“Kwa nini walitubomolea nyumba lakini wakatuachia choo? Ni heri wangebomoa choo watuachie nyumba angalau tubaki na mahali pa kulala.” Simply translates to “why did they demolish our houses but spared the toilet? It would have been better had they demolished the toilet instead and left us a roof over our heads.” Njeri, a victim of the Ruai demolitions, utters these words bitterly amidst agony and tears. The cry of a distraught mother with nowhere to take her kids for shelter nor any means of providing for them. The tears flow freely down her countenance, a testimony of the pain and anguish she’s gone through since the fateful night of the 16th of May 2020, when the bulldozers descended on the only place she and her kids called home. A devastated mother who has endured the wrath of a cold-blooded government that is never undeterred from reclaiming what it perceives to be theirs. Not even amid a worldwide crisis.
Njeri and her family, have borne the brunt of the notorious land reclamation schemes by the government. Like so many other victims, they have spent many nights in the cold chill, sheltered in the ruins of what was formerly a toilet. Aside from that, she has borne the pain of seeing her children suffer from lack. “Casual labour,” she says during an interview by a Citizen TV journalist, “is hard to come by nowadays.” At times, out of desperation, she’s been forced to beg for a job just so to get a pack of unga to take to her kids who are eagerly waiting for her back at ‘’home’, hopeful that they would be spared from another gruesome experience of hunger pangs that keep them turning and tossing during the night.
Interestingly, the Ruai demolitions took place precisely eight years after the World Bank approved the 33 billion Kenyan shillings Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Project on 10th May 2012 to expand the sanitation services in Nairobi. Amusingly, the project has been rebranded as Dandora Estate Sewerage Treatment Plant. But the big question is, why now? Is it that the provision of better sanitation services is fundamental at this time over all the other times that we have had a myriad of water borne disease outbreaks like cholera and typhoid? Or is it because someone somewhere is succumbing to the pressure by the World Bank to implement the project so as to unlock the 400 billion shillings deadlock to fund their development agendas? Ooh, and by the way, the whispers in the streets imply that the development agendas are not just for the good of the majority. In fact, I hear that the superfluous agendas include the furnishing of individual and family enterprises with capital. Maybe we should give a toss for their wizardry because they certainly deserve it, don’t they? Conceivably their legacies are much more important than the lives of men, women and children.
Let’s shift gears to yet another embodiment of the tragic series of events occasioned by the Kenyan government to its citizens. The Kariobangi demolitions that happened on the 4th of May, 2020—displacing over eight thousand people—marked the height of impunity in our country. Residents were caught off guard without sufficient written notice. And the drill, as always, the roaring bulldozers descend in the wee hours of the night unexpectedly. In a matter of hours, every single structure is flattened. Residents wake up to the call of chaos and despair, counting losses beyond recovery. Mind you, some of the people have occupied the piece of land that is alleged to have been grabbed from the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company since 2008 and have been paying their rent to the county government dutifully pending issuance of title deeds. Then all of a sudden, they have been cast in a bottomless pit with hardly any idea of what to do. What used to be their home is no longer there. What used to be their source of livelihood is not there anymore. A place that was once safe is no longer safe.
The losses of property and livelihoods are just but a fraction of the brutality which most of the residents were subjected to during the rampage. A parent lost her child amid the mayhem. In the course of trying to salvage what was left of her essential household commodities, and at the same time, watching out for the thieves that roam around looking for an opportunity to walk away with goods, she lost touch with her child. That marked the beginning of another agonizing episode of frantic efforts to find her child.
Kariobangi South and the neighbouring Korogocho Slums are known to be prone to insecurity. Theft, drug-peddling, and sexual violence is the norm in the area, which makes me wonder how worse the situation could be after the evictions. Several youths might have resorted to drug abuse to cope with the aftermath of the evictions and some of them hooked up into drug-peddling. Several girls might have fallen prey to the sex predators roaming in the dark, taking advantage of the situation. So what will become of these girls? They might have sought medical intervention, which is similarly an unnerving experience for them. However, the odds are that they may not get psychological help to cope with the trauma. And worst of all, they may never get justice, whether or not they might have recognized the perpetrators. The crooks will possibly continue prowling around while violating other girls sexually, taking away their innocence forcefully, tormenting their souls for a lifetime, and creating a cycle of helpless, fearful, and broken girls and women.
The savagery of the government has turned its people against their fellow human beings. Out of rage, the residents staged a protest on the 8th of May, chanting slogans, burning car tyres, barricading roads and looting shops, butcheries, and hotels. On that fateful day, the locals invaded Mama Otis* hotel and took away everything. Not a single item was spared, not a chair, a spoon, or any meals she had prepared for her customers. In just a few minutes, she was reduced from an economically empowered woman to point zero. A neighboring butcher shared the same fate as well. The worst of the protester’s wrath befell a truck driver who happened to be ferrying bundles of wheat flour plying the same route. Fearing for his life and his job, he veered onto the wrong side of the road and stepped up on the fuel pedal. However, luck was not on his side. The angry youth ran after the truck oblivious of the lurking danger, stopped the truck, and took away everything.
Karl Kreus coined that “ Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country”. The corrupt actions of a few government officials who authorized the illegal acquisition of these lands by a few individuals—knowingly or unknowingly—for development and settlement has jeopardized the lives of thousands of people. Several youths who used to earn their living honorably have now turned into shoplifters, pickpockets, thieves, and robbers just to survive the hard economic times. Men and women and minors have resorted to various criminal and immoral activities to earn a living. In the end, so many tears have been shed. So many dreams thwarted. So many people have been traumatized, and a countless number of people have been sent into the abyss of fear, anxiety, and depression.
The wise say that a corrupt government destroys its people. Inevitably, ours has exceedingly damaged even the lives of innocent children. The number of children loitering the streets while begging and scavenging for leftover food in the litter bins in the area has remarkably increased. Can we blame the parents? Of course not. They have been deprived of the sources of their livelihood, the only means of providing for their children. Maybe it is even better to let the kids go to the streets and beg or scavenge for food rather than watch them suffer from the searing pain of hunger. Learning is already out of the equation. Some of them may never resume schooling after getting used to life in the streets. Some of them may be recruited into the criminal gangs that terrorize people in pursuit of vengeance.
And when the victims questioned the act, the annihilators blatantly told them to take their cries for justice to the statehouse. And come to think of it, how is that even possible? How can you hold such influential people to account when they have always defied court orders and gone unpunished. People who have done the most despicable deeds and gone scot-free. As Thomas Sowell once said, “ it is hard to imagine a more stupid or a more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” It is not a wonder that our leaders are busy cleaning up their political houses and championing for constitutional amendments at such a time when the victims of these injustices are fighting to live. In any case, we pay the price for their wrongs. Undoubtedly, justice in our country is just but a tale that is codified in the Constitution and sang ‘heartily’ in the national anthem.
Forceful evictions and demolitions in the informal settlements in Kenya is nothing new. In May 2015, the Kenya National Highway Authority demolished homes and businesses in the slum area of Jomvu, Mombasa County, displacing thousands of people to pave the way for the expansion of the Mombasa-Mariakani Road Dualling Project. A report by Amnesty International shows that the residents were given only a 30 days notice from KENHA before wreaking havoc in the slum and as usual, at night and under the watch of armed police officers who ironically swore to protect the Kenyan citizens and their property but are always eager to do the government’s bidding. The roaring bulldozers worked meticulously and systematically, destroying houses and shops in a continuous pattern, one after the other in a row. Isn’t this interesting? It reminds me of the arrest of Jesus in the scriptures by the soldiers led by Judas Iscariot. The work of the devil, he comes unannounced, accompanied, and secured under cover of darkness to harm, destroy, and kill.
In yet another incident in August 2015, the government authorized the demolition of a section of Mathare slums to make room for Urban housing development projects. Destroying homes for the poor and consequently sending them to the shackles of destitution to build better homes for the fortunate. What a shame! The same cycle of events replayed itself. No adequate notice, no compensation for the loss of property and livelihoods, and to top it off, the undignified manner of evictions. The wanton disregard for human life is not just appalling; it is a crime against humanity.
Njeri’s story resonates with that of thousands of Kenyans left homeless following the government’s directive to have their houses demolished in a bid to reclaim the infamous ‘Public’ lands. So many others live with the threat of forced evictions from both government and private entities. The very government that swore to protect their rights and interests is the perpetrator of these heinous acts of injustice. The very government that once approved the acquisition of these parcels of land for development and sealed their title deeds came back to repossess them. The very government that promised to uplift the living standards of its people has taken away all they had worked for and shuttered them ultimately. The very government that swore to protect them has wounded them significantly, subjected them to sheer pain, and scarred some of them for life.
Just the other day, we commemorated the 57th Madaraka Day, a historic day that, unfortunately, most Kenyans no longer take pride in. Anyway, what is there for a homeless, jobless, uneducated, malnourished, troubled, and heavily indebted citizen to celebrate? Well, it’s been 57 years of glory, prestige, and affluence for our ‘esteemed’ leaders, the real beneficiaries of the fruits of Independence. Meanwhile, it’s been 57 years of servitude, gloom, and mystery for the ‘lead’; the ordinary civilians, the taxpayers.
In 2008, Kenya launched Vision 2030, an ambitious and somehow exaggerated plan for a long-term National Development scheme, whose aim is to transform Kenya into a middle-income country. Twelve years down the road, we only have a few infrastructural developments to show-off, a handful of stalled projects to account for, and a mass of destructions to cover up. We are destroying cheap houses to build high-rise apartments to afford a few people better housing and killing thousands of self-made income-generating activities to pave the way for the development of infrastructures and industries on borrowed money only to create a handful of jobs.
Granted, if the trend of events since the adoption of the vision 2030 is anything to go by, that development scheme will remain to be just another blueprint that we will continue to flaunt to our financiers and the ‘noble’ development partners to lend us more funds for the implementation of the development agendas of our leaders as they strive to leave their legacies imprinted in the lives of millions of the miserable citizens with a bleak future.
They say that ignorance is bliss, but for this matter, that ignorance has resulted in misery. The ignorance of humanity and the purpose of being has been the source of all these evils. Ignorance has cost us our rights and liberty. Unity is hardly our portion, but rather, discord is slowly shaping our reality. Ignorance has drifted us apart and severed our social, economic, and political cords. Out of ignorance, we claim to love our country, yet we do not value its people. That is why a contractor would gladly take up such a job at the expense of people’s welfare and safety. That is why police officers would oversee such cruelty, just like any other call of duty. That is why the government would brazenly approve such evictions but still expect it’s citizens to adhere to the law and comply with its directive to stay at home in a bid to flatten the Covid 19 curve. Undoubtedly, other people’s cup of suffering is our cup of joy. What a ‘bliss’ it is!