On October 9, Rukia Godana got out of bed like any other day. It was Saturday, so she didn’t have to take her children to school. She woke them up, fed her cat, and went to set up her underwear business on X Street in the suburb of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, one of the most humble in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. In the middle of the morning, things started to go wrong. A series of officials arrived with squad and bevel in hand, all of them escorted by police forces and bulldozers. After measuring, he was notified that his home and shop were on the 32-meter stretch of the Nairobi ExpressWay, an elevated highway that runs through the city. Hours later, their home and way of life had disappeared.
But Godana’s nightmare was not over. Not a month had passed when employees of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services arrived to report that the area where this woman had relocated with her family was also going to be demolished. Secondary roads would pass through there to serve the new main highway and other industrial areas. Perplexed, the neighbors decided to fight: “We were not going to allow them to take away our houses in the name of a road construction in which they had not involved us, without public participation,” says Godana.
The community got together and for eight hours there was an exchange of stones and tear gas fired between the security forces and the neighbors. In the end, the first ones left. Two days later, on Friday, November 5, they returned with reinforcements, water tanks and bulldozers that leveled everything in their path. “They were ruthless: they began to destroy businesses, houses … Everything they found in their path,” Godana recalls. Always according to the neighbor’s count, one person was crushed to death in the demolitions and two others were injured in the protests, although there are no official reports in this regard.
For the past couple of weeks, this single mother has been one of more than 60,000 people in the suburb of Mukuru Kwa Njenga affected by forced evictions. His home is one of 16,500 collapsed homes, according to the calculation of researchers from the SLUMAP project. The residents of the neighborhoods of Milimani, Sisal and 48 Zone are the most impacted in a place that has seen almost two-thirds of its population, of just over 100,000 inhabitants, have been left without a roof. Those who are lucky now live crammed into small family houses, where before there were three or four tenants, now one can find twice as many occupants. Others survive in makeshift plastic tents and, the less fortunate, have been left on the streets.
Now thousands of inhabitants not only do not have a home, but many others fear losing theirs. Homeowners have taken advantage of the high demand to raise the price of homes (already substandard). Previously, rents could be found for 1,500 shillings (12 euros) a month, but in the areas most affected by the Mukuru demolitions it has now almost doubled, to 28 euros. The cost has also risen in the more developed buildings in height, from 35 euros) to 51. And to this is added a deposit that is requested to enter another 6,500 shillings. In total, 13,000 shillings or 102 euros for a precarious home in a neighborhood where the average monthly salary is 117 euros.
The lack of access to housing is also compounded by the crisis in education. The second phase of the demolitions lasted two weeks and also affected schools. When the River Life International Academy students returned from their villages to the city after spending their mid-term break, they found homes in ruins. “They did not know where to go, they were asking us where their houses were, they were in shock”, Says Godana.
At least ten educational centers have been affected, most of them private that serve families who cannot access public schools due to lack of places. At a price of 3,5000 shillings per term – about 30 euros – the students are now without classrooms. “We had around 400 students and everything has been destroyed,” complains Patrick Kamazega, director of the institution. “We have been here since 2003 and now we can only offer some classes to the more advanced courses, but we cannot serve the elementary ones.”
Enrolling in another school is now a pipe dream. Added to the physical distance is the lack of money to pay for a new uniform and books, which cost another 30 euros on average. Many of the students now spend their days rummaging through the rubble for valuables in order to earn some money. “The environment is not at all comfortable to live in, with people lying on the street and looking for something to eat. You can’t expect a child to go to study on an empty stomach, ”Godana complains.
A highway for the rich
The residents of Mukuru Kwa Njenga are the last of those affected by the mega Nairobi Expressway project. In 2018, more than 2,000 families from the Kibera slum, in the western part of the Kenyan capital, were evicted to build this highway. Despite this, the works did not begin until two years later. Since then, everything has been a rush. The Government has advanced the planned deadlines by two years with the aim of completing its flagship project before the general elections in August 2022. With two-thirds of the road built, the Minister of Transport assured, at the end of September, that it would be ready for March.
The Executive wants to be able to boast of what will be the first highway in a city in East Africa and the second longest in the entire continent after Dakar. With sections of four to six lanes, it will be extended in a stretch of 27.1 kilometers from the west of the capital through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and to the municipality of Mlolongo, in Machakos county.
The project has a total cost of 668 million dollars (600 million euros) and has been financed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which will hold the operating license for 27 years. Starting in 2049, it will go into public hands.
The new highway will reduce the time to cross the capital from three hours to 20 minutes. The forecast is twofold: help international trade and reduce traffic on the main arteries of the city. This infrastructure will help expedite transportation through the Northern Corridor, which begins in the port of Mombasa, in Kenya, and through which 85% of the trade passes to countries in the region without access to the sea such as Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
Just as the first objective is realistic, the second is far from clear. The government hopes that it will decongest the traffic on Mombasa Street, Uhuru Expressway and Waiyaki Avenue. However, transport experts assure that it is difficult for the conditions to exist. On the one hand, the majority of the inhabitants of Nairobi do not have their own vehicle: 45.6% of the residents travel on foot due to lack of money.
For those who do use a vehicle, 40.7% take a wedding wedding, the moto-taxis, or goes in three, the small line buses. The government has banned the former on the Nairobi Expressway and although it does expect the latter to circulate, analysts have serious doubts. The imposition of a toll of between 100 and 1,550 shillings – from 1 to 15 euros approximately – depending on the size of the vehicle, and the exclusion of matatus of the special lane for large buses, can discourage their use.
The government defends itself
After the clashes between the security forces and the inhabitants, the head of the public office in charge of infrastructure services in the city, Mohamed Badi, approached the scene to show his support. “The evictions are illegal and I was not aware of them,” the director of the Nairobi Metropolitan Service assured those present, who announced a million shillings in compensation – about 8,000 euros. Despite this, the neighbors say they have not received anything and they do not leave their amazement: “How can you not know if the machines that demolished the houses were from the Metropolitan Service?”, Exclaims Godana. “The Government wants to wash its hands.”
When announcing the first demolitions last October, the Nairobi Regional Commissioner, James Kianda, assured that the construction of the road will be beneficial for the shanty towns by improving their connection with the industrial area. However, the reality is that life for the people of Mukuru Kwa Njenga is far from improving. “We are not against development, but they simply came to ruin our lives,” says Godana.
For many families nothing will be the same. With three children and a cat, whom she considers her fourth child, Godana assures that she is having a really bad time and does not know what she will do from now on without her business. “They have destroyed our homes, ruined our lives and traumatized our women and children.”
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