Deaths during evictions reflect policy failure and poor moral judgment

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua accesses the extent of demolition of the families who were forcefully evicted in Kiriko, Nakuru County, last week. [DPCS]

On May 6, Mathare North residents watched helplessly as a bulldozer crushed to death a 17-year-old boy who was trying to recover any possessions as their house was being demolished following the government’s evacuation orders to those living near Nairobi’s river banks to avert more flood-related deaths.

It was a tragedy that could have been avoided. Eyewitnesses said residents pleaded with the bulldozer operators and the police officers who had accompanied them not to demolish the houses as there were people inside, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The teenager was not lucky and became a collateral damage in the government’s belated response to the devastation of the floods.

Sadly, the boy was not the only government-dispatched bulldozers’ victim. A day later, an 18-year-old man who was trying to salvage stuff from a church during the demolitions in Mathare 4A was also killed by another bulldozer.

The tragedy happened shortly after President William Ruto toured the area to assess the damage caused by the floods. Barely two days before the two incidents, two people, one of them a five-year-old child, were reportedly killed by another bulldozer during demolitions in Mukuru Kwa Reuben in Nairobi.

These tragic events serve as a harsh reminder of the ruthless nature of evictions in our country. In Kenya, demolitions and forced evictions have become synonymous with destruction and disregard for human dignity.

The justifications for such evictions are often framed around narratives of necessity – the clearing of illegal settlements, the need for infrastructure development, or mitigating environmental risks, such as the flooding cited in the recent Nairobi demolitions.

However, the underlying issue is not whether or not people should be evicted if need be, but rather the manner in which these actions are implemented. The absence of empathy, consultation, and humane engagement in these processes reflects a failure not only of policy but of moral judgment.

The scenes of desperation and loss in Mathare and Mukuru should not be normalised nor accepted as collateral damage in the name of responding to floods. What is the point of killing people to save other lives when you can actually save those lives without destroying another life? Why are we so violent against our own people? Why do we commit atrocities on communities in distress, deserving of respect and compassion?

The saddest bit about our approach to demolition is that we have a law that no one cares to follow. The Land Act, specifically Section 152G, clearly spells out how evictions should be conducted.

The law requires proper identification of those carrying out eviction or demolition. They should present formal authorisations for the eviction, and there ought to be the presence of government officials or group representatives during the eviction.

The law states that evictions should be conducted in a manner that respects the dignity, right to life, and security of those affected. It emphasises that special measures must be in place to protect vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and people living with disabilities.

It stipulates that special measures should be put in place to ensure there is no arbitrary deprivation of property or possessions as a result of the eviction. This should include mechanisms to protect property and possessions left behind involuntarily from destruction.

It further states that force should only be used when necessary – and judiciously. And more importantly, it says that the affected persons should be given the first priority to demolish and salvage their property. Unfortunately, in Kenya, all this is only on paper.

The government must follow the law when carrying out evictions. Let the recent tragic events be a turning point in our approach to evictions.

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