With no place to call home, fire victims allege foul play


Ninety-year-old Titus Kironyo says he now has to depend on his nephew and nieces after his shop was gutted. He says he lost everything and his health took a turn for the worse. PHOTO: COURTESY



Limuru, Kenya: It’s almost a month since a fierce fire gutted the homes of more than 50 families in Tigoni, Limuru County, but the smoke of uncertainty is yet to clear from their lives.

The residents of Tigoni informal settlement along the Limuru-Banana-Nairobi highway have been ordered not to rebuild their homes and vacate to pave way for road expansion and landscaping since the land they occupy is a road reserve.

However, Monica Wangui one of the oldest residents in the settlement, claims the real reason for their eviction is due to the fact that this informal settlement at the heart of a quickly developing “rich community painted an undesirable image”.

She claims that on some occasions they have been threatened with eviction as they did not have a place in the community.

Bribery allegations

“All the threats and warnings are coming from the rich in this area who say we are staining their image. They have even gone to the extent of buying the police in order to intimidate us and paying off our politicians to look the other way. We elected leaders but as soon as they taste power we become useless in their eyes and not even worth protecting,” says Wangui.

Wangui was a shop owner at the settlement. She says she came to the settlement in 1974 and for the last 39 years they had lived in peace until the start of the year when eviction threats started ending up with the settlement being burnt to the ground.

With tears in her eyes, she narrates how she has been forced to spend nights out in the cold with her grandchildren surviving only on the few shillings she gets from selling charcoal donated to her by a well-wisher.

Wangui’s predicament mirrors that of her fellow evictees who called the settlement home.

“I was among the first people to move into the settlement. Most of the families you see here are made up of our children and grandchildren and this is the only home they know. We have nowhere else to go and evicting us is just like killing us,” says Wangui.

Ninety-year-old Titus Kironyo, said to be the oldest person in the settlement, is a distressed man. He lays on his sick bed inside a makeshift shelter lamenting of his troubles in a deranged state.

Being a widower with no children of his own, he depends on his nephew and nieces for everything. But the situation has not always been like this. Kironyo used to run a general shop in the settlement that provided for both his needs and those of his brother’s children before the fire turned his life around.

He lost everything and his health took a turn for the worse. He is now frail and wonders what will happen when the bulldozers come roaring.

“They want us to leave so that they can beautify the area and expand the road. In their eyes flowers and roads are more precious than human life. The governor passes by occasionally on his way to Limuru Golf Club with his tinted windows up perhaps to avoid dealing with our suffering despite us having elected him,” he says.

Limuru OCPD Michael Mbaluka, however, denies allegations that the rich had paid police to have the informal settlers evicted. He says the decision was purely that of the District Security Intelligence Committee (DSIC).

Disaster in waiting

According to Mbaluka, the informal settlement was illegally situated on a road reserve and was a disaster in waiting. He says the poor planning of the structures made it impossible to move around the settlement, a factor that contributed to the fast spread of the fire.

Mbaluka says it was a miracle that the fire did not leave any casualties. “It’s just by God’s grace that nobody died in the fire. Houses were spaced only an arm’s length apart making it impossible to salvage anything. We can’t allow the residents to rebuild death traps in the name of houses,” says Mbaluka.