The original blueprint of the Ziwani estates dates back to 1939. Actualisation began later in 1940 making the estate as one of Nairobi’s oldest neighbourhoods. Built in order to remedy the housing shortage in the city among government-employed Africans, Ziwani, Kaloleni and Starehe were to contain two-three thousands dwellings and two-three thousand residents each.
It is approximately 2.4 kilometres (1.5 mi) east of the central business district of Nairobi. It is one of the oldest estates in Nairobi.
Until about 1939, guided by a policy of trusteeship, the colonial government in Kenya limited the number of Africans in urban areas. As elsewhere in East and Central Africa, employers and municipalities were supposed to provide only ‘bachelor’ housing for unaccompanied African men. After 1939, encouraged by London, the Kenyan government began to promote a policy of development which implied urbanization.
The permanent presence of Africans in towns was accepted, as was the growing responsibility of municipalities for the provision of housing for families as well as for bachelors. Municipalities began to plan for new types of housing, with more community facilities in new types of neighbourhood layouts. From the early 1940s, a wave of construction created many thousands of new dwellings in all major urban areas, but only a minority were designed for families. Many women and children were accommodated in ‘bachelor’ housing where they were compensated through rental subsidies. Although Kenya’s housing initiatives in the late colonial period did not satisfy all of the rapidly growing urban needs, they were a substantial achievement.
Due to the housing deficit in the city of Nairobi, Ziwani has in the recent years been earmarked for upgrade, with demolition of the old low-density houses to high-density, with over 5,000 affordable housing units.