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Displacement fears in Gatundu over planned expansion of Mama Ngina University College

By Fidelis Kabunyi | November 8th 2021

The signage to Mama Ngina University in Motomo Village Gatundu South. [Fidelis Kabunyi, Standard]

Over 160 residents of Mutomo Village, Gatundu South, are set to be relocated to pave way for the expansion of the Mama Ngina University College, a constituent college of Kenyatta University.

 Much as some of the residents are eager to give consent for the relocation, issues especially the mode of compensation have elicited mixed reactions from the community that neighbours President Uhuru Kenyatta's home village.

The university is tucked about 100 metres off Kenyatta Road at Mutomo village which neighbours Kenyatta's home village of Ichaweri. It is about 14.5 km from Thika Road.

 “In Pursuance of the Land Act, 2012 Part VIII, the National Land Commission (NLC) on behalf of Ministry of Education gives notice that the National Government intends to acquire the following parcels of land as additional land for Mama Ngina University College in Kiambu County,” reads the Gazette notice issued on September 27, 2021, and signed by the National Land Commission Chair Gershom Otachi.

 “Plans for the affected land may be inspected during office hours at the office of the NLC, Ardhi House, 3rd Floor, Room 305, 1st Ngong Avenue, Nairobi, and at the Commission’s County Coordinator’s Office in Kiambu County,” the notice says.

 The plan involves a massive expansion of the existing campus and requires significant re-zoning of the area targeted for construction.

Construction of the university has so far cost Sh400 million involving administration and tuition blocks. All students are currently accommodated off-campus.

 But even before the compensation starts, some locals don’t have a clear picture of how the government will compensate them.

 When we visited the area today [Sunday], anxiety hung over the locals who were unsure of their fate.

From multiple interviews, it was apparent that most of them were anxious about what would happen next. On the other hand, expectations for compensation are high among some of the residents whom the project would displace.

 According to Joshua Njoroge, initially, there were 10 hectares of public land where currently the new university sits. Three acres were used to host Mutomo Primary School which was opened in the 1960s.

 “There were plans in the 1980s to transfer a part of Jomo Kenyatta University here but we opposed it successfully.

We thought the new university could occupy the remaining seven hectares but we are surprised they want to take even the little that we have as individuals,” Njoroge said.

According to some residents fearful of speaking on the record, the Kenya Gazette notice was circulated to only those who are affected.

 “My family was never consulted about the impending plans to expand the university and our eventual relocation,” said one of the locals.

 He said they attempted to assemble and protest after the notice was issued in September but they were quickly dispersed by anti-riot police after word went round about their plans.

“There is a deafening silence from government officials who we have asked to explain what the gazette notice implies,” he added.

 He said the ancestral land they are set to lose was very small as most families had multiplied over the years.

"At the moment the over 170 plots earmarked for relocation are measuring barely 100 by 100 feet each,” the 75-year-old resident said.

 “Our ancestral land was stolen by Europeans. It is painful that again that in this day and age we are being relocated from the little we were left with,” he added.

 Another resident who gave her name only as Nyambura said the announcement of the impending relocation is fueling family conflicts as many differed on whether this will be a lifetime chance for renewal or a curse of landless generations.

 “My elder brother has been threatening my other younger brothers who are opposed to the idea of receiving the compensation from compulsory acquisition.

My younger brothers maintain according to Kikuyu traditions and customs it is a curse to sell ancestral land and our family is likely to be condemned for entertaining the idea,” Nyambura said.

 Another resident who has lived in the neighbourhood of the university for the last 17 years said the news of the Kenya Gazette notice came as a shocker to many of the residents.

 “I relocated from Nyeri 17 years ago and purchased this piece of land where I have brought up my family and where I know as home all those years. We appeal to the government to factor in the investments we have done in this area in their compensation plans,” he said.

 Some of the residents said the government must consider the size of families before offering any compensation.

 Simon Karanja, 35, said he was looking forward to the compensation.

“All we are asking the government is to compensate us with what is commensurate to our current investments. We urge the NLC to listen to every individual and from the onset, we maintain that we have not sent anybody to represent us there,” Karanja said.

 “While we appreciate that Education is meant to empower the society, the relocation of Mutomo people should be carried out cautiously taking into consideration the unique demands of every family,” 75-year-old Agnes Wairimu said.

 She added that the psychological and emotional needs of those to be relocated ought to be factored in the compensation plans.

Housing demand from the anticipated students and staff, other middle-upper income people, and businesses attracted by access to the University is likely to threaten substantial “secondary displacement” by driving nearby rents well beyond the means of the working poor and the relocated locals.

  According to Gatundu-based Haki Group, a human rights lobby, the infiltration of the project by illegal settlers as seen in other government projects is the source of the fear and anxiety among Mutomo residents.

 "The locals fear that some leaders could use proxies to seek compensation,” said Douglas Wambugu, Haki Group chairman.

 “Mutomo residents are nervous that some impostors have processed fake title deeds to get the lion's share of the millions that are likely to be used to compensate the residents,” Wambugu said.

 Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha had early in the year announced the university could commence operations in September.

The KU constituent college is named after Mama Ngina Kenyatta who It sits on seven acres at Mutomo, Gatundu South and admitted its first 90 students in September.

Construction started in 2016.

 The college offers Bsc in Environmental Health, Bsc in Computer Science and a Bachelor of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

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