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What kind of political naivety led to Kariobangi demolitions?

By Daisy Maritim | May 10th 2020 at 10:00:00 GMT +0300

An excavator tears into houses in Kajiji, Sewage area of Kariobangi North, May 4, 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Once upon a time, there lived some people who were not humans.

These people lived in houses that were not homes, and ate food that was not nutrition.

One fateful year, a plague hit the land. The people who were not humans begun to wallow deeper in despair.

Not because of the fear for the disease they did not know, but because their wages, which was not money, begun to dwindle.

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And just when they thought that things could not get any worse, their houses which were not homes were flattened to the ground.

This is not a far away colonial story set in Belgian Congo. The setting is in modern day Kariobangi, in the month of May, in the year 2020.

The level of viciousness that Kariobangi has seen is comparable to that of Leopold the Second, who oversaw sadistic projects upon the ‘hapless Africans’.

While no one in Kariobangi was butchered, their dignity was. They were exposed to destitution on purpose, and they know it.

They are forced to explain to their children that their house, their only roof, where they have lived since birth, is actually not a home.

And that at the whim of an abstract thing called government their houses can be flattened in a day.

The demolition of houses in Kariobangi is so obviously ludicrous and brutal that even State House had to distance itself from it at the earliest chance.

In my conspiratorial assessment, the fake ‘letter from Joseph Kinyua’ that is circulating on social media is not entirely fake. It is actually strategic.

It is the classic political move where you disseminate a ‘fake letter’, which contains your real messaging; for example “we want the people who signed off on the demolitions to be prosecuted”.

And by the time you declare this letter fake, the message has been passed and views have been formed.

Of course State House would want to distance itself from this political atrocity. It does not matter how long these humans of Kariobangi were served notices of eviction, or for what publicly beneficial purpose their land has been assigned.

The logic may be solid, but the timing and the method are dead wrong.

Which then begs the question, why? Why sign off on low-income housing demolitions in the middle of a pandemic? What kind of political naivety or bureaucratic absurdity inspires such a move?

The surest way to foment rebellion is for the governed to believe that those who lead them do not have empathy for them.

History is full of these examples of populations who felt that they were merely seen as people to be governed, not humans to be considered. That they are subjects to be ruled over, not citizens to be taken care of.

If Fred Matiang’i himself did not attempt to rationalise the Kariobangi demolitions to us, we would have believed that they were part of a set up. But now because he did, we know that it was government’s intention.

Otherwise in our disbelief, we would’ve thought that an ‘enemy of government’ co-opted a bureaucrat within government to sign off on flattening poor people’s houses.

We would’ve believed that this politically astute person is intimately familiar with an important Law of Power: ‘Destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputation and let them be hang by the court of public opinion’.

The public opinion that these demolitions created is that government is ran by an elitist person who has no idea what poverty looks or smells like.

In fact, if Matiang’i himself did come out and attempt to explain the demolitions away, we would have blamed someone else for orchestrating them.  

We would’ve said that it is the antithesis of ‘elitist leadership’ that planned the demolitions to further demonstrate the disparity between them and a government that is far removed from the realities of the poor.

But we know this is not true, it was not a set up. It was a deliberate project to demolish lives by flattening houses. Worse still, it had a nonsensical rationale: that it must be done to progress a sewerage project, otherwise the donors will be scared off by the delay and retract their precious dollars.

As if these donors do not have Covid-19 in their global north countries, as if they would be shocked that a pandemic has delayed a project.

What is most likely is that the demolitions at Kariobangi did not happen in spite of Covid-19, but because of Covid-19. Somebody somewhere reasoned that in these coronavirus times, nobody would notice or care about these Kariobangi people who are not humans, and live in houses that are not homes.

-The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected]


Kariobangi demolitions Demolitions Coronavirus In Kenya
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