‘We demolished homes, dug up graves, but no compensation yet’

Over 800 families were displaced by the project out of which less than 300 have so far been compensated. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

From the top of Kijabe hills that surround the semi-arid Mai Mahiu and Longonot in Naivasha, Nakuru County, the snaking Meter-Gauge Railway (MGR) is conspicuous.

Passing through tens of farms and several trading centres, the 24km multi-billion railway line has been described as the economic game-changer for the area that had been synonymous with sand harvesting and cattle rustling.

However, despite its economic prospects, the Sh3.5 billion project has left a lot of suffering in its wake. All that the families affected by the project have known since its launch has been pain and regret.

From demolished houses, open graves, and destroyed trees, the residents are counting losses brought about by the new railway line that links the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Mai Mahiu to the MRG in Longonot town.

The project, in the final stages of completion, is meant to fast-track the transportation of cargo, from the Port of Mombasa via SGR and MGR, to Malaba.

Over 800 families were displaced by the project out of which less than 300 have so far been compensated. Residents told The Standard that they are not happy with the current state of affairs as far as the new railway line is concerned.

This came as the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which has been undertaking the project, prepares to hand it over after completing its work. The displaced families blame delays in compensating them to Kenya Railways (KR) and National Land Commission (NLC).

Meanwhile, the two government agencies are fighting over who is responsible for the suffering of the residents of Mai Mahiu and Longonot.

For David Ngugi, his woes started way before the latest project started.

He is among those who were displaced in Molo during the 2007/2008 post-election violence and later, resettled in Mai Mahiu by the government.  Ngugi said he worked hard and acquired a parcel of land only for Kenya Railways to come for it as it sought to construct the MGR.

“We were promised we would be compensated in a couple of months. However, we are still waiting for our compensation, two years down the line. I fear being displaced again. Losing my home for a second time will be unbearable for me and my family,” said Ngugi.

Ngugi, who is also the chairman of those who had been displaced and settled in the area, said more than 800 families were affected by the two railway lines.

“Only 40 per cent of those who gave up their land paving the way for construction of the railway line have been compensated. We have decided that we shall not allow any other government project here until the issue of our compensation is sorted out. We shall also not vote in the coming elections until the government compensates us fully,” said Ngugi.

Lucy Wambui said the railway has turned her life upside down after her house was demolished and her parents’ graves relocated.

“We have been tossed around, from one office to the other, but the compensation we are seeking has not been forthcoming. We need the money to rebuild and resettle,” she said.

 Daniel Kibunja said he fears that they will be forgotten once the railway line starts its operations. 

“We have visited NLC officers and they promised to settle our issue as soon as possible but it appears that was just a mere promise. I have been reduced to a beggar, yet, I had a home and I was doing well. They should never have demolished our homes or taken our land if they knew they were not ready to pay us.”

Naivasha MP Jane Kihara said the contractor ignored the input of local leaders, hence, many problems have rocked the project as a result. 

She said they had held several meetings with the contractor to resolve the issues but their recommendations have reportedly been ignored. “There were complaints that the contractor moved to the site and even started working on the project without the consent of landowners. At the same time, there were allegations of bribery for job seekers,” Kihara said.

NLC commissioner Esther Murugi told The Standard on phone last week that 267 families in Block I and Block II have been compensated after their documents were verified.

However, Ms Murugi said, they have encountered problems in Block IV as residents lack land ownership documents.

“There are also cases of double allocation of land and family succession fights that have complicated our work. We received over Sh500 million to compensate the affected persons and the process is on despite the challenges,” she said.

She denied her commission is to blame for the delay in compensating landowners.  Murugi said a new list of landowners set for compensation will be gazetted in the next two weeks.

Kenya Railways MD Phillip Mainga said: “We have done our part by handing the cash to NLC to compensate the landowners.”

 Mainga exonerated the corporation from blame, noting they have no role in the compensation process.

“We identified the land and the contractor. The National Land Commission has all the cash to compensate those affected by the extension of this line,” he says.

Mainga said land disputes and lack of legal documents could have affected the compensation process.

He admitted that the cases of double allocation and family land disputes also emerged during the acquisition of the properties.

“We have started the trials along the new line. I am sure the land commission will continue addressing the issues raised by the affected families,” he said.