Murang'a family displaced by landslide to return to deathtrap

Evicted from camp; their farm was declared uninhabitable and the government was to find an alternative land for their resettlement.

In Summary

• The family of five was displaced in 2018 after a landslide swept off their farm in Mathioya.

• They have been living in a vocational training centre awaiting relocation after their land was declared uninhabitable.

Mary Wambui and her three-year-old son on her farm in Kahwai village, Mathioya, on Monday.
Mary Wambui and her three-year-old son on her farm in Kahwai village, Mathioya, on Monday.
Image: Alice Waithera

A family of five in Mathioya, Murang'a, say their lives are at stake should they return to a parcel that had been declared uninhabitable. 

They have been told to vacate a camp they have known as home for the past three years after landslides wreaked havoc in their village. The tragedy threw the lives of about 40 Gitugi families into disarray. It destroyed farms.

The families were hosted at Mutitu Polytechnic as the county, national government and Red Cross officials made plans to have them resettled.

But three years on, Mary Wambui's family, still living in the displacement camp, has no choice but to go back to the danger zone. They have been struggling to put food on the table and cannot afford a parcel elsewhere.

Wambui hit the headlines with a horrifying story of how her two young children saved her from the rubble when the landslide struck as she slept, killing her brother-in-law. She was then pregnant.

In the midst of the ravaging earthfall, she lost hope and resigned to fate. But the boys refused to let their mother die and relentlessly pulled her from the mud—away to safety.

Fast forward, Wambui’s youngest child that was born shortly after the tragedy is now three years old.

Some 37 displaced families were resettled on their land after a geological report determined that the farms were safe for inhabitation. The Kenya Red Cross and the county and national governments build three-room houses for them.

However, the government pledged to seek alternative land to relocate those whose farms were declared uninhabitable. Wambui was one of them. She says the promise remained just that, a promise.

Wambui and her husband still struggle to support their family. They were supposed to live in the camp for only one season.

Though they received iron sheets under the resettlement programme spearheaded by the Red Cross, she said the materials were later taken to another family and hers was left living in misery.

Jensen Mwangi, his wife Mary Wambui, their daughter Martha Wanjiku and their young child at a Mutitu Vocational Training Centre camp on Monday.
Jensen Mwangi, his wife Mary Wambui, their daughter Martha Wanjiku and their young child at a Mutitu Vocational Training Centre camp on Monday.
Image: Alice Waithera

In 2019, Wambui received a dairy cow from Ahadi Kenya Trust CEO Stanley Kamau to supplement their income and diet. Though she is grateful, she adds that what they get from the animal is not enough. Wambui and her husband have to do whatever job comes their way. 

“We depend on menial jobs from neighbours to educate our children,” she said on Monday, adding that she is concerned about the future of her children, one of whom is a KCPE candidate at Gitugi Primary School.

Wambui has now received a letter from the polytechnic asking her to relocate her family.

“The board of management and parents of Mutitu Vocational Training Centre hereby gives you and your family members notice to vacate form the compound of the institution within seven days,” the letter reads.

The days have elapsed and Wambui is in the process of moving her family from the camp. She said she was summoned to the deputy county commissioner’s office where it was agreed a house be built for her on her farm—a deathtrap, according to an assessment carried out after the 2018 landslide.

She said Gitugi ward administrator Stephen Mwangi has acquired a rented room in Gitugi shopping centre to host her family for the next three months.

“The administrator has paid our rent for the three months before plans can be made to have a home rebuilt on our farm,” Wambui said.

And though it is not her wish to return to the farm given the risks involved, she says she has no choice as she cannot afford to continue living in a rented house.

This comes even as the Meteorological department sounded a warning that Murang’a county will receive above-normal rainfall from mid next month.

County director of meteorology Paul Murage asked families living near the Aberdare Forest to exercise caution and be on the look-out for earth movements, especially in areas where fault lines have developed.

Gitugi area in Mathioya, Gitugu in Kangema and Murarandia in Kiharu are some of the hotspots, with lives and property already lost in previous incidents. The villages are characterised by deep cracks, an indication they should not be inhabited.

Murage has further urged farmers to ensure they plant by March 1 as they await the rains, saying the soils already have moisture. Meanwhile, against the odds, Wambui and her family can only hope that all will be well. 


Edited by F'Orieny