Agony of nightclubs, churches in city estates

Paris Lounge and Grill on Mirema Drive, Kasarani.

Paris Lounge and Grill on Mirema Drive in Kasarani, Nairobi pictured on May 25, 2022.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • “We can’t sleep because of the noise. They come, party, and then leave in the morning to go to their quiet neighbourhoods."
  • “When you walk here at night, I find young people all over. How they are dressed is despicable; I don’t know what is happening with our country."

“We can’t sleep because of the noise. They come, party, and then leave in the morning to go to their quiet neighbourhoods,” says Obadae Mwaura, a resident of Mirema Drive in Nairobi. For five years now, Mr Mwaura, a pastor, has been among the hundreds of residents of Mirema Drive in Nairobi who have had to endure the ear-shattering noises, causing them sleepless nights, and the increasingly skimpily dressed revellers ‘behaving badly’, causing them shame.

When Mr Mwaura moved in more than two decades, he says, Mirema was “safe and habitable.” But everything changed five years ago when the first nightclub opened its doors. Then the second. The third. And more sprouted.

“Within a year, the clubs had reigned supreme in our once quiet estate,” he says.

A once relatively tranquil estate tucked less than a kilometre from the busy Thika Superhighway and a stone’s throw away from TRM Mall, it was a relatively prestigious address with bungalows and maisonettes dotting the area. But slowly, it has turned into a concrete jungle of high-rise apartment blocks, shops, churches, and nightclubs.

One section of the road is fully lined with liquor stores. By 7 pm, nightlife kicks in, ushered by young women in tiny dresses walking into the clubs. Njuguna Mbigi, the chair of the Amani Residents Association/Mirema, says they are exhausted by the constant noise pollution from the clubs. “Everybody comes home tired, hoping to rest, but you wake up tired in the morning to go to work after spending the night annoyed at the noise, tossing and turning,” he says.

The residents moved to court, suing over “noise pollution and public nuisance.”

In a landmark ruling that is likely to set a precedent in the tale of pubs and churches in residential areas, delivered earlier this month, the Environmental and Land Court (ELC) ordered the closure of three clubs and a church in Mirema Drive and fined them Sh5 million over noise pollution. “This judgment, I believe, is going to bring soberness,” says Mr Mwaura.

However, when Lifestyle spent the better part of the day in the area, talking to residents and observing whether the four had complied with the court order to close, we found them still operational. “The impression we get is that they are not inclined to respect either the law or the court order,” says Mr Mbigi.

For the uninitiated, Mirema estate – where Samuel Muvota was shot dead in broad daylight – is sandwiched between Roysambu estate and the Northern Bypass.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

He is particularly disheartened by the continued operation of Trinity House International Church and three nightclubs: La Tessara Lounge, Cocorico, and Paris Lounge Mirema.

Soundproof homes

Mr Mwaura said some residents have had to find ways to shield themselves from the noise, which feels like their bedrooms or living rooms sit next a stack of speakers.

“My neighbours, especially those very near these places, have had to soundproof their homes because the noise is unbearable,” he tells Lifestyle. Another annoyance is the traffic jams and crowded streets. “When we moved here, we would jog and ride bikes along Mirema Drive, but now you can’t.

For instance, on Friday nights, it can take you even an hour to drive 800 metres to your house because of the heavy traffic,” he says. There are hundreds of cars locked in a seemingly endless tussle for space to move or to park; people hooting for hours on end; and the gridlocks last for hours as cars take detours into various nightspots. The boom-boom of the discordant music, rhumba here, Gengetone there, leave one with a noise-induced headache.

“Paris Lounge [one of the clubs in the area] has at least 17 speakers, which I counted,” says Mr Mbigi.

Sodom and gomorrah

But it is not only Mr Mbigi lamenting; another resident who has also lived in the area for more than two decades drew a grim comparison, likening the night activities at Mirema to the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The estate houses dozens of pubs and wine and spirit shops. By midnight, the streets are full of rowdy, drunk people.

“When you walk here at night, I find young people all over. How they are dressed is despicable; I don’t know what is happening with our country,” says Rosemary Ndula.

She laments the sight of young women engaging in questionable behaviour, staggering out of the bars and clubs.

“As property owners and residents of this area, we have seen that unless we raise our voices on this issue, in the long term, this is going to have some very serious repercussions. Trends are changing; we do not have to be rigid with our by-laws [city planning and zoning laws], but what is going on must change,” she says.

 Their stories are etched with torment as the residents bemoan the fading charm of the once-homey estate. Besides the noisy nightclubs, there is the nuisance of Airbnb hosts, most of whom book the houses to hold parties.

Beyond the walls of the club, innumerable residents in this emerging beer belt can barely close their eyes for hours as the loud music from the nearly one dozen clubs within a radius of 300 metres keeps denying them that luxury.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Some of the homeowners in Mirema have moved out and are now renting out their houses to short-stay users.

Concerns over children

Raising children in estates with blaring noise is very hard. Not many toddlers can sleep through it. The ELC Judge, Judy Omange, while ruling in favour of Amani Residents Welfare Association/Mirema in an affidavit submitted by Mr Mbigi, and John Koogi, a resident of the estate, cited concerns over children.

“The petitioner is, therefore, seeking refuge from this court to protect the right of its residents to a clean and healthy environment and also ensure that the children of Mirema Drive grow up in an environment that guarantees their right to life, survival, wellbeing, protection, and development as provided by the Children Act. 32,” the court ruled.

One of the parents who has been frustrated to the point where they do not want to live in the estate is Susan Wambui, a mother of two—a fiveyear-old and a nine-month-old.

She lives barely 200 metres from Cocorico and Trinity Church. She describes the experience of putting up with the loud music and screams as a nightmare. “I am telling you this is a nightmare. I have a nine-month-old child who wakes up at just the sound of me breathing. You can imagine that with the noise, she is wide awake the whole night, and this is too much,” she told Lifestyle in a past interview.

“I’m not against partying, but it’s just too much for me and my children. I am even thinking of moving because I can’t live here one more month.” Eddy Kagera, a father of two young boys, says he was forced to move out of the neighbourhood after the clubs started opening in every corner. He says he could not bear it.

“I moved in in 2018, and after the clubs started springing up, it was even more difficult to walk my son to picked up for school. You would encounter skimpily dressed women early in the morning as they left the clubs to go home.

I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said in a past interview. There is also schools nearby and one wonders if the location is conducive for children.

Seven clubs

According to Mr Mbigi, the residents of Mirema first invited at least seven clubs to talk and iron out the noise problem, but only four sent their representatives.

“We sent letters for them to come and have a discussion on how to reduce the noise, the church and three of the clubs sent their representatives and they agreed to reduce the noise, but the other three did not,” he says. One of the clubs, Charm Lounge, has since closed. The association, which consists of about 500 members, says that they just want peace.

“So many jobs have come up along this road. But the noise is unbearable. These places run the whole night,” adds Mr Mwaura. Concerns over pubs and clubs in residential areas are not only a Mirema concern. In Nairobi’s Eastlands, Lang’ata, Dagoretti and Kilimani areas, the sounds that came through the walls of many residents, at full blast, have become frequent inconveniences.

Data from the Nairobi County Liquor Board shows that by 2021, Starehe constituency had the highest number of registered liquor stores (88), followed by Roysambu (where Mirema is located, 48).

Lang’ata and Dagoretti North both had 35 new wine and spirits shops. In the past three years, the numbers may have doubled or tripled as pub investments in estates increased. There are noise laws in place.

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja had last year ordered the closure of clubs over noise pollution, leading to an uproar from investors who argued that the move would lead to the loss of jobs. Mr Sakaja lifted the order. In 2018, the High Court declared the sale of alcohol in estates illegal for bars and nightclubs to operate near schools and residential areas.

“Allowing bars and liquor-selling businesses within residential areas will thus violate the residents’ right to live in dignity and a healthy environment, fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights,” said Justice Chacha Mwita. 

Other estates

The judge was delivering the verdict in an application filed by the Muimara Estate Residents Association, accusing Nairobi County of allowing a trader, Kariuki Kimiti, to operate a bar within their estate, which has young and school-going children, despite objections from the residents.

But as the neighbourhoods grow, so do the nightclub investors looking to make money from the growing population. And the noise is unlikely to stop unless authorities provide harsher penalties and stop licensing pubs, nightclubs, and liquor stores set in residential areas. Sospeter Mumbi, the Member of County Assembly (MCA) of Roysambu, says, “The people who are benefiting from these clubs are mostly not from Roysambu. They come, cause mayhem, disturb us, and then go back to their respective residential areas,” he says.

A majority of Nairobi residents know that the reality is that they cannot really expect silence if one has rented a house in an uncontrolled estate.

Cheaper rents and a lower cost of living have pushed city dwellers to areas like Eastlands, Mathare, Kariobangi, and other low-income areas. But they cannot sleep, or they have to just learn how to sleep through the music, the sound systems for preaching and singing, especially on monthly vigils, and the neighbours talking loudly and blasting music through the thin walls. Their hope, they say, lies in Nairobi County leadership.

“The governor has all the powers to summon these investors and say enough is enough,” Mr Mumbi says. The current city development plan fails to clearly define, and specify, the boundaries and extent of commercial centres, says Mr Mbigi, who is also a lawyer.

“How can you allow or license pubs to operate within the vicinity of neighbourhoods and especially schools?”