Land grab in Riruta : A struggle against political influence and community interest
Author: Nicholas Mwangi, Dagorettinews
Nostalgic memories of the activities one involved oneself in when they were children are a source of pride. These memories can be reawakened by a variety of experiences. In my case, walking next to the Deputy County Commissioner’s compound at Riruta is all it takes to take me back to my childhood years when I used to play soccer at the Riruta stadium.
The talent exhibited then was prodigious; it would earn one a moniker based on legendary world soccer players such as Diego Maradona, Pele and the great Brazilian striker Ronaldo. I was for instance nicknamed after the Arsenal Forward Thiery Henry in allusion to my great skills as a striker.
“Siingi” and “Kutoana “were our favorite games. “Siingi” is a football game in which several players form a circle while one is positioned at the center. The player at the centre attempts to ‘touch’ the ball with his leg as it is in motion as the players on the circle’s boundaries pass it to each other while trying to keep the player at the centre away from it. In the event that the player at the centre ‘touches’ the ball, the last person to touch the ball at the circle gets inside the circle and is made to chase after the ball as the previous occupier of the position did. “Kutoana” is a game comprising several teams with a pair playing at a time. The winning team remains to play a new team which replaced the losing team. Those were the good old days when we played with passion on the land that would later be illegally acquired.
Today, that part of land is all green but fenced, it is no longer the field that I used to know but a parking lot for the Deputy County Commissioner’s vehicles. There are no children playing on the vast ground as one would expect. Indeed, to live in Riruta as a youth is to reconcile oneself with the reality that one’s personal potential, alongside the potential and dreams of other young talents, has been robbed. The potential and dreams of young people in Riruta have been ruined. As young players we eagerly emulated famous Kenyan players such as Dennis Oliech, Francis Thairu and Edward Karanja all of whom played at the football field in Riruta stadium. Some of the youthful prodigies who looked up to these players, hitherto the main beneficiaries of the football field, redirected their energies to crime after their recreational-cum-professional space was grabbed to create space for the provincial administration’s offices. Indeed, many youth in Dagoretti have lost their lives while engaging in crime, some of whom were previously talented football players who abandoned the game.
Our generation, in its early 20s, is probably the last generation to have played at Riruta stadium before the grabbing of the land. Dagoretti residents born in the 2000s seem not to know that the Deputy County Commissioner’s compound, the empowerment center and the Chief’s camp are all supposed to be part of the stadium. With little or no knowledge of the encroachment and the extent of it, most of the Dagoretti residents from that generation are unable to understand how the land grabs have affected their individual potential. The danger of this is that the occupation steadily continues as those who are not conscious of it do not question it.
I speak of community interest, but one might ask where the community was in the face of this massive acquisition of the ground. The community was well aware of the land grabs. In fact, in 2003 it intervened when an individual grabbed the land where the empowerment centre rests on and began constructing an apartment block. The structure was demolished by Riruta residents. Back then, the community took the potential of its youth seriously as it witnessed some of the best players emerge from the area and change the lives of many. It would seem, however, that the community’s sense of civic duty was overwhelmed by the government’s interest in the land – the Deputy County Commissioner office and the Chief’s camp has employed seemingly strategic and well designed methods to extend their occupation. For instance, it has been argued the Chief‘s camp is a semi-permanent structure which could be demolished any time. Many members of the community, however, feel that the structures have been built and spread out horizontally rather than being constructed vertically to deliberately ensure that the two offices – the Chief’s camp and the Deputy County Commissioner’s offices – occupy more space. The Riruta Chief administration argue that their presence provides security in the area .The same applies to the Deputy County Commissioner’s offices as they are built horizontally. and argue that the offices are for the provision of services to the grassroots .And so what if they provide those services? Does it mean that it should come at the expense of children, women and youth?
Ironically, funds from the Constituency Development Fund have gone towards the various groups which have grabbed the communal land. Last year the office of the Member of Parliament allocated funds for the refurbishment of the Chief’s camp, and at a campaign rally during the election season, the area Member of Parliament Dennis Waweru pledged 6 million to go towards the construction of sheds for the adjoining mechanics’ garage. Nothing tangible has been done for the playing field in spite of the existence of the Constituency Development Fund which receives money from the national government for the development of sports in constituencies. It would seem that the importance of an up to par stadium in the area has been deliberately overlooked. Consequently, the future of emerging talents in Dagoretti has been frustrated.
Whereas the former playing ground for children has been occupied by the Deputy County Commissioner’s offices and the Chief’s camp, the rest of the field is mainly used by senior football teams in the community for football practice. This has led to overuse of the field, a good part of which is a patch of soil and dust which puts the health of players and fans at risk especially those who are young children who make use of the field from time to time. Ideally, a stadium should have a children’s playing ground and a practicing field, as well as a field specifically for the football matches to avoid the overuse of the field. The level of training for children is completely different from senior teams and as it stands, the state of the stadium is unwelcoming to the young players.
The field’s overuse has rendered it sub-standard. If Riruta stadium was maintained as well as Nairobi’s Kasarani stadium, the community would have hosted national matches including premier league and super league matches. This probably would have attracted huge crowds who would have to pay to watch the match and the gate collections would have benefited the community. The stadium, if tended to appropriately, has the potential of generating steady income that would be able to support the talent in the community by providing basic sports gear, like shoes, training and playing uniforms thus encouraging young talents to work hard and fulfill their potential in soccer like Dennis Oliech and Macdonald Mariga whose potential was harnessed in the community.
This political choice to not develop Riruta stadium and grab it instead has affected other sporting interests which could have been explored. There is only one playing field and this is only for those who play soccer. This means for children interested in tennis, basketball and swimming etcetera, have no avenue to fulfill their potential and are compelled to look for private recreational facilities to train. The talents of those who cannot afford the rates of a private recreational facility such as the Impala Club which is located further away from the community along Ngong road waste away. Is it a surprise then that this potential has been directed elsewhere where unneeded and of no benefit to the community and the individuals themselves? This probably explains why Kenya produces few or no swimmers, tennis players, and basketball players at the international stage. And the talents affected mainly come from informal settlements such us Riruta where majority cannot afford private club facilities.
Riruta stadium in its present state can be rendered redundant compared to other stadia which have developed their public spaces. Stadia such us the City Stadium and World Hope in Kawagware 56 have become avenues of employment for the youth in their areas as these stadia generate income and hire people for maintenance. The Kasarani stadium for instance, has a management board, cleaners, security and various field maintenance personnel all of whom are employed by the stadium. Developed stadia generate income as they attract large crowds and various activities, which generate returns that are partly used to employ people for the maintenance of the stadia. Riruta stadium has the potential to provide employment to the youth of Riruta and channel their potential to a more fulfilling purpose. Why has support gone towards those illegally occupying the ground instead of it being channeled towards developing Riruta stadium? What is the interest? This seems to be a matter of political influence and interest against the social interest of the community.
A recreational space should not only be used for sports but also for social bonding and interaction between community members of all ages, genders, ethnicity and who have different skills. This would help create an inclusive community in Riruta and Dagoretti at large due to its strategic location. A visit to the stadium on a Sunday afternoon would be an eye-opening experience – the visitor would be surprised at the sheer number of families resting on the ground while watching football matches.
As I reflect on the realities facing my community today, my nostalgic memories turn into a bitter present moment. Would things have been different if our playing ground was still there? Would I have lost many of my friends to crime or not? Would Riruta children – whose interests are varied – get stranded because of the sole activity availed to them – football -courtesy of the opportunities stolen from them? I am baffled at how political interests of a few can have a huge impact in our society. But we have not lost hope; we shall reclaim the stadium space and keep the dream of our children’s potential alive. However, this will not happen by mere wishful thinking – it is up to our generation, the last of its kind, which knows about the scale of the Riruta land grab, to reclaim its land and by extension the potential and future of coming generations that are tied to the community’s land.