Rapid development of residential units in Dagoretti : The silent strategy and the dark side of evictions.
Author: Nicholas Mwangi
Newsletter: Dagoretti News
Within informal settlements countrywide the breakout of sporadic fires has been on the increase in recent years. These lethal fires raze down low income houses in the informal settlements destroying people’s property and causing deaths in this areas. At the same time, the cause of the fire is hardly accounted for as there are no credible independent investigations to reveal the cause of the fires.
While there are many causes of fire and especially in the slums due to faulty electrical connections, fire accidents and arson attacks the almost instant and rapid developments in the already affected area raises questions on the break out of these fires. The burnt area is quickly sealed off like a crime scene with a fence and within a few months a high end residential building with running water and sanitation services sits comfortably replacing the old shanty houses as people from a significantly higher economic class settle in.
This pattern has been on the increase in Dagoretti and Kenya generally. Potential investors and to some extent the government set their eyes on a market or an informal settlement for development and because legally it is an arduous task to evict people they resolve to this land grabbing ploy. For instance, the Gikomba market in Nairobi, one of the largest markets in Kenya for second hand clothes has been destroyed several times by fire outbreaks in the middle of the night when there are no traders in the area. Majority of people are now convinced especially after the inferno that took place last year at the market that it was deliberately planned to edge out the traders as the affected area had been earmarked for re-development by the county government. It is interesting to note that the government appears during these moments to give their support, as a pattern the reconstructions do not restore the infrastructure as it previously existed. These reconstruction always edge out some traders or reduce the spaces that they once occupied. Regular customers of the market can tell the changes that the market has undergone.
In recent years, Dagoretti has developed in terms of well designed and constructed houses. The real estate market in Dagoreti is booming and private investors look upon any strategic location covetously whether or not the land is occupied. There is a wind of change and development but it comes at the expense of many people who live in the slums. Those who question and raise concern on the orchestrated developments are encouraged to accept change, they are ridiculed as being comfortable with slum life. The absence of basic services such as running water and sanitation services which most landlords and government fail to provide in the slums despite charging the residents, is used to justify their demolitions and evictions for proper constructed buildings. In the last fourteen months Dagoretti Congo 56 area has been ravaged by fire twice raising eye brows. This suspicion has been further reinforced by the ongoing construction near the affected area as the owner of the ongoing construction area is suspected also to be interested in the space used by the Juakali traders. This trend is on the rise in many areas in Dagoretti from Ngando, Kikuyu, Riruta, Waithaka, Gatina and Kabiro area whose residents have been victims of infernos frequently and the result has invariably been the constructions of supermarkets and residential apartments in these areas. Clearly, there is a relationship between the outbreak of fires and developments of houses in Dagoretti.
The use of fire and forceful eviction methods is used by private land owners, private investors and the government. The victim is the resident of Dagoretti who has no security of tenure as they don’t own the land they reside. The idea of private property further alienates those with no title deeds to any land.
With the booming of real estate market, private land owners who own houses in the slums have embarked on getting loans from banks or selling part of their land to secure capital for construction of apartments to get more money in rent. Since they own large parcels of lands with hundreds of houses with a lot of people who cannot afford any other place it becomes a tricky situation to vacate them. The landlord then hires goons and thugs who set all the houses ablaze destroying property and killing human beings in order to get an evil justifiable reason to develop the area. The poor in this situation are not protected by the government from private land owner’s merciless tactics.
Private investors on the other hand use the same tactics only this time they go for the landlord and tenants in one swoop. An investor sets his eyes on a piece of land with informal houses, and has the history of the owner of the plot that he/she is not that wealthy and only owns the land. Hired goons set the houses ablaze destroying everything in the plot, then the private investor presents himself at this moment of need to the desperate and frustrated landlord who has no financial capacity to rebuild the houses, tactically they are encouraged to sell their land to the private investor. With little or no choice at all, the landlord sells the piece of land. Whether the landlord or the private investor is the one using these tactics the bottom line is that, those residents of Dagoretti who live in slums are in danger of being evicted strategically. As Dagoretti becomes more appealing to a Kenyan middle class, slum communities become vulnerable. These families live in penury and have no rights to the land that they live in due to the idea of the private ownership of land.
To be poor and not to own land is a dehumanizing experience. This is a phenomenon that has persisted throughout Kenya’s history. Since Kenya got its flag independence in 1963, Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s first president together with the political elite, embarked on a massive land grabbing campaign and the privatization of land which denied many Kenyans land which they had fought for. Kenyatta not only betrayed those who fought for land but also became a major perpetrator in acquiring land. The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission found that the independent government betrayed people hopes. It asserts that;
“Kenyans expected the injustices to be fully addressed soon after independence but the first independence government failed to fully and genuinely address the problems”
The Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal Allocation of Public Land, which came to be known as the “Ndungu Commission” further reinforces the claim, that the independent government led by Kenyatta used land to benefit the political elite and solidify their support and alliances. The question of land was also not different during Moi regime with massive land grabbing and increased economic inequalities that further impoverished people and made many of them occupy slums.
Gated communities in neighboring Lavington estates and the government seem to encourage the development and evictions of those who live in the slums. They see the existence of drugs, crime and prostitutes in Dagoretti as a threat to their environment, thus there is the need of development and clearing of slums. The wealthy in Lavington believe that the crime in their estates is a result of thugs who come from the neighboring Dagoretti area. Dagoretti is therefore viewed to be a menace to their conducive environment. The question of who is affected by this infernos is a matter of class in Kenya and it is the lower class living in the slums that is affected. There is no question that the fate of the poor in Dagoretti is at the hands of those with money, be it landlords, private investors and wealthy neighborhoods, the desired wish of those involved is the same- eviction of the poor in the slums so as to usher in the so-called development.
The Government’s inability to protect the poor is worrying. The fact that people can be allowed to use such evil and outrageous methods towards another people is shameful. Private investors have outmuscled and out maneuvered the government in invading informal settlements for the so-called development for their own benefit. The Kenya government in 2004 set up the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme with the aim of constructing standard low income houses, the project started with the Kibera slums but it later stalled. It is this initiative that the government should have continued with rather than exposing the poor people to be exploited by private developers and investors. By all means private investors and real estate companies should not be allowed to drive the development of informal settlements.