'Innocence' should matter before making house owners homeless

A woman weeps as her house is levelled during the demolition of houses erected on East African Portland Cement land, October 14, 2023. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

In a country where homelessness is widespread, it should matter a whole lot when those with homes are rendered homeless.

It is one thing to limp because you tripped and fell, and it is another to walk with a limp because a person intentionally pushed you. It is one thing to be homeless – it is another to be rendered homeless.

One sin of David was choosing a poor man’s lamb while keeping his flock intact. His loss in slaughtering a lamb from his flock could not compare to slaughtering one that belonged to a poor subject. A king’s capacity to bear the loss and build himself back is incomparable to that of a poor subject.

A corporate organisation has greater power than an individual. It has way greater legal clout. It is likely to have way more resources than the ordinary citizen. But it also has a moral responsibility that must equal its size.

A corporate is not only a producer of stuff. It is also a neighbour to its community and environment. Being a neighbour implies not being an enemy to the community, even if the community is a hostile one. Being a good member of the community is a soft asset that can be redeemed and see the company through hard seasons.

When a Centurion’s servant was sick, it was the people who pleaded with Jesus, urging him to attend to the need of the Centurion because “…he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” Reputation in the community is critical. What the community says about a company far supersedes the loftiest statement the public relations department can make.

You could be in the right place, dong the right thing, at the right time, in the right way only for this perfectness to become a perfect ambush for disaster. Suddenly things move from best to worst and you are left wondering what was wrong with all the right you were doing. The hitherto innocent Mavoko house owners are suddenly labelled “illegal occupants.” Once upon a confident owner is now a masquerade.

Every push and pull of a bulldozer dug a deep feeling of overwhelming rejection. What went down was more than stones.

In such an experience, what goes down is a dream – a dream dreamt and achieved. A heavy price paid for some not yet fully settled. What goes down is a space that people own and call home. What crumbles is a space of intimate communion between spouses, children and friends. What goes down is an identity – the homeowner identity.

One of the greatest transitions for many rural-urban migrants is moving from renting a house to owning one. With a house razed to the ground, the owner is reduced to a displaced person – sometimes positioned way far behind than where they first started. What goes down is a psychic frame built and achieved over time – a state of peace and satisfaction. Restlessness set in.

One hour strips down what took a lifetime to build. One hour of destruction not only crushes the past, it crashes the future too. Many do not know where to go – so they mourn as they sit on the scattered stones. Hope and meaning turn frail. The spirit of diligence is choked. Citizen confidence wanes and the pride of being Kenyan is deflated.

Not even a sense of the sacred stands in the bulldozers’ way. Churches, supposed to represent God – His power, innocence, humanness and justice – are not accorded any special treatment. One wonders what the church dedication ceremony meant. Does the tearing down of the dedicated house also foil its dedication to God? If the land was based on a fraudulent process, was the church dedication efficacious despite the illegality in acquisition?

In modern day Kenya, even God – the owner of the earth – needs a genuine title deed to claim anything! Without it, His church has to pack and go! Is God angry about this? We will wait and see. But one may argue that the holy land – Israel – is disputed too. The land is passionately claimed by many others. There are moments when it is very clear that this world is not our home – we are homeless here. That said we must fight for what is ours – including our innocence. 

In a country that boasts in religiosity and leaders quote scriptures liberally, the virtues of justice and innocence must mean something. They should co-exist without contradiction. The story of Solomon and the baby claimed by two women remains relevant. Upon the decision to split the baby in half, one of the women was for the split.

The other preferred the rival to keep the baby. She chose to deal with the pain of an absent child rather than of a dead one. Is tearing down homes and the consequent immense losses the only solution to the Mavoko question? The singularity of the vacate-and-demolish option and the swiftness of its execution trigger many questions. Why the merciless zeal? Could this resolve be a sign of yet another underlying scheme?

The bulldozers proceed unconcerned about the fate of a crying baby. The health of the aged is none of their concern. They are blind to the face of confused children and deaf to the cries of wailing mothers. Justice must be served to the corporation and no tears can stop it.

For a corporation with a heart, there can be found many ways to follow that still deliver the deserved justice. Innovation should not just be about machines and product mixes. Innovation must be holistic – and must be seen in also ways and forms of mediating justice.

Going forward, our eyes are focused on the land, curious to see exactly what the company does with it. We hope it be something very important – more important than what those homes meant to the people who dwelt in them.

Maybe the upcoming developments could make the bulldozed families see worth that will soothe their forced sacrifice. We only hope that the land will not be left to grow into a bush! With wails and misty eyes, we wait to see the reason for the zealous destruction. 

(@edward_buri on X)

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