Agenda Kenya
Kenya YearBook

Towns and cities

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Urban Areas and Cities Act, 2011

This law has established a legislative framework for:

  • classification of areas as urban areas or cities;
  • governance and management of urban areas and cities; and
  • participation by the residents in the governance of urban areas and cities;

For an urban area to be classified as a city, it must have:

  •  a population of at least 500,000residents;
  • an integrated urban area or city development plan;
  • demonstrable capacity to generate sufficient revenue to sustain its operation;
  • demonstrable good system and records of prudent management;
  • the capacity to effectively and efficiently deliver essential services to its residents;
  •  institutionalised active participation by its residents in the management of its affairs;
  •  infrastructural facilities, including but not limited to roads, street lighting, markets and fire stations, and an adequate capacity for disaster management; and
  • a capacity for functional and effective waste disposal.

Capital city

The Act recognises Nairobi as Kenya’s capital city, which shall be governed and managed in the same manner as a county government. Nairobi shall be:

  • The seat of the national government;
  • House offices of diplomatic missions;
  • Have efficient transport networkconnecting to rural areas, town and other local, regional and inter- national cities; and
  • Be the commerce and industry hub.

Nairobi remains the most populous city in East Africa, with more than three million people. It houses many local and international firms and organisations. Global firms with a presence in Nairobi include Coca Cola, Airtel, Google and General Electric. International organisations are led by the United Nations, whose Unep and Un-Habitat headquarters are in the city. The city is the business, trade, industry and culture hub in East Africa. It is a cosmopolitan and multi- cultural city, with many churches,mosques and temples.

Nairobi has in the recent times seen the development of numerous modern shopping malls, with the latest being Galleria at the leafy Karen suburbs, some 12km from the city centre. Others include West Gate, Village Market, Sarit Centre, Junction, Yaya Centre, ABC and T-Mall. Nakumatt, Uchumi, Tuskys and Naivas are the largest supermarket chains with stores throughout the city, its environs, other parts of the country and in the neighbouring nations too.

The city’s 18-hole golf courses are Royal Nairobi Golf Club, Karen Country Club, Windsor Country Club, Muthaiga Country Club. Nairobi’s major hospitals are Nairobi Hospital, Aga Khan, Kenyatta National Hospital, Karen Hospital, Nairobi Women’s Hospital and Get- rude Children’s Hospital. Five-star hotels in the city include international brands like the Serena, Hilton, Norfolk, Intercontinental and the Redsan. Others are Holiday Inn, Laico Regency, Windsor, Safari Park, Panari, Crown Plaza, Ole Sereni, Land Mark and Sankara. Nairobi is served by Jomo Kenyatta International (JKIA) and Wilson Air- ports. JKIA is the largest in East and Central Africa while Wilson is the busiest in the region. The most common mode of trans- port in the city is the 14-seater vans, commonly known as matatu, mini-buses and buses, which also provide services to other cities and towns in the country. Nairobi is the headquarters of the Kenya-Uganda railway services. The railway line also offers commuter services to residents in some of the city’s suburbs. There are plans to improve train services by introducing more commuter services along the main arteries to the city in a bid to decongest Nairobi.

The law also gives the two levels of government power to enter into an agreement regarding the performance of functions and delivery of services by the capital city. These include:

  • The administrative structure of the capital city;
  • Funding of operations and activities of the capital city;
  • The joint projects to be undertaken by both governments in the capital city
  • Dispute resolution mechanisms

The Act gives the President, acting on a resolution of the Senate, powers to confer the status of a city on a municipality that meets the set criteria.


Mombasa, Africa’s major tourist destination, has some of the best beaches in the world offering a host of activities, such as beach volleyball, deep- sea fishing and water sports. The town is served by road, railway and air. Major international airlines operate from the town’s Moi International Airport. Mombasa, which records of ancient Phoenicians, Egyptians and Chinese historians claim has been an established town for 30 centuries, has numerous five-star hotels, popular attractions like the Fort Jesus, Old Town, Mombasa Tusks and the Gedi Ruins and an exciting nightlife.


Kisumu is Kenya’s third largest town developed in 1901 as a railway terminus and internal port on the shores of Lake Victoria.


Nakuru, Kenya’s fourth largest town has scenic and world famous tourist attractions, such as Menengai Crater which is the second largest in the world and Lake Nakuru National Park with millions of flamingoes that outlines the saline lake in pink. It is also home to the Njoro caves and Lord Egerton Castles, which are less than 20km from the town centre.

Nakuru has been thrust in the international limelight after the 46th International Society of City and Regional Planners Congress listed it as the fastest growing town in Africa at a rate of 13 per cent, followed by Dire Dawa in Ethiopia. Nairobi’s growth rate is estimated at seven per cent. In the 70s, Nakuru was regarded as one of the cleanest towns in the region.


Eldoret is the hometown of numerous legendary Kenyan runners whose prowess in middle and long distance races all over the globe has earned them international acclaim and significant earnings. It is host to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)’s High Altitude Training Centre for Kenyan and inter- national athletes.

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