Public consultation must proceed evictions in Kibra and anywhere else
The Government’s two-week quit notice to 30,000 Kibra residents, businesses and services still looms ominously for many. This deadline to voluntarily evacuate or be forcibly evicted expires in the next two days. An important decision to call off the June 16 demolition was reached this week in dialogue between community leaders, Kenya Urban Roads Authority, National Land Commission, Kenya National Commission for Human Rights and human rights NGOs. The moment represents an important moment in our urban history.
Kibera or Kibra (the forest) has a long and rich history that is impossible to displace from Kenyan history. Born of colonial labor migration and management, Kibra grew from the Kenya Army Rifles barracks and then settlement of largely Nubian soldiers as a reward for their protection of the British empire. Ever since, the rapidly densifying Kibra has resisted the use of state violence, travel pass restrictions, demolitions or essential service denial to move them. In the 1970s, the search for jobs and livelihoods overwhelmed urban planners and the population exploded. This current attempt ironically comes in the 100 year of the establishment of Kibra.
KURA is eager to complete the remaining 800 meters of the missing link of the 2.5 kilometer road that will connect Ngong and Langata roads.
The two billion shilling investment is intended to reduce traffic congestion along the busy Mbagathi, Ngong and Lang’ata roads.
It will however, obliterate four of Kibra’s eleven villages namely; Mashimoni, Lindi, Kambi Muru and Kisumu Ndogo. Under the guise of urban renewal, the desire to fix the missing link could soon result in missing communities.
Urban community displacement in the age of the four Jubilee pillars confuses the nation. Surely, the goal of adequate and dignified housing cannot be met by stripping the 30,000 inhabitants of the only housing, shops, clinics and schools they have. One of the facilities at risk of being demolished is the community Mashimoni Squatters Primary School. Established ten years ago, the school buildings have educated 1,500 children. All round them, wooden, mabati and mud structures are set to be also demolished.
In this context, the decision reached between the Government and the community on July 11 to follow legal procedures framed by international human rights standards is important. In announcing the quit notice, the Multi-Sectoral Committee on Unsafe Structures located in our Housing Ministry may have overreached their mandate and ignored our laws. Public consultation and a Resettlement Action Plan must take place for an eviction to take place. This procedure is anchored in the Internally Displaced Persons Act 2012 and Guidelines on Evictions.
Resettlement Action Plans are now used globally. They are designed to establish who and how people will be affected by a development project. It considers other alternatives to displacement and what compensation and assistance will be provided for lost assets and relocation. The fact that this was not done prior to the dramatic July 3 announcement by the Multi-Sectoral Committee on Unsafe Structures Chairperson Moses Nyakiongora should offer a lesson. Is it possible that KURA, the Committee and human rights agencies need to discuss how to avoid causing unnecessary public alarm and panic in future?
The Committee on Unsafe Structures has an important mandate to keep Kenyans safe from structurally unsound and dangerous buildings. Creeping into other areas of work without following due process, as the case of Kibra shows, exposes the Government to legal violations and risks harming Kenyans.
Listening to affected residents this week, I was struck by one voice that said “We are not against development. We just want our livelihoods and rights to be respected as well. Or are
we children of a lesser God than other Kenyans?”
The agreement reached to follow the Resettlement Action Plan route may postpone road construction by a few months but it avoids adding another historical injustice to the many that Kibra residents have experienced in the last hundred years.
Perhaps, Government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe could also learn a thing or two from this positive development. This week, he blundered an otherwise teachable moment. He derisively called those demanding for an investigation into alleged racial discrimination on the Standard Gauge Railway project, those “haki yetu personalities.”
It is worth reminding the Government Spokesperson that these personalities are the ones that liberated our country from colonialism. They are ones that currently drive the search for a national conscience higher than the abuse of office, violence and civic intolerance we experience.
These “haki yetu personalities” also just saved 30,000 people from forceful eviction and financial ruin. I think we should be grateful for them.
First published Saturday Standard, July 14, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group