approval to build permanent structures in urban areas unless they are using specific materials such as brick and mortar.

Steve Umidha @UmidhaSteve

Efforts by government agencies targeting powerful cartels in the building and construction sector will likely do little to stem the rise in building collapse incidents across the country.

Although fraudsters have been around since humans had assets worth stealing, the modern property and construction revolution – focused on delivering quick and low-quality building constructions that consumers demand, means our lives are being put at risk than ever before. 

In a rare admission last week, National Construction Authority (NCA) whose mandate is to regulate, streamline and build capacity in the industry laid bare failures and indecisions by the government in tackling the runaway mess.

In its new research finding dubbed Research on Failure and Collapse of Buildings in the Construction Industry in Kenya, NCA notes with concern that sloppiness involved in approvals and certification of such projects, outdated laws as well as low penalties for non-compliance, are some of the reasons the industry continues to experience problems.

It also attributes the current mess in the industry to inadequate maintenance, use of unapproved plans, choice of cheap – low quality materials, non-inspection of construction milestones and non-availability of performance standards.

“Tolerance of cartels, lack of geotechnical surveys, bureaucracy in building approvals, absence of compliance officers, instruction to condemn not strictly enforced are also to blame,” the report reads in part.

Other reasons cited in the report presented by David Lagat,NCA’s  Assistant Manager, Construction Research and Business Development, are unclear policy on condemned buildings, respect of public, utility land and unclear policy on quality assurance of buildings among others.

Corrupt officials

The authority which also registers projects, provides supervisors and workers accreditation and also does contractor registration continues to bear the brunt of a “toothless watchdog” owing to the fact that it lacks the will to prosecute some of the cartels and corrupt officials involved in shoddy construction projects notably in Nairobi’s Eastlands.

Areas such as Umoja, Huruma, Dandora, Kayole, Kariobangi, Donholm and Tena have over the last decade been hotspots of unregulated structures, in what NCA says is due to lack of adherence to urban planning requirements that has “become a norm rather than exception.”

While inspection of construction projects is done by professionals from Built Environment under Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, Housing and Urban Development, concerns are being raised on how such offices are being used by cartels to circumvent required procedures using bribes.

Other factors are unavailability of improved building code of regulations – currently awaiting gazettement.

There have been several attempts by the government to institute a revised building code that allows adoption of new building technologies that can  lower construction costs.