Forced evictions are inexcusable
It rained heavily last night and all I could think of was the families of City Carton. The City Carton community face imminent eviction from a road reserve. They represent the unplanned side of national and county rapid infrastructural development plans. They and the many other communities who currently face forced eviction seemed largely forgotten in the headlines from the Devolution Conference this week.
City Carton is a people’s settlement of 400 households currently living on a road reserve nicknamed ‘Kismayu’ behind Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. Like the Kwa Jomvu Mombasa and other communities in Taita Taveta, Kwale and Kilifi, these communities are under renewed efforts to evict them without alternatives. For City Carton, this will be the third time, this is happening.
The renewed efforts echo the experiences of 2009 and 2014. Political cynics might point out that once the business of securing votes from these populous communities is done, the process of displacing communities begins. Rapid urbanization, rising housing demands, infrastructure upgrading and the lucrative tenders drive the momentum. Road construction is also one of the pillars of the Jubilee Big Four. For the urban poor living on road reserves and public land, these initiatives may spell the end of their communities.
More than half of the country’s urban population live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions and have no security of tenure. Many communities have lived this way for decades. The persistence of their conditions is the forgotten side of Kenya’s rapid growth story.
Left largely unplanned for, they consistently face forced evictions by increasingly well-resourced and effective Government agencies. Diggers and cranes have long replaced hammers, chisels and crowbars as demolition tools of choice. Often, the presence of armed administrative police and absence of County officials leaves the community with little options for dialogue.
Forced evictions is an international and national human rights violation. The displacement and indignity it creates, offends our Bill of Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 43 of the constitution states that all Kenyans, not just affluent and rich Kenyans, have the right to all basic needs including shelter.
That this should be happening in 2018 is inexcusable. Laws and guidelines like the 2009 Evictions and Resettlement Guidelines and the 2016 Mandatory Procedures Land Laws Amendment Act protect Kenyans from forced evictions. They require authorities to give written adequate notice, conduct genuine community consultations, offer compensation for any loss of property and most importantly, provide alternative resettlement housing.
County authorities must be present during the evictions to ensure no excessive use of force, arbitrary destruction of property or loss of life happens. Evictions cannot take place in bad weather, at night or over a weekend.
These legal provisions have been invoked in a court of law. Ruling on the case of Susan Waithera and four others Nairobi City Council in 2011, Justice Daniel Musinga noted that evictions should not result in homelessness, vulnerability or the violation of human rights.
The State must ensure adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land. Our obligation to international and national laws and our basic decency as a nation requires our county and national governments to hear the cry of community leaders like Deep Sea’s Caroline.
A mother of four children, Caroline was born in an informal settlement. She has rebuilt her life and home three times after forced evictions. She is now part of the team negotiating with the Kenya Urban Roads Authority on the community’s resettlement from the Parklands area in Nairobi.
It is through resettlement discussions like these and not the arbitrary, forced evictions that development does not displace the most vulnerable in our society. As she says, “Even if I am poorer than others, is it fair that we should sleep in the cold while those who seek to evict us, sleep soundly in their homes at night?”
Over the last month, national flash floods have claimed the lives of tens and left thousands displaced. The spate of forced evictions in City Carton and across the country must be halted until the rains subside and alternative resettlement housing or land is availed for communities. To do otherwise, is to subject citizens to inhumane and illegal treatment. Homelessness and the destruction of livelihoods cannot be progress for any nation, and certainly not ours.
We must go beyond exclusive planning for the middle class only. County and national governments must involve working class communities in realizing their right to adequate housing.
Postscript: Eleven days after this article was written, the Government of Kenya demolished City Carton on May 9. Over 60 heavily armed police officers ambushed residents of the City Carton informal settlements near Wilson Airport on the morning and oversaw the demolition of the homes of over 250 families. Bulldozers on-site flattened all houses and left over a 1000 people homeless. Amnesty has called for the County of Nairobi to provide emergency housing. This call has been ignored to date.
First published Saturday Standard, April 28, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group