Silence on Kibra speaks volumes about political class

The challenges of being poor in Kenya are overwhelming. Not only are the poor main targets of the craven policy of extra-judicial executions by the police, they are also the main targets of evictions and demolitions.

In the last few weeks, residents of some sections of Kibra had their livelihoods destroyed to make way for the construction of a new road aiming to ease traffic congestion in Nairobi.

True, Nairobi needs an overhaul in its traffic arrangements as anyone who lives or visits Nairobi can attest. Our traffic jams are horrendous, and I am sure a significant number of potential investors have changed their minds on arriving at the airport on a week-day morning and spending more than two hours in traffic! Nairobi’s traffic is also a source of significant stresses and anger.

There are many ways of addressing this problem, including developing effective, efficient and reasonable public transportation systems. As a former Mayor of Bogota in Colombia once stated, you know you are developed when the rich use public transport. But that means that public transport that is safe, clean, affordable, predictable and efficient, things that seem beyond our policy-makers.  

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Increasing the indignities

Rather than doing the hard work of establishing a public transportation system that would reduce cars on the road, our policy-makers go for the easier—and more lucrative—route of building more roads first. For as sure as sure can be, and given how this regime operates, shiny projects such as new roads inevitably comes with looting for a few.

Be that as it may, what is annoying is that it is the poor who bear the brunt of the pain. Why is it so hard for the regime to follow the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development based Evictions and Displacements? The Basic Principles establish the manner in which evictions can occur with the central tenet being the dignity of affected persons as Justice Lenaola ruled when he was at the High Court.

Yet this regime revels in increasing the indignities of the poor, who are the ones living in Kibra. And if there is anyone who thinks that people live in Kibra by choice, just go there and live for a year and see how to handle the basic issues of security, sanitation, health, cleanliness and privacy!

The Kenya Urban Roads Authority made an agreement with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to resettle the affected population before demolitions, but simply ignored it. Why would they so casually abandon an agreement that would maintain the little dignity of the poor in Kibra, unless they are part of the “go to hell” clique?

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And why has the expected wave of condemnations and resistance been absent from the political class? If this is the impact of the handshake, and if the hand cheque has silenced the voices of those who should speak for the voiceless, then we are in for a rough time!

That silence speaks volumes about the loyalties of our political class: It is not aboutvalues, principles or the people they represent; it is about the Big Men. And this is what ensures that we remain the banana republic that we are, and will be unless real alternatives are found, and fast! This should be a lesson to all of us.

Irregularly excised

The tragedy of these Kibra evictions becomes more pronounced when compared with how the regime has tackled the settlements around Nairobi National Park. Over the years, grabbing and encroachment has proceeded unabated squeezing out this jewel and national heritage.

But because the encroachments have been by people of means—and facilitated by the corruption that engulfs us--who quickly constructed all manner of houses and developments, the regime decided to effectively destroy the National Park by constructing the SGR smack through the middle of it, rather than demolish the illegal developments around the Park that would have been more logical.

Simply put, if you have the means to put up “permanent” structures on land that has been irregularly excised from public lands (note there is nothing like government land, only public land!) you will probably get a reprieve and get away with it as we see with the developments around Nairobi National Park, and even the Mau Forest. But if you are poor and can only afford a hovel on public land, you will be evicted with dehumanizing force, often at night or very early morning, and with no compensation.

The inhumanity of how Kibra is handled is matched by the casualness with which the regime treats Nairobi National Park. I have written before that as long as we have predatory regimes in power--such as this one--we will be lucky if Nairobi National Park exists in twenty years. I bet that title deeds for the Park were created and issued a long time ago, waiting for the opportune moment to unleash them and claim title.

With the SGR guaranteed to accelerate the disappearance of the animals and as demands for more “development” in and around the park increase, twenty years may well be too optimistic! 

- The writer is former KNCHR chair. [email protected]

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