Its bigger than it looks: The land grab in Riruta
James Kariuki points at Ndurarua primary school, a school adjacent to the field we are standing on which is called Riruta stadium.building that was next to the ground,” he recounts from his childhood which was in the late nineties to the mid-2000s. “The ground used to be a big field that extended from the present Riruta Stadium to the land occupied by the Chief’s office, Deputy County Commissioner’s office, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) offices to the right and to the left, the garage which is occupied by mechanics.“ he continues.
The field we are standing on has a soily centre which seems to be the focus of attention of a few youth who are seated on the grassy sides of the field watching a football match. The centre of the field is occupied by soccer players who are dressed in either yellow or blue. I ask Kariuki whether the state of the football field is a consequence of the diminished recreational space. He responds. “A training ground is supposed to be a different ground from a playing ground. Look at this ground, it is overused. It lacks water. It’s just dust and a few patches of grass.” He later says that the field had grass at the time of his childhood and that he used to train with his childhood friends on the land where the AP camp and DC grounds now rest. According to Kariuki, the football pitch, now called Riruta stadium, was specifically for football matches. The whole ground which included the land now occupied by the Dagoretti empowerment centre, he says, also used to be used for public functions such as political rallies and product activations. “People used to rest here. You’d find women, in particular, lying on the field where the Dagoretti Empowerment Centre now lies, “he adds.
We walk to the adjoining compound where the Dagoretti Empowerment Centre sits. Kariuki tells me that the compound itself had been grabbed and the construction of an apartment by a private developer had gone on in earnest until members of the community stopped the exercise in 2003. A copy of a letter from the then area Member of Parliament – Beth Mugo – obtained from one of the community’s members who was part of the initiative to stop the exercise, confirms that there had been another land grab in the area. The letter, dated 15th July 2005, is addressed to the then Police Commissioner Major General Mohammed Ali and decries the involvement of the Riruta Officer Commanding Station (OCS) and other policemen in frustrating a “peaceful land repossession exercise.” Part of it reads:
For purposes of record, I must acquaint you with the details regarding the piece of land in question:
i) The land parcel is the only meeting place for public Barazas and sports facility in the area.
ii) The land is reserved for a secondary school which once constructed will serve both Riruta and Kawangware wards.
iii) The area chief’s offices stand on the same land and the Constituency Development Fund offices are to be constructed at the same place later in the year
iv) The local DDC (District Development Committee) objected to the alleged allocation of the land to a private developer.
Kariuki walks me around the neighbourhood and shows me how far the community’s land extended when he was young. We pass the administration police headquarters in Dagoretti then pass the Dagoretti South CDF Office, a solitary building in a relatively large grassy fenced off compound. I get surprised at the contrast between the soily centre of Riruta stadium and the CDF office’s grassy compound which seems as though it needs slashing. We negotiate a corner and follow a dirt road to a point where the fenced off compound of the Deputy County Commissioner office is visible. There’s a sizable field in the compound where some children are playing and there are also a few scattered buildings all of which are bungalows.
Kariuki in reference to the CDF offices as well as the Deputy County Commissioner’s grounds painfully poses a rhetorical question “How can you be allocated space for an office on a park? You can see how they are horizontally building these structures – to occupy space. No wonder many of the constituents have been arguing that the buildings should be built vertically.” When I question him about the children playing on the field inside the fences off Deputy County Commissioner’s grounds he says that they are children of the police. “I remember playing here,” he adds while pointing at the field.
We negotiate another corner and walk along a small path that has a number of apartments which appear congested. After five or so minutes we negotiate another corner that leads us to the tarmac – Satellite Road. We pass Ndurarua primary school on our left and approach a shed where there are number of parked cars which are being attended to by a group of mechanics. Kariuki points at one of the gates of the shed and says “This is where the gate of the field should be.” We negotiate another corner, join Naivasha road then walk back to the empowerment centre passing a Shell petrol station on our way.
Back at the empowerment centre we meet an elderly official – probably in his late sixties or early seventies – of the stadium who gives us a history of how the land came to be a communal asset. “The history of this land goes back to the late 60s and 70s when land owners in Dagoretti, which then included Kangemi, agreed to donate a small portion of their land for the community’s use where celebrations would be held for public holidays and other important events,” *Gaithuma Muriuki says that an association – Kawangware Sports and Cultural Association – used to manage the grounds in the 1970s. “Owing to political differences among its members in a by-election that took place in 1974 after the death of the area MP Johnstone Muthiora, the association disintegrated which left the ground idle for a while upon which a local councilor lobbied for the construction of a BP petrol station (now Shell petrol station) in the area as the nearest station in the area was situated at Adams Arcade,” Gaithuma continues.
Kariuki, in his early twenties, appears dumbfounded. “What about the Chief’s post?” he asks. Gaithuma narrates how a company called Kamcons Africa limited was building intersection roads in Kawangware and was provided with a site on the community’s land for the company’s construction material and equipment. “They were allowed to construct semi-permanent houses for the storage of equipment and upon finishing their work, the structures were not demolished,” Gaithuma explains. “The Chief used to be based at Kawangware but somehow the Kamkons site was allocated to the Assistant chief. Since then it has transitioned into a fully fledged Chief’s camp,” He adds. Gaithuma corroborates the letter’s claims and argues that the residents of the area in consultation with the government had set aside some of their land for the construction of Ndurarua secondary school, a school that would accommodate students from the area who did not make it to the area’s prestigious schools – Dagoretti High School, Precious Blood Riruta and Allaince High School. This land, however, ended up being the headquarters for the Nairobi West district after the area Member of Parliament lobbied for the headquarters to be located at Dagoretti. “The empowerment centre and the stadium sits on 3 acres but the community land is supposed to be in the neighbourhood of 17 to 18 acres,” he concludes somewhat sadly. Kariuki is shocked at Mr. Gaithuma’s account. “I had no idea,” he offers.
It appears that in Dagoretti, definitions of public land and community land, as stipulated by Articles 62(1) and 63(2) of the Kenya constitution have been conflated. Community reserve land, as spelt out by the Community land Act (2016), refers to any land set aside for communal or land allocated by the registered community for individual occupation and use. This definition corresponds to the descriptions of land both in the aforementioned letter as well as Gaithuma Muriuki’s account.
Where is the land for the agreed upon Ndurarua secondary school? In addition, how is it that the land where Kariuki and his childhood friends used to play on has now been occupied by the DC grounds, the CDF office and the Chief’s camp? Residents of Dagoretti seek the answers to these questions. For young people, these questions may feel like the right ones based on their observations but from Gaithuma’s account, the land grab at Riruta, from an older generation’s perspective, is bigger than it looks.
*Names have been changed = not the real names of the respondents
Monaja is a performing and recording artist with a background in history.