Public consultation before evictions the way to go

Kibera slums in Nairobi. Residents were evicted to pave way for the railway. [Courtesy]

For many, the Government’s two-week quit notice to 30,000 Kibra residents, businesses and services still looms ominously.

The deadline to voluntarily evacuate or be forcibly evicted expires in 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 (KURA), National Land Commission, Kenya National Commission for Human Rights and human rights NGOs. This represents an important moment in our urban history.

Kibera or Kibra (the forest) has a long and rich history impossible to displace from the Kenyan story. The rapidly densifying Kibra has resisted the use of state violence, travel pass restrictions, demolitions or essential service denial to move them. This current attempt ironically comes in the 100th year of establishment of Kibra.

Kura is eager to complete the remaining 800 metres of the missing link of the 2.5km road that will connect Ngong and Langata roads. It will however, obliterate four of Kibra’s eleven villages namely; Mashimoni, Lindi, Kambi Meru and Kisumu Ndogo. 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 housing, shops, clinics and schools they have. The community Mashimoni Squatters Primary School is at risk of being 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 in 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 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 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 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 against Kibra residents.

Perhaps, Government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe could also learn from this positive development. This week, he blundered an otherwise teachable moment.

He derisively called those demanding 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 liberated our country from colonialism.

They currently drive the search for a national conscience higher than the abuse of office, violence and civic intolerance we experience.

These “haki yetu personalities” just saved 30,000 people from forcible eviction and financial ruin. We should be grateful for them.

-The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. Twitter: @irunguhoughton