Poor families squatting on road reserves are bearing the brunt of ambitious state plans for infrastructure. Affected areas include Kibera, Mathare and Mukuru kwa Njenga slums.
This year, the government allocated over Sh120 billion to expand roads, reduce congestion and increase coverage of rural access roads.
In his State of the Union address on May 2, President Uhuru Kenyatta said without radical renewal and improvement of the country’s infrastructure, Kenya cannot hope to attract the investment needed to create jobs and prosperity to beat poverty.
“When I assumed office as President, we promised to tarmac 10,000km of roads across the country. We are on target, having completed 3,000km to date and with a further 5,000km under construction,” Uhuru said.
However, the issue of encroachment on road reserves, especially in slum areas, remains a big headache to the government.
Agencies charged with undertaking the projects have had to battle with hundreds of families living on road reserves. In most cases, court orders have been issued to stop the projects.
Nairobi county, for instance, is home to one of the world’s biggest and most congested slums, Kibera. It is said the word Kibera is a corrupted Nubian phrase meaning “forest” or “jungle”.
The slum was initially a dense forest before the British government turned it into a military camp for Nubian soldiers, who originated from Sudan and fought in the First World War.
In 1918, Kibera was gazetted as a military reserve and Nubian soldiers issued with shamba passes, which acted as temporary land licences for plots of land, where they settled with their families.
The Nubian people, thus, became the original settlers on the slum. But currently, they occupy only about 15 per cent of Kibera.
Kibera is home to a mixture of ethnic groups, with latest UN estimates putting the population at between 400,000 and 1.5 million people.
The government owns all the land in the slum. Ten per cent of the populace own shanties in the slum, with many of those who own several properties opting to rent them out to the remaining 90 per cent, who are tenants.
The average mud-walled shack is 12ft x 12ft, with a corrugated tin roof and earthen or concrete floor.
Rent averages about Sh700 per month. These shacks often house up to eight or more people, with many people sleeping on the floor.
A grader clears a section of the road in Kibera slum, Nairobi. /OLIVER OUNA
A storm is already brewing as graders have started work at the road, which is slated to pass through the slum.
Ten schools will be bulldozed out of the way, along with thousands of homes, churches, clinics and graveyards. Only two of these are government schools in a slum that has more than 50,000 schoolchildren.
Most children attend some 330 informal schools, according to Map Kibera, which has digitally mapped the slum.
The road, well known as missing link 12, will link Nairobi’s busy Ngong Road to the new Southern Bypass.
The link is one of the 16 projects identified by the government in 2014 to reduce traffic jams in the city. The bypass will cut 60m wide from the DC’s office to Kibera South Health centre, then to Kungu Karumba Road. It will have 2.5m-wide cycle tracks on each side and pedestrian walkways.
The development of the road started in 2010 but has been delayed due to court battles.
A section of the Nubian community in Lindi, Mashimoni and Kambi Aluru sought the court’s intervention, claiming they would suffer losses of their ancestral land and irreparable damages if the government was allowed to proceed with the road construction.
This provoked the High Court to issue orders stopping Chinese H Young Company — the construction firm contracted to build the road — from demolishing houses and other facilities on the pathway.
Extending the orders in 2016, Justice Samson Okongo said the Lands ministry and the National Land Commission had not provided residents with an alternative area to move into.
He said the intended construction work should await ongoing negotiations between residents and the government on compensation.
The residents, through their lawyer Vincent Lempaa, also argued that the land is their ancestral land and graveyard for many.
However, with the renewed efforts to undertake the project, it is estimated that about 30,000 residents will be affected.
The government initially gave residents a two-week notice to vacate their homes. The notice expired on June 16. But on Tuesday, the Kenya Urban Roads Authority said the planned demolitions would begin on Monday, which gives those affected more time to vacate.
Some of the amenities likely to be affected include the Egesa Children’s Centre founded in 2007 with a capacity of 185 students, and the Makina Self-help Group, founded in 1982 with about 300 students.
Others are Makina Baptist Church and School, founded in 2003 with 260 students, Mashimoni School, established in 1975 with 200 students, and the PEFA church, kindergarten and clinic, established in 1974 with 250 students.
Also on course for demolition are Love Africa Slum Outreach Ministries International Church and School, established in 2006 with 340 students, New Horizons Secondary School, founded in 2014 with 186 students, and Mashimoni Squatters School, founded in 1986 with over 775 students.
Kura communication officer John Cheboi said the construction of the 2.5km road is almost complete, but works have been slowed by the encroachment on the corridor. He said only 800m is remaining.
The project, however, has been met with demonstrations from residents, who are demanding to be compensated or moved to an alternative land.
The residents barricaded roads and burned tyres, demanding the project be stopped pending negotiations. They said the planned demolitions are illegal and a violation of their rights.
Chairman Shaffie Ali accused the state of issuing the eviction notice in disregard of a court order. He said they are not opposed to the evictions but are only fighting to be compensated.
Resident Samuel Oketch said, “Any attempt to demolish our houses will face stiff resistance. I have stayed here for more than 10 years.”
Read more: We’ll fight for land, Kibera locals vow
A section of the houses that will be demolished in Kibera slum, Nairobi, for the construction of a road. /OLIVER OUNA
Kibra MP Ken Okoth, in support of the residents, said he has petitioned the Roads ministry to ensure the families are reallocated and compensated fairly.
“The IDP Act of 2012 is clear on the rights of citizens affected by development projects and the guidelines. So I call upon the Roads CS to make sure the affected persons are relocated in a humane manner,” he told the Star.
But the authority maintains that the affected persons will not be compensated, a stand supported by the National Land Commission and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
NLC vice chairperson Abigael Mbagaya said only the owners of the structures on the 10 acres will be compensated through the Resettlement Action Plan.
“The transport corridor is on public land. Most of the residents built structures on the land, and NLC will not compensate for that. All we shall do is pay the occupiers in good faith,” she said.
KNCHR’s Kagwiria Mbogori said the mapped area, approximately 10 acres, was occupied by structure owners, but that will not stop the project from continuing.
Dismissing claims the road will affect the 288 acres allocated to the Nubian community, Mbogori said the entire segment belongs to the government.
“The project will move on. The constitution in article 40 provides that those who occupy land without title deeds may be compensated in good faith. This is not the first time for such an experience in the country, whereby citizens have settled on land meant for infrastructure development,” she said.
She said even in instances where title deeds are owned on a land deemed for development, they have to be surrendered under compulsory acquisition, and thus the Kibera issue is no exception.
“The only sticky issue was for people to be evicted in a humane way,” she said.
Kura deputy director in charge of structures Eng Timothy Nyamboi said they are mandated to implement the Sh2 billion project.
Speaking during a consultative forum between Kura, NLC, KNCHR and the residents, he said encroachment on land meant for road development remains one of the problems the authority has to deal with while implementing such projects.
The meeting agreed that Kura engineers and NLC officers be deployed to the ground to put beacons and document all details of those to be displaced before demolitions begin.