The poor bear the brunt of drama in high places

Kibera demolitions. [Photo/Courtesy]
Are our leaders deliberately exploiting the vulnerability of the poor? This seemed the case in at least two recent incidents involving mass evictions of poor families from government land. In Kibera, some residents were forcibly evicted to pave way for construction of the connecting road between Langata and Ngong roads.

Though there seemed to have been some discussions initiated to help relocate these people out of what apparently has always been a road reserve, they nonetheless woke up to the rude shock of roaring bulldozers flattening their humble abodes. All assurances that they would not be forcibly evicted turned out to be illusory.

In yet a similar incident, residents of Mau forest found themselves in bewilderment when two sets of government representatives visited them with conflicting instructions. One team warned them that they had to move or be forcibly evicted. Another high-powered team encouraged them to stay put, assuring them nothing would happen unless and until they are compensated or moved to an alternative location.

They were however shocked when a heavily armed contingent of law enforcers demolished their dwellings and set some on fire. Destitute and devastated, these poor residents of Mau were eventually left to their own fate as politics took centre stage.

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In both Kibera and Mau, the residents seem to have been caught up in political powerplays that they had no idea about or interested in. Like pawns in a high stakes game, they were being used to score political goals that had absolutely nothing to do with them. The sad reality is that such incidents are not isolated, being especially common in election season – which unfortunately for Kenya, is always. It is a situation in which legitimate efforts of government to execute its mandate are hijacked by opportunists who are intent on gaining political mileage.

High-return opportunity

Once they identify a potentially high-return opportunity, they emerge from the woodworks presenting themselves as the messiahs for the poor. They will then arrive at the scene with high drama – sometimes prostrating themselves in front of police trucks, bulldozers, or troops that have come to enforce the law, in an apparent solidarity with the targeted victims. In the process they win big from these poor folks who somehow believe that, in these actors, they have genuine defenders. Unfortunately, once the same politicians come to power, they soon realise that the very thing they opposed is important for their success in leadership. Then the cycle starts all over again.

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There is no gainsaying that both the Kibera and Mau evictions are legitimate and for good purpose. The need for an efficient road network in Nairobi is a deficit that must be bridged quickly if the city is not to ground to a halt. Both Langata and Ngong roads are critical arteries that have been clogged for a long time and any effort to ease the traffic flow can only be commended. Likewise, the deforestation of Mau is a disaster that we will pay for dearly if we do not act with speed to save whatever is left of it. In this, we must stand with the government in its good effort preserve our future.

Yet, the way these projects have been handled reveals the consequence of bad politics and perhaps poor leadership. How comes in both cases the government not only licensed legitimate businesses, but also constructed schools in what now turns out to be illegitimate land? 

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How the Government Issue title deeds did to its citizens for what is obviously a critical water tower? And after so doing, if this land was to be repossessed, why would the residents not be humanely relocated? This is what seems to have drawn the ire of many.

In the Kibera saga there apparently was an agreed Resettlement Action Plan that was to be followed to ensure the safe relocation of the affected people. Accordingly, schools were not to be demolished until close of the school term. Sadly, none of these agreements were honoured. While comparisons are not apt, one cannot help but recall that when Mombasa Road was to be expanded, several high end commercial buildings were marked for demolition.

The business community arose in unison and successfully protested the demolitions. The government retracted and the project seems to have been abandoned. It is therefore very unfortunate that in the case of the poor and helpless, they are left to bear the brunt of drama in high places. Which begs the question – who will speak for the voiceless?

- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]

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