What exactly is riparian land?

What exactly is riparian land?

Buildings linked to the high and mighty in society have been reduced to rubble as the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) cracks on structures erected on riparian land.

Shell Petrol station, Java Restaurant, South End Mall, all in Nairobi, are some of the major establishments whose owners have been left counting losses amounting to millions of shillings in this crackdown.

There are reports that more buildings will come tumbling down in the next few days all because they are on riparian land.

But as riparian becomes the new buzzword, what exactly is “riparian land”?

In the simplest of languages, riparian means river bank. But let us delve deeper;

Article 67 of the Kenyan Constitution says riparian land is public land hence should not be allocated to anyone. Article 62, on the other hand, notes that all rivers, lakes and all land between high and low water marks are public land.

Kenyan laws define riparian land as being a minimum of 6 metres and up to a maximum of 30 metres on either side of a river bank from the highest water mark.

This distance is based on the width of the river and the water volume at any given time.

The first Development Plan of 1968 indicates a minimum of 30 meters from Nairobi River between Museum Hills and Racecourse roundabout.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, riparian areas are lands that occur along watercourses and water bodies. They are distinctly different from surrounding lands because of unique soil and vegetation characteristics that are strongly influenced by the presence of water.

Encyclopaedia.com describes riparian land as “terrain that is adjacent to rivers and streams and is subject to periodic or occasional flooding.”

There are many buildings that stand on riparian land and usually, it is easy to identify them especially when it rains and flooding wrecks havoc in those areas.

On Monday, a Shell petrol station and Java House outlet in the upmarket Kileleshwa estate in Nairobi were brought down for encroaching on riparian land and being on a road reserve.

— Citizen TV Kenya (@citizentvkenya) August 6, 2018

The dawn demolition caught many unawares and the employees of the two establishments could only watch helplessly.

Barely two days later, the South End Mall at the junction of Mbagathi Way and Langata Road was also demolished after years of public uproar.


South End Mall was built after a prolonged tussle between the government and businessmen over encroachment of Ngong River.

NEMA now says the demolitions are part of efforts to bring down buildings illegally built on riparian land. Among some of the structures that have previously been reported to sit on riparian land.

In a press statement released on Monday, NEMA Director General said “the demolition exercise to clear the Nairobi River and its tributaries of illegal structures has been and will be an ongoing exercise.

“We urge all those who have encroached on the riparian reserves in contravention of the Environment Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) to move back to the legal setback distance stipulated in law or/as stated, as a condition in the EIA license where this has been issued.”