Evicted by Progress

Source of Photo: Fredrick Owino Aor

Kenya is one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. With an increasing population, it is facing issues experienced by other countries going through similar changes, such as the need for increased capacity in infrastructure and housing. The capital, Nairobi, has some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. We all know how this can waste masses of working hours and can damage any country’s economic potential, so the need to improve existing roads and build new ones is great.

Nairobi is the capital of Kenya, not just politically but also economically. The last proper census was in 2009 when the population was just over three million, but, of course, it has increased since. People flock to the capital, as they do in many other countries, in search of work to support their families as opportunities increase in urban areas and decrease elsewhere. This not only contributes to more traffic congestion but also to an increased need for housing. This is where the conflict is occurring.

Slum housing has long been an issue around Nairobi, where the city’s need for labour outstrips its stock of affordable housing. The main location for this is Kibera, an area of land that the Kenyan government claims ownership of.

Since the 1970s, people have been setting up home there; however, it is hard to put a figure on the number of people who call Kibera home. In 2009, the Kenya population and housing census reported the population as 170,070, but it is now estimated to be far higher.

Unemployment is high and wages for those with jobs are low. There isn’t enough in the way of sewage and refuse clearance to cope with the dense population either. Many residents live in makeshift housing and use open sewer systems. 90% are living there with no rights. They live in shacks, 12 feet by 12 feet. There are schools and other facilities that people have done a fantastic job of setting up with what little they have available.

A lot of people have lived here for decades, have nothing else to fall back on and nowhere else to go. Kibera, with whatever faults it may have, is their home. If you look on social media, where residents with access are posting, the talk is not of the poor conditions but of the sense of community. Many people, especially young people, have lived there all their lives. There are community groups and markets. It is home to many people who have their lives invested in that area.

To strike a balance between the needs of a growing economy and the welfare of those with lower incomes is a hard act to pull off. The need for more roads is clearly visible. There are major traffic jams going into Nairobi during rush hour with an increase in road freight travelling from the port of Mombasa to the capital and there is no sign of these volumes easing.

A new road was first proposed in 2014. After the elections in 2017, registered residents were informed and eviction notices were posted telling people to be out by 16th July 2018. On the 23rd of July, the heavy plant equipment moved in. People who were in their homes were given five minutes notice to gather what they could and leave. People who had left for work came home to find their homes demolished. There is no affordable alternative for these people and information on where they went is scarce. Many had to spend that night sleeping in the open. Some went to stay with friends and relatives within the community, adding to an already prevalent overcrowding situation.

The whole highway project is due for completion in 2024 and it will undoubtedly increase the capacity for goods transfer, but what will happen to the displaced residents of Kibera is less clear. For those that are left, their community will be split in two by a major highway.

It is much hoped that some of the prosperity generated by this new multi-billion-dollar investment in infrastructure will filter down to the people who live in the areas most affected. It is a lot of revenue to have to claw back and this could take decades. Hopefully, the project will benefit local business before then and some of the revenue can indeed improve the lives of people there.

Global Seven News

Thorin Seex

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