Years of anguish for squatters in colonial villages

Residents of Kirichu colonial village in Nyeri County who claim to have been squatters since Kenya gained independence follows a proceedings during one of their meeting.PHOTO:KIBATA KIHU/STANDARD.

In 1953, Waguthi wa Kaloji was a blushing bride. She and her husband were farm labourers for a British settler in Nyeri. Waguthi was among over one million Kenyans who were forced to live in colonial villages in the then Murang’a, Nyeri and Kiambu districts during the State of emergency.

Now aged 90, she recalls that together with her husband, they were resettled in Kirichu colonial village as the Mau Mau war against colonialists raged.

One of her lasting memories is how close to 30 women and their children were crammed into tiny mud huts measuring about 20 by 10m. They would take turns to cook whatever little food they could get through rations on a communal fire.

“It was terrible. We had no food, toilets or freedom. We slept on the ground while those who were lucky had gunny sacks or wooden planks to lie on,” she says.

Waguthi also remembers how one day in protest to the inhumane living conditions, the women decided to defecate in the camp and suffered dire consequences. “The guards gave us a beating and forced us to clean up our camp with our bare hands,” she says.

In 1969, a few years after independence, most of the villagers moved out of Kirichu, while those who remained were allocated small parcels of land. A demarcation process was carried out and each acre of land was allocated to six or seven individuals for a fee of Sh4 per month. “The fee was paid to the Karatina County Council and we all believed that the receipts we were given were enough proof that we finally had a home,” Waguthi says.

However, 53 years after independence, Waguthi and her neighbours continue to live in fear and poverty. In Kiganjo, Mathari Ward, there are at least five colonial villages namely Kiguyo, Kirichu, Mathari, Kahiga and Ndurutu.

In these villages, promises of resettlement are often the political carrot dangled in front of the residents but attempts to make good on the politicians’ promises  never bear fruit.

Currently, 234 families live in Kirichu on what they claim is 60 acres of land and over the years, they have had to fight land grabbing attempts.

James Magenda, 40, has lived in the village all his life and is raising his family next to his parents’ house.

 Communal Cemetery

Magenda is the chairman of the Kirichu group. “We have women and men who have raised their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren on small pieces of land,” he said.

Grace Wanjiku, 60, is a grandmother and has had to make difficult choices in raising her family including turning their outdoor kitchen into a sleeping area.

“I cannot leave my home, my mother was born here. I live here and my children and grandchildren also live in the same compound, and it is tough to have adult sons who want to start families unable to have land to settle,” she says.

A communal cemetery in Kirichu is full to capacity and as the neighbouring homes expand, more are forced to move closer to the sacred ground.

“I live on top of a cemetery. When I attempted to install water pipes in my home, I came across human skeletal remains. I reburied them but the thought of it still sends shivers down my spine,” Magenda said.

Peter Macharia, 74, says besides lack of allotment letters, he has no water or electricity in his home.

“Without any proof of ownership, water and power companies cannot connect our homes with these basic amenities,” he said.

Magenda said there has been lack of political good will to resettle them. “Each politician promises to resettle us when we vote them in but they never do so. We have become pawns,” he added.

Waguthi has only one plea to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is expected to visit the region this month...she wants him to issue them with allotment letters. “We have lived in this squalor since the white man put us here in 1953. I have no proof that my home belongs to me,” she said.