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Our Policy Heads Need To Fully Consider The Human Cost to Continuing Kenya Demolitions | Coastweek

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- People salvage properties after after their houses were demolished this week in Kibera slums, Nairobi. Demolition of houses kicked off on Monday in Nairobi's Kibera Slums paving way for the construction of the Ngong Road-Kungu Karumba-Lang'ata link road. XINHUA PHOTO - ALLAN MUTISO

Our Policy Heads Need To Fully Consider The
Human Cost to Continuing Coast Demolitions

Coastweek -- Demolition of property or structures by any arm of the administration in this country is a painful thing to witness, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

It happens in fits and starts and somehow whatever is removed finds its way back if the intended purpose of the demolition is not achieved within say six months.

In December last year and January this year there was heightened demolition activity in Mombasa and Kilifi counties.

We wrote about it in this column at the time.

Like others that I have seen since, the modus operandi is the same.

Several vehicles carrying police and the other relevant officials arrive and move the crowds away.

They also warn the occupants of the structures that demolition is about to begin.

If the structures are empty then well and good. Sometimes, the structures may have been emptied but the owners are lurking in the vicinity with their own goons in the hope that they can stop the action through roughing up the demolition team. 

This latter option is no longer available as the demolition teams these days arrive with some serious fire power that only stupid goons would challenge.

The next action is that low loaders arrive carrying the demolition equipment.

The targeted properties and structures are precisely located and the equipment arrival is like clockwork.

Within minutes of arrival the work starts with crowds kept at bay.

The demolition process is ruthless and there is no intention of saving anything for salvage.

It is simply a destroy mission.

This means that the action is swift and the team spends the minimum time in one location and then moves on.

Fast forward to today and nothing developmental is happening in the areas cleared by the demolitions almost eight months ago.

However, wananchi are beginning to creep back into the spaces.

These are tentative steps.

The structures being put up are moveable ones.

The occupiers are conscious of the fact that anything could happen.

However in recent weeks one sees more permanent constructions taking place and slowly but surely the pieces are falling into place for more violent confrontations when the real work that was intended is about to start and the demolitions then will be even more ruthless and without notice.

According to Kachumbari, the first phase of demolitions was done because the stakeholders involved in the discussions about the construction of a new dual carriageway along the alignment would not proceed with any discussions unless there was absolute certainty that there would be unimpeded progress when construction of the road started.

This was not an unreasonable request as various road projects have been delayed due to the fact that certain portions of the intended alignment had not been completely cleared of occupation by the time the contract started and would not be completed by the time the project was nearing completion.

In some instances, the presence of such obstructions led to doubling of costs of implementation of infrastructure projects.

The issue of encroachment was not just for roads but also for water pipeline traces, airports, railways, public amenities as well as administrative units.

Examples of such project problems include the Southern bypass in Nairobi where completion was  delayed by nearly a year due to compensation disputes with a landowner near the Galleria Mall.

There is also the case of the new high voltage electricity transmission lines between Isinya and Rabai whose commissioning was delayed because if a dispute between the government and the landowners over compensation.

This stopped the completion of a twenty kilometre stretch for nearly two years when the rests of over five hundred kilometres had been completed.

There are many more examples

In the last few weeks, the county government in Nairobi has also been extremely active with demolitions.

It started off with the usual demolitions of kiosks in road reserves around areas where there were either complaints from the occupiers of adjacent properties or where the road reserve was taken up by the kiosks creating a traffic hazard by pushing people onto the road from the pedestrian paths.

This last week however, the demolitions in Nairobi moved a notch higher to slightly more exotic motivations.

Due process had been followed by giving all the people who had erected structures in riparian areas to clear out and demolish the structures within three months.

They were then given a week’s further notice.

To the day, the special team started demolitions and they started with a structure that would give them the biggest visibility – a very popular and busy petrol station belonging to a well-respected multinational franchised brand.

The operators had minimised the stocks they were holding but did not expect that the demolition would be carried out.

The process started very early in the morning on a Monday and it hit all social media in a very short time – probably intended by the demolition team in terms of choosing the spot and also the property to demolish.

The team continued to demolish additional mid to high level properties that had encroached on the riparian areas – defined as thirty metres from the edge of the river.

The river in question here was the Nairobi river and the location was in Kileleshwa  adjacent to the Arboretum.

It is expected that the demolitions will continue in earnest since they are being done by a multi-agency and such teams are normally difficult to stop due to the diverse authority structure that it brings – unless of course one invokes the name of the head of state.

In the current state of affairs in the country it is highly unlikely that anyone – even “well connected” people would get a reprieve.

The lingering question is – what then?

Having cleared the riparian areas of illegal structures and encroachment, one would expect that there would be a plan to secure the area so that it does not again degenerate into the same state that it has now.

The Nairobi River has many drains that discharge effluent into it , most of the time hidden by the developments in the riparian areas. Sometimes the developments themselves discharge effluent and garbage into the river.

How far will the process go?

Will it be limited to Nairobi only or will the other county governments take the cue and do the same and clear all the road reserves and riparian areas of occupation?

What about the wananchi in the rural areas who have taken over the river banks for cultivation or drained the wetlands so that they can have places to grow crops as the population pressures and subdivision of family land creates a scarcity of arable land?

How will the cleared areas be secured so that people do not start to use them again – and without permission as the attention of the county government and the central government will have moved to other new pressing issues to continue policing the areas that are prone to encroachment?

I am aware that there was a project by some renowned architectural firm to restore the Nairobi River and two other rivers -  Mathare and Mbagathi.

This involved starting the cleaning from the river’s head by capping off all effluent streams that could be discharged into the river either through repairing of existing sewers orredirecting those that were illegally directed to the rivers and finally creating alternative dumping grounds for waste so that dumped material would not be washed into the rivers  and pollute them.

As the river waters were cleaned, the riparian areas would be turned into properly constructed walkways so that people could walk along the river banks.

It was also envisaged that where possible pools created to enhance the look and feel of the riparian areas.

In order to enhance security, the whole of the river bank development would be provided with solar lighting and CCTVs all controlled and monitored from a special location. Once the whole of the river from the head to the eastern boundary of Nairobi County was rehabilitated then additional leisure activities were to be considered.

The part of Nairobi River around Globe Cinema roundabout would have a small dam to create a small lake for recreational purposes.

The Nairobi Dam that was once a lively water sport place would also be rehabilitated to have mixed use of the water facility with water sports as well as waterfront recreational areas.

The whole plan was extremely well thought out but the problem was the willingness of the authorities to dare start the evictions and then follow up with the enforcement of the effluent discharge rules into water.

All we can hope is that this clearing of the riparian areas that has started is one that will be sustained to the bitter end and that the authorities will work with civil society, private sector and development agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme, to restore our rivers in Nairobi to their former glory and then upgrade their use.

More important is that all counties should follow to either protect their areas and then invest in the development of recreational and retail facilities that will be preserved.

Just like we said last week.

This programme for Nairobi was one that was mooted and is being driven by the head of state.

Can our governors follow suit in their counties?

As Kachumbari says,  our leaders need to recognise what is good for the long term and positively embrace the ideas and then enrol the population so that the developments will last beyond their terms.




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