As a life skills workshop went on at the Kibera Youth Arise and Change Centre next to the DC’s office in Nairobi, on a hot afternoon, graders and trucks roared spewing clouds of red dust.
Outside, construction was going on. A new tarmac inched closer to the centre every minute. Yellow beacons placed inside the property served as a reminder that the centre which also hosts a school was constructed on government land.
About 30 metres away, the ground where Mildred Atieno’s stall once stood had been turned to an island by earth movers to pave way for Ngong Road-Kibera-Kungu Karumba-Langata Link Road.
“The DC camp is just a government property like the road. Why didn’t they pass the road through it in order to at least save some people,” she complains.
Thousands of Kibera residents in Kambi Muru, Mashimoni, Lindi and Kisumu Ndogo could soon be homeless. A bypass set to connect Ngong road to Langata road is approaching the slum from both ends. When it does, Africa’s largest informal settlement will be split into two.
“This project is being done with a lot of secrecy. It is like poor people don’t have rights in this country and the government loves hurting its people,” says Atieno.
Conceptualised a year to independence in 1962, the four lane dual carriage also known as missing link 12 was never actualised until the year 2014. During the five decades that nothing happened, Kibera grew and its residents made the road reserve their home. They constructed shanties, lived, gave birth and raised their children on it. According to papers filed in court, the route of the road was changed four times.
In 2014, the government identified 16 roads that needed to be constructed to make traffic jam in Nairobi a thing of the past. Among them was the Ngong Road-Kibera-Kungu Karumba-Langata Link Road. It is expected to ease traffic on Langata road.
The bypass will cut 60 metres wide in the slum for 2.5km from the DC’s office in the north to the Kibera South Health centre into Langata then to Kungu Karumba road. It will also have 2.5 metres wide cycle tracks on each side, 2.5 metres wide footpaths and piped drains on the outer side kerbs.
But there are questions of safety. The design of the road did not take into consideration the fact that it passes through a densely populated area where driving is a head ache and accidents are common.
“We don’t anticipate accidents but there are plans to construct five footbridges, one underpass and protection walls to direct human traffic to the footbridges,” John Cheboi, the assistant communications director at Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) promises.
Inspected the progress
Construction was however, stopped in 2016 by the High Court after residents of the slum filed two cases challenging the expected demolition of their houses and displacement. One case was thrown out towards the end of last year and another is set for ruling soon.
If the government loses the case, it will be back to the drawing board on how to rescue the Sh2 billion project. On Thursday officials from Kura inspected the progress of the road and were impressed.
“Construction is on schedule. We have an issue past the bridge (Kibera), that is being addressed,” says Mr Cheboi. Despite a court order stopping construction, the contractor H Young has been on site.
By yesterday, construction was at 43 per cent completion according to the Authority. The Langata section of the road and the distance between Yaya Centre and the DC office are almost complete. It is just a matter of time before earth movers descend on Kibera dividing it into two for the first time since Nubians settled there in 1906.
Joseph Nyagesera is anxious about the looming demolition of structures on the road reserve. When his parents died leaving him with nine siblings to take care of he started Egesa Children’s Centre which doubles up as a school.
For nearly a decade, his centre like several dozen dotting the sprawling slum, has not only provided education but meals to children from poor families. He is one of the petitioners in the remaining case which is coming up again for hearing in February 18.
Although the Sunday Standard is not at liberty to discuss the merits or demerits of the case since it is still in court Mr Nyagesera is afraid of the fate that awaits the children under his care. “Out there others say the people of Kibera are against developments like this. The fact is the government should do its projects with a consideration of humanity,” he laments.
“Right now there are people who know they are on the reserve. If you give them compensation and ask them to move that is fair but in reality we know people will be evicted without notice,” he says.
The first case filed by the Nubian community against the project was thrown out by Justice Samson Okongo. Justice Okongo ruled that the public interest of those who will use the road supersedes the ones set to be displaced.
“The respondents have contended that the petitioners who will be affected by the road construction have no right to compensation because they have no title to the land being acquired by the government,” he said.
Officially, everyone who lives in Kibera is a squatter on public land. President Uhuru Kenyatta in July last year issued a community title deed to the Nubians. The Sunday Standard has established that this is part of a bigger plan meant to outmaneuver any resistance for the road when push comes to shove.
The Nubian community now owns 288 acres of the slum and most of their land lies on the path of the road. Their council of elders can decide to hand over part of this land to the government for the road since they have legal claim to it.