Fahamu (Oxford)

19 April 2012

Kenya: Brutal Demolitions Leave the Poor Destitute

Residents of Nairobi's numerous slums live in constant fear of demolition of their homes. Yet there is no government plan to solve the problem of housing. The residents need to organise and demand their rights.

There have been numerous demolitions in Embakasi constituency in the east of Nairobi. The most recent one was a week ago before Easter and it happened in Umoja 3 estate.

It is alleged that the owner of the land who is a private developer acquired a quick court order and began demolishing houses as early as 5am under the guard of the police. The police were there to ensure that residents don't oppose the demolitions.

Most of these demolitions have been brutal, leading to loss of lives and property. Since the year 2005 up to April this year, there have demolitions happening at least once every month. Now there is a huge area of land without inhabitants.

The demolitions are carried out at night sometimes, like was the case of Maasai Village near Mombasa Road where the police beat up residents while breaking into their houses to chase them away.

The areas most affected by the demolitions are Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Mukuru Kwa Ruben, Mukuru Kayaba,Mukuru Sinai, Kyang'ombe, Kware ,Pipeline and Umoja residential areas.

Most of these demolitions have been carried out without prior notice to residents. There are many families who have been displaced severally from many of these areas and are now traumatized.

The government has been reluctant to give explanations about the demolitions and it does seem that it is never aware. The City Council of Nairobi has never been heard on this. But I would like to think that they are aware and choose to keep off the issue so that they are not held accountable by the people.

Otherwise, how do you explain the presence of armed police in anti-riot gear?

People always put their energies in salvaging their belongings quickly, obviously too occupied to think of any immediate action. But some of the youth have been responding spontaneously in armed response almost like the police only that they use stones and other crude weapons and hurling unexploded teargas canisters to the police. The police have always responded by firing live bullets, arresting and detaining protesters.

Issuance of advance notices to residents to vacate areas targeted for demolition is unheard of. When a demolition is done, you hear of rumours that there had been a notice but the landlords did not disclose it to tenants. There is a lot of information hidden between authorities residents/tenants and landlords. There have never been adequate notices and, in fact, none has been seen so far.

There have been demolitions carried out by anonymous developers. But sometimes some names have been thrown around. Like the Embakasi Developers, Steel Works Limited among other powerful private company owners.

Close to 100,000 families have been displaced and forced to live in places with high standards of living; many homes have been lost, schools destroyed and children left unable to access education leading to street families and high levels of crime and insecurity. There has been loss of property, injuries and deaths. People have lost jobs and some have been exposed to imposed hard labour and unfair working conditions throughout industrial area where they try to earn a living.

Local organisations and CBOs like the Muungano Wa Wanavijiji Trust have been at the forefront documenting these demolitions and giving demographics of all the slums in Nairobi as well as advising residents on actions to be taken.

Recently there have also been court orders issued to stop more evictions after residents protested and went to court. The Prime Minister Raila Odinga was also forced to issue a statement that demanded an end to demolitions. But some of these statements have not ended the problem and people still live in fear.

I think almost all slums to the east of Nairobi are targeted for demolition, as developers are making new satellite cities like Ta and Konza. The most recent attack was before Easter where the local Member of Parliament Ferdinand Waititu was arrested and charged in court for inciting residents to fight the police. There is a big threat.

There must be clear guidelines on land and demolitions, I think the constitution is clear and has to be followed as well. Notices should be given in advance.

Tenants must be vigilant and form movements that can research and guard their residential areas. They should be ready to speak out in one voice should there be a demolition. We need public information about the land issue in Nairobi once so that the people may have informed decisions.

The authorities must also check how land is acquired here as there is corruption and illegal deals involved without the knowledge of the people. Politicians are known to gather votes and incite people and some of them have their powerful people there who are involved in the shady deals.

The affected people can form an alliance. There are few alliances and most with different agendas geared towards gaining from relocations and such. This is divisive. There is lack of shared information between them so organisation is never really realised and is not strong. There is a need for civic education on housing and on the law of land and housing to guide the organization towards unity.

This is the time that we need to really address the issue of the people living in the slums and their constant fear. There need be a focus here especially on what can be done for advocacy. There has to be a campaign dubbed: NO HOUSE ,NO LAND ,NO VOTE. Our time is now!

- Grand Masese (Dennis Dancan Mosiere) is a poet, musician, actor and a Fahamu Pan-African Fellow for Social Justice (2011).

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