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In PS Hinga's universe, demolishing is part of the building process

Peter Kimani
 Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

I must confess upfront that I don’t take seriously any word that emanates from the mouth of Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga. He speaks incessantly, usually out of turn, gesticulating wildly when words fail him, working himself into a frenzy so that he foams at the mouth and sweat drips off his broad, well-fed face.

I’d have called him a caricature of incoherence, were it not for the tragic consequences of his words, the most recent being the intended demolition of the old neighbourhoods of Nairobi’s Eastlands. He claims he intends to put up “affordable” houses to accommodate more Kenyans, perhaps more deserving than the junior civil servants who have made a home there.

I suspect Hinga would protest at such a characterisation; he serves a particularly thin-skinned government, despite their bravado. You know elections aren’t that far off, and government folks know choices have consequences.

The planned demolition that Hinga announced this month, without a doubt, will leave hundreds of families out in the cold. The junior civil servants who live there have a housing allowance of about Sh6,500, probably less than what Hinga spends on lunch.

Let us, for a moment, leave the economics of Affordable Housing and focus on a simpler, commonsense question. With a two-month notice hanging over their heads, where can parents find new schools for their children? The same government has decreed no transfers will be effected mid-way.

More intelligent men and women in our courts have declared this Housing project illegal. Still, this pronouncement was met with more intransigence and chest-thumping that the programme would go ahead, to use a term preferred by former Prezzo Uhuru Kenyatta, irregardless. Irregardless of the court ruling, the project would go on, Prezzo Bill Ruto said.

But that’s not my problem. If politicians want to disregard court rulings and tax Kenyans to death and push others out of their homes, those are the dividends of democracy. Choices have consequences, too, for the citizens. Rather, I’m intrigued by the thinking that inspires the likes of Hinga.

These neighbourhoods were built at independence to address the same housing problem that Hinga says he’s sorting. They are modest dwellings with just a bedroom or two, but which could expand at night and easily take in half a dozen kids and their parents, with ease.

During the day, they remarkably transformed to conceal the nighttime pressures to accommodate guests for tea and mandazi. Improvisation was the name of the game. And children who needed to communicate childish things but keep their parents out of it invented their own language: Sheng.

This hybrid language is only one of the many cultural elements that risk erasure in the configuration of those spaces, and which has given Nairobians, and to a great extent, East Africans, a unique identity.

Current administration

We understand the disdain for the arts held by the current administration, so there is no point in drilling this any further.

What the dismantling of those estates means is that the one or two storeys will be replaced with towering blocks of concrete but leave no room for schools, shopping centres, community halls and places of worship —elements that make a community work. Or even the air to breathe.

Still, I am persuaded that Hinga & Co know more than they are telling us. I suspect Hinga is driven by the sage philosophy that posits a good ‘fundi’ must know to demolish and to build as well.

The consequence of this is that many will be consigned to destitution, which is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, poverty can be used as a tool of governance.

If men and women who were solidly in charge of their lives can hardly keep wolves out of their doors, they will be too bogged down by matters of survival to care about who is in charge.

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