Why this matters
While U.S. pro sports moves through a second wave of stadium deals in the past 30 years, Kenya is using sport facilities to increase national unity and gain political advantages. Could the stadiums also be used to help build a middle class?
Despite lessons from case studies of cities across the United States (covered in Part One), cities worldwide still struggle with transitioning from building early 1990s-type construction of stand-alone facilities to strategically incorporating these large-scale capital-intensive infrastructure projects into broader national or regional economic development strategies.
As sport continues to become a global industry, interconnected and interdependent, the lessons of one country using sport to anchor urban development can be largely applied to another. With goals to host a future African League of Nations soccer tournament and continue to build a middle class using sport as a key driver of economic activity, Kenya provides a unique case study of how local sport activities can help drive business and community development.
Having spent two and a half years in Nairobi with the United Nations, I came to understand firsthand Kenya’s urban development goals and used data to analyze the country’s capital investment projects and ideal locations for new projects. In having researched the ability of sport facilities to anchor growth in the U.S., I was able to apply these findings in conjunction with the Kenyan government’s plans to provide insight into what might work best as the growing country moved toward aggressive goals to center sport in its economy and culture.
Kenya, recognized for its sporting prowess in athletics, is an example of a country that has overlooked urban best practices and failed to integrate its sporting talents and promises of new stadium construction into a comprehensive economic and urban development strategy. Financing mechanisms for a sport venue in Kenya will be quite different from those of a U.S. venue, as easily predicted in comparing the 2020 GDP of Kenya ($100 billion USD) and that of the United States ($21 trillion USD). In addition, there are country-specific government policies, regulations, and tax structures. Still, the idea of integrating a sport venue into a broader master development plan and economic development strategy is translatable despite the diverse country contexts.
Before analyzing each existing stadium in Kenya, its current uses, and its future possibilities, we must first understand the circumstances in Kenya today.
Kenya’s Jubilee Government and the Promise of 11 National Stadiums
In the U.S., the majority of capital improvement projects are funded by state and local governments. Kenya’s capital projects are still overseen by the national government, despite the country undergoing a decentralization process in 2010. This change made nationwide policies and financial budgets the responsibility of the national government, while local needs such as the delivery of various public services are under the responsibility of 47 newly formed county governments. The purpose of the decentralization process was to ensure government services reached the community level by increasing civic engagement, improving access and quality to service delivery, and certifying an equitable distribution of funding across the 47 counties.
In 2013, Kenya inaugurated its fourth president, Uhuru Kenyatta. He outlined in the 2013-2017 Jubilee Manifesto that a new coalition would be formed to bridge the four most prominent political parties in the country. The purpose of the manifesto was to outline the ways in which the coalition government intended to actualize Kenya’s Vision 2030 and deliver accelerated economic growth, higher living standards, better healthcare, and more job opportunities.
The country was also dealing with an ongoing demographic shift in which a large proportion of the population is young, increasingly more skilled, and urbanizing, but either underemployed or unemployed. This in large part squeezed resources, particularly at the county level under a devolved governance structure. The ambitious promises outlined in the Jubilee Manifesto required a strategy to generate more resources that could be reinvested back into the economy for addressing challenges such as unemployment, poverty, and income inequality while also accomplishing Kenyatta’s legacy projects, such as national railroad and electric development. The other legacy project outlined that still required attention included expanding Kenya’s sport infrastructure.
The Jubilee Manifesto emphasized that the “collective love of sport and the arts is one of the strongest factors that unites” the country and that Kenya produces world leaders in athletics. Yet, despite the country’s international success and recognition as a leader in sport, “successive governments have too often neglected sports and creative industries, and as a result, the potential in these sectors has not been accorded a chance to improve [Kenyan] quality of life or boost [the Kenyan] economy.” The Manifesto further stated that “Kenya should be a serious contender to host future regional and international sporting events … and believe [the sport and creative industry] should be nurtured and supported to ensure they are able to flourish and contribute to [Kenya’s] economic growth and general well-being as a nation.” A comprehensive list of solutions was provided, with many directly tied to sport.
To date, Kenya has 25 stadiums across the country, 11 of which have a seating capacity of over 10,000.
Table 1. Kenyan Stadiums with seating capacity over 10,000 seats
|Moi International Sports Centre-Kasarani
|Nyayo National Stadium
|Moi Kinoru Stadium
|Nairobi City Stadium
In 2013, as part of the Jubilee Manifesto, five national stadium construction projects were proposed. Kenya’s Treasury released KSh1.9 billion (USD $16 million) to begin the groundbreaking process. But by 2017, in the lead-up to the general presidential elections, the promises for the five stadiums still had not been fulfilled. The Kenyan Auditor General estimates that KSh830 million (USD $7 million) allocated for the construction of those stadiums that was paid out to contractors across the country had been lost through corruption.
Despite these financial issues, the incumbent president and his administration doubled down and proposed to include additional stadium projects, both in new construction and renovation, as part of the sitting administration’s reelection promise. This was largely to appease the youth population and secure the youth vote, as many of the facilities were geared toward small regional competitions. The total construction and renovation costs for the 11 facilities increased to KSh23.5 billion, or approximately $215 million USD. For perspective, the construction cost of one NFL stadium in the United States is on average $750 million USD. Over the past few years, those costs have grown to over $1 billion USD.
It is estimated that Kenya’s taxpayers have spent close to KSh2.6 billion on the upgrading of these sport facilities, even though most of the stadiums have less than 40 percent completion rate or have been abandoned altogether. The main source of revenue stems from betting, gaming, and lottery, which is meant to support sport federations, training, and technical assistance. But approval and oversight have been inconsistent.
From 2019 to 2021, substantial progress on the 11 stadiums was observed in large part to ensure Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential campaign promise was ultimately met and he could end his tenure with legacy projects that were actualized. Table 2 provides a progress report on the new construction and renovation of a number of Kenya’s sport facilities.
Table 2. List of stadiums undergoing new construction or renovation between 2013-2021
|Estimated Cost (Sh million)
|Amount Spent (Sh million)
|Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium
|Mombasa County Stadium
|Moi International Sports Centre-Kasarani
Stadium projects 7-11 have been budgeted for KSh4.4 billion
|Kipchoge Keino Stadium
The Jubilee government has made major strides to ensure at least five national stadiums were built throughout the country to accommodate national and international sporting events to both attract revenue and create direct and indirect employment opportunities. The government’s major incentive was to upgrade the existing facilities in order to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019, but Kenya lost out on its bid because their facilities did not meet competition requirements.
Despite Kenya’s agenda of expanding its sport infrastructure across the country to include a national or regional stadium in each of its major counties, the proposed stadiums have turned into stand-alone structures. There was no intention of integrating them into the country’s broader economic development agenda nor in its efforts to reimagine Nairobi as a “world-class city-region” in Nairobi Vision 2030, with its call to action for ambitious improvements to the city’s infrastructure.
Lessons from What Works in the U.S.
In the U.S., professional sport facilities are strategically being integrated into mixed-use real estate development projects. While sport-anchored development strategies must be customized to an area’s specific political, economic, social, and historical context, Kenya missed a key opportunity by not embedding its proposed stadiums in a broader country-wide economic development initiative to anchor commercial and residential real estate, particularly in Nairobi, and in Kenya’s growing intermediary cities, including Kisumu, Mombasa and Eldoret.
In examples from the U.S., downtowns have been revitalized by combining sport venues with mixed-use developments in the form of hotels, residences, and retail businesses. As part of the arena-led development strategy, the presence of the arena stimulates the development of the surrounding area. Cities and developers are capitalizing on transforming idle parking lots or vacant plots into commercial spaces that are then capable of covering the costs of the new venue.
While what works in the U.S. isn't necessarily best for a country that is still positioning itself to become a middle-income country with other imminent urban issues, sport-anchored development areas built around preexisting stadiums could also be key to building a middle class in Kenya, often referred to as the commercial “gateway” of East Africa. It is the largest and most advanced economy in East Africa, and it has one of the fastest-growing countries in Africa, with GDP expected to grow 5 percent annually over the next few years. Moreover, it has laid out an ambitious plan of becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2030.
Despite these advancements, income inequality remains staggering. Less than 0.1 percent of the population (approximately 8,300 people) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9 percent (more than 44 million people). The richest 10 percent of people in Kenya earn on average 23 times more than the poorest 10 percent. To reduce these extreme poverty gaps, economic growth must be sustained long-term, which is why the government has laid out aggressive plans for economic development. Kenya’s national stadiums can be strategically utilized as anchors for mixed-use development and customized to the Kenya context in combining entertainment value with the telecommunication and travel and tourism sectors.
Mapping Land Use Around Kenya’s National Stadiums
Applying these lessons from U.S. cities and the goals of the Kenyan government, land use maps for seven of Kenya’s national stadiums were created to measure the physical changes, the development impacts, and areas for strategic development investment. These stadiums are located in Kenya’s most populated and fastest-growing cities. In comparison to other regions in the country, the city and county governments of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret have the resources to take on additional economic development projects in conjunction with the private sector and have populations ripe to take on new jobs and plant roots in the city as professionals.
Table 3. Percentage distribution of land use type in 1-kilometer impact area of Kenyan sport stadiums
|Mombasa Municipal Stadium
|Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium
|Kipchoge Keino Stadium
Percentage of Land Use
Urbanization in Kenya is a byproduct of British colonialism, which has influenced the ways in which Eastern Africa’s major towns and cities were established. Colonial urbanization shaped Kenya’s urban landscape, with cities growing at different rates depending on their location, accessibility, resources, level of economic activity, and the population of non-Africans living in the surrounding regions. Due to their strategic locations as trading and transportation nodes, Nairobi and Mombasa emerged as major urban centers. Urban centers were primarily used for colonial administrative and commercial activities, and were not actively settled by Africans. Moreover, racial segregation served as a foundation for the ways in which many of Kenya’s urban centers were formed. Residential areas were zoned by race, specifically for Europeans, Asians, and Africans, which also fed into justifications for or against development based on the areas’ socio-economic status. Zoning was a tool used to regulate and control development in designated areas.
Nairobi was founded as a rail depot on the Uganda-Kenya Railway, which ran from Mombasa to Kampala. Because the environmental conditions of Nairobi were more suitable to the European colonizers, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as Kenya’s capital city and center for colonial administration. As a colonial city, Nairobi was planned and legislated in the style of European planning – which outlawed indigenous and communal land ownership – despite the majority of the population being African. Nairobi’s 1948 Master Plan laid a foundation for town planning to be segregated by race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. While European and Asian settlers lived in various parts of town, Africans mostly settled in Eastlands, where the housing structures were deliberately small, designed for temporary workers commuting into the central business district. City Stadium and Nyayo Stadium are both found on the edge of Eastlands and the central business district.
Nyayo Stadium, built in 1983 in leadup to the fourth All-Africa Games hosted by Kenya in 1987, is located less than two kilometers from the central business district. The stadium is located in a highly dense area of the city that has an even mix of residential, commercial, and industrial land uses but is encapsulated by three major thoroughfares: Langata Road, Mombasa Road, and Aerodrome Road. The triangulation of these thoroughfares has separated the stadium from the urban core. As a result, the stadium is disconnected from the city and is in essence on an island. The positioning of the sport facility is the antithesis of a walkable compact development, which are two key factors in developing a mixed-use sport anchored development project. Nyayo Stadium is otherwise positioned in an ideal location that is in close proximity to the downtown business district, the wealthy neighborhood of Upper Hill, Wilson Regional Airport, and Strathmore University. Nairobi does not currently have a centralized sport and entertainment district that can seamlessly be encapsulated into the downtown mix. Because the stadium is in a strategic position relative to the greater Nairobi metropolitan area, a good business case can be made for rethinking the design and amenities that could surround the facility in order to create a destination that offers unique experiences of sport and entertainment value that is also compact and walkable.
Located in Nairobi’s Eastlands neighborhood and owned and operated by Nairobi County, City Stadium was the first stadium to be built in Kenya in the 1960s, when the country was still under British colonial rule (which it was until 1963). As it was the only stadium in the city at the time, it was used for a multitude of events, including football matches, athletic events, national ceremonies, and political rallies. In 2018, Nairobi County government unveiled an ambitious multi-billion shilling (KSh) project to overhaul the housing issue across 3,000 acres that make up 18 estates in Eastlands.
The Eastlands Urban Renewal Plan proposed upgrading of bungalows and flats to accommodate the 55,000 households that live in Eastlands as well as recreational centers, which includes City Stadium. Through this proposed urban renewal plan, City Stadium’s centrality to the Eastlands neighborhood can be redefined and become a distinctive hub for retail and entertainment that is aligned with the proximity to Gikomba market, an open-air hawker market, and caters to the needs and desires of the population in Eastlands. Since 38 percent of the land use is residential within the 1-kilometer impact area, City Stadium is a sport facility that caters to regional-based activities and therefore will embody more of a neighborhood aesthetic in comparison to Nyayo Stadium. For this reason, to ensure the City Stadium generates the visibility and economic activity from street hawkers who will most likely frequent the venue, allocating areas for public space and retail would serve the needs for the overall community development of Eastlands.
Moi International Sports Centre-Kasarani
Kasarani is a suburb of Nairobi, located 15 kilometers north of the central business district along Thika Super Highway. Kasarani was built up in the early 1950s in order to solve Nairobi’s housing shortage as the city was ballooning from rural to urban migration. In 2020, the suburb of Kasarani recorded one of the highest annualized capital appreciations at 5.7 percent in the Nairobi Metropolitan area. This increase is attributed to the greater demand for land in satellite towns and for low-density residential areas. These transactions are driven by an increased focus on affordable housing, development infrastructure, diversity in demographics, and reduced supply of developable land at affordable prices in areas close to Nairobi’s central business district. While Kasarani has become quite popular for its housing market, the area is also most recognized for being the home to Moi International Sports Centre. The stadium was built in 1987 in preparation of the fourth All-Africa Games and financed in partnership between the national governments of Kenya and China.
It is the largest stadium in Kenya, with a capacity of 60,000, and the only stadium that currently meets standards to host international competitions. To date, Kasarani has been the only facility that has been a viable option to host international events. Yet, the lack of development immediately around the facility is not conducive to any longer-term strategy in developing Kasarani as a sport hub that caters to international competitions and to athletes, spectators, and tourists.
Fifty-four percent of the impact area comprises the stadium and adjacent vacant land. The vacant land located to the west of the facility is government-owned. While the informal settlement due south of the venue and vacant land has slowly been encroaching onto the vacant land over the past several years, the county government has helped curb that expansion by integrating a perimeter wall. Now, to redefine the prominence, value, and purpose of the sport venue and Kenya’s ability to host major events, the vacant land must be better utilized to its highest and best use.
For instance, the surrounding area does not provide the amenities that are necessary in hosting international competitions. There are very few hotels, restaurants, and retail areas to cater to tourists and non-local athletes. The facility could be anchored by hotels and housing that caters to teams traveling in for competition, as well as international media, sponsors, businesses, etc. Furthermore, due to the immense amount of open space surrounding the venue and the venue being a training hub for all local and regional athletes, both medical facilities and incubator spaces could be incorporated into the site plan. With the high concentration of Kenyan athletes training in Kasarani, businesses might be interested in being in close proximity to the athletes to pilot new technologies, while medical teams need spaces to promote the importance of sports medicine. Finally, as the facility is in close proximity to United States International University-Africa (USIU-A) and the recently developed Garden City Mall, Moi International Stadium is well-positioned to support a sport, hospitality, entertainment, and incubator district that does not currently exist.
Mombasa is Kenya’s second-largest city with a population of approximately 1.3 million. Similar to Nairobi, Mombasa served as a colonial administrative center and capital city prior to the center being relocated to Nairobi. Mombasa Municipal Stadium, estimated to cost $16 million USD with a 20,000-seat capacity, was constructed as part of the Jubilee Manifesto.
The Municipal Stadium is located in the heart of Mombasa Island, at the junction of Nyali Bridge and Mombasa Road, which is a direct connection between Mombasa International Airport and the SGR, the railway that connects Mombasa to Nairobi. Located opposite of the industrial area and ports, the stadium is surrounded by residential and commercial properties. Due to its embeddedness in the city and at the neighborhood level, Mombasa Municipal Stadium meets the key factors of compactness and walkability. However, the facility lacks a sense of inclusivity and interaction with the activity of the city due to its perimeter walls. For establishing a sport-anchored mixed-use development that seamlessly integrates with the neighborhood and that can then generate more interest among city residents and economic activity surrounding the facility, the suggestion is to develop an open pavilion in which specific sport and entertainment programming, retail, and restaurants can help create a sense of place and vibrancy.
Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city, is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. Strategically located on the lake, Kisumu was an important port city. In the local Luo language, Kisumu literally means “a place of barter trade.” Kisumu is the “gateway” city to Western Kenya and the entire Lakes Region. Kisumu has a robust road network that easily connects various hubs within the city, which is also served by an international airport and train. The city depends largely on agriculture as its main economy, creating better linkages between the urban and rural areas while building its tourism and ICT industries. The city now has 324 hotels of various ratings to serve a diverse clientele. The city’s ambition is to become a significant city in Kenya and throughout the Eastern Africa region.
In May 2022, the city hosted the Africities Summit, which was a notable undertaking for a smaller trade city to host. The conference’s theme for the year was focused on the role of intermediary cities of Africa in the implementation of Agenda 2030 and the African Union Agenda 2063, which is strategically aligned with Kisumu’s efforts to be a prime location for investment. In the lead-up to the Africities Summit, 8,000 delegates, including key leaders across the continent and practitioners, convened at Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium to kick off the summit.
Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium
Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium was completed in 2022 in the lead-up to the Africities Summit. Although the KSh415 million (USD $3.5 million), 30,000-seat stadium was intended for the city center, a lack of allocated space eventually resulted in the facility being located five kilometers outside of the central business district at the Mamboleo Showground. The stadium was designed to meet international standards; however, those standards have not been met. Although the facility is connected by a major road network to the city center, it is not strategically located in an easily accessible area. Within the impact area, the primary land use around the facility remains agricultural and zoned for residential use. A conference center used for the Africities Summit is located adjacent to the stadium. However, due to the relative distance away from the city center and business hub, the site will likely be underutilized. Furthermore, the low-density housing and limited public transit network do not promote compact development and walkability, which is an important component in developing a sport-anchored mixed-use development.
Moi Stadium in downtown Kisumu was built in the 1960s with a seating capacity of 5,000. The stadium is located at the junction of the Bypass Highway, Ondiek Highway, and Kisumu-Busia Road. In comparison to Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium, Moi Stadium is more conveniently located because of its proximity to the central business district, connectivity to different parts of the city center, and adjacency to Kisumu National Polytechnic University. East of the stadium lies the university, to the south is a mall, to the west is the city’s major dumpsite known as Kachok, and to the north is vacant agricultural land. The Kachok dumpsite has been a point of contention for a long time, and it was on the Governor of Kisumu’s agenda to relocate the dumpsite in his first 100 days in office in 2017. Four years later, it still has not been removed. In 2021, the county government purchased a 207-acre piece of property 35 kilometers away to relocate the dumpsite. Removal of the dumpsite and consequent environmental remediation would create valuable government-owned property that could be leveraged for a mixed-use development site adjacent to Moi Stadium.
Unfortunately, unlike land-value files maintained by local government offices in the U.S. in which information is publicly available to search ownership and value of properties, this information is not made available in Kenya. Land rights and land ownership is a controversial and sensitive subject, largely due to communal land being grabbed by colonialists while Kenya was still under colonial power. However, while the land tenure of the vacant parcel is not known, if it is in the government’s interest to increase the land’s usage to its highest and best use, the government can acquire private property for public purpose through eminent domain. Government functions that are developmental in nature, such as the construction of public-office buildings and roads, require land. Yet, land is increasingly becoming a scarce resource for both public and private purposes. For this reason, the government can restrict private land use by reclaiming it from the private owner and reallocating it for public use. While this is simply explained and there are other potential legal restrictions involved, if the Kisumu County Government recognized value in building a mixed-used commercial and residential property adjacent to the stadium, progress could be made. The dumpsite parcel would require environmental remediation, which would be expensive and require upfront investment, and the county could obtain the northern parcel through eminent domain.
Eldoret town is most recognized for being the “Home of the Champions” due to its high concentration of world-class long-distance runners. Located in the hills of the Central Rift Valley, Eldoret has grown from a town to Kenya’s fifth largest city with a population of 500,000. Development has expanded throughout the city with the construction of new buildings, improved road network, and general improvements to public service delivery. Eldoret is considered a regional hub for Kenya and Uganda by way of its airport.
Kipchoge Keino Stadium
Kipchoge Keino Stadium occupies a prime location relative to downtown Eldoret. The University of Eldoret and Eldoret Hospital are both situated just outside of the stadium’s impact area and strategic anchor institutions, while the local county offices are located adjacent to the sport facility. The close proximity of these three institutions could potentially complement and support a mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium. Moreover, the local county offices are located across the road from the stadium itself. Rupa’s Mall, located four kilometers from the stadium, is the only mall or larger-scale development in Eldoret. Any new development around the facility could support hospitality needs for international athletics events and regional football games, retail, and entertainment, in addition to more commercial uses.
Through government investment and a plan for new real estate development, downtown cities in Kenya can realize new revenue growth. Downtown areas, highly concentrated with a mix of commercial, residential, and industrial uses, have the space that offers teams, government officials, and urban planners the ability to develop complementing real estate projects that can promise greater success in creating vibrancy and economic activity.
The seven facilities highlighted in this story are all existing facilities that were built through the support of the Kenyan national government, respective county governments, and, in some cases, partnerships with other country governments and development banks such as the World Bank. However, these facilities were not built with a conscientious effort to integrate them into the existing urban fabric and neighborhood feel. The stadiums were constructed in ad hoc fashion without consideration for how the facility could be an anchor for other economic development initiatives that generate activity in the area 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Excluding one or two stadiums, most of them are located in areas that are connected to a road network; are in close proximity to other anchor institutions such as universities, hospitals, and regional malls, and populations who are likely to participate in programming in and around the facility; and have the space for future real estate development. While the financing of major league sport facilities and mixed-use developments in the U.S. is at a much greater scale in comparison to the financing in Kenya, these maps show and the ideas described above outline urban design elements that could be considered in how to better activate the land and existing area around the facility more efficiently.
You can see it from the skyline: Sport is a dominant part of any community where it is played. The economic relationship between professional organizations and these communities has always been fundamental to understanding sport, but as the industry grows, so too does the sway sport holds over cities and states.
How do fans and residents see this relationship? Do these private businesses owe the public more than they are giving? And what is the ideal role sports organizations should play in a community?