The need to survive vs the rule of law: The clash between infrastructure and the struggle to earn one’s keep in Dagoretti
Newsletter: Dagoretti News
During the 2017 election campaigns, the Jubilee administration sold the building of infrastructure as a major success of its first term in office. Going by the progress of some of its infrastructural projects in its second term, it appears that this will be one of the legacies of the administration. As other parts of the country, Dagoretti has not been left behind in this frenzied drive to embark on infrastructural projects. This particularly applies to the roads of the area whose construction, although welcomed by some has or will come at a cost to others or whose places of residence and businesses have been pulled down to give way for road construction. Residents of this area have raised concerns over compensation from government but this, it appears, has fallen on deaf ears.
At the junction between Naivasha Road and Waiyaki Way in Uthiru-Ruthimitu ward, Dagoretti South constituency, an isolated stone building which nears completion has stood there incomplete for more than five years. “I found this building there in 2013 when I moved to Uthiru. The owner was ordered stop with the construction it as government officials said that it was built on a road reserve,” says *Githu, a watchman who works at the other side of the Nairobi Nakuru highway. “At that point he did not know whether to continue with the construction or to wait until the road is constructed. What a loss,” he adds. Designed to be six-lanes wide, the James Gichuru-Rironi road is set to be expanded with work on the project continuing in earnest. Heaps of soil and dust are now a major sight at the Naivasha road- Waiyaki Way junction. These works taking place a stone’s throw distance from the stalled building which is adjacent and next to several small-scale business premises in the area, appears to be a sign of impending demolitions in the area. The relative question raised by this prospect is “Will they be compensated?” The recent histories of the area and other adjoining areas in Dagoretti appear not to favour the small-scale business owners as well as the owner of the stalled building.
“They demolished Mama Nduta’s kibanda in November when they were building Mukiri road,” says *David, a manager of a run-down restaurant along Naivasha road a short distance from the junction. Memories of Mama Nduta’s kibanda are clear – unlike other restaurants in the Junction area it was the one place where one could buy cooked sweet potatoes and arrowroots. When I ask him whether she was compensated he argues that as a rule of thumb businesses that are built on road reserves don’t get compensated. “Hata hii yetu itabomolewa,” (even ours will be demolished) he says resignedly. As many people in the area, David appears to have accepted the logic of how law and order works. His statement implies that those whose businesses and or residences will be demolished have it coming because they knowingly built their structures on a road reserve. Perhaps David’s statement explains why in other parts of Dagoretti – particularly in Kawangware – similar demolitions were not met with active resistance.
*Kuria, a resident of Kawangware, argues that some of the demolitions that took place in the previous year were done at a time when there was a campaign to demolish big buildings in Nairobi. “At Kinyanjui road they demolished the structures that were built next to the drainage trenches. This took place during the time Governor Sonko was leading this campaign against big buildings constructed on grabbed land. I think he just wanted to ensure that there is a smooth flow of water in the area,” he says. Arguably, the demolition of such structures taking place in the heels of the demolitions of bigger more lucrative buildings would give the impression that victims of the law know no class and hence demolitions of the houses along Kinyanjui road would therefore seem permissible.
“At Muthiora road they pushed the traders who were close to the road further to the edge,” Kuria continues “But those who were at deliverance suffered the most.” ‘Deliverance’ is a stage along Naivasha road named after Deliverance Church, Riruta. Kuria is referring to this area where a road under construction connects the deliverance stage and Congo in Kawangware. “Many structures along that road were demolished and those traders were not compensated. Come to think of it, many traders in the area lost their business stalls. I’d put their number somewhere in the neighbourhood of eighty and a hundred. They were selling clothes and shoes,” he adds. “The question is, where did they go?” Kuria poses.
In an area where employment opportunities are diminished, the struggle to earn one’s keep or to house oneself is a challenge. The lack of employment is not only an urban phenomenon but one that also affects rural residents compelling to move into areas like Dagoretti. In this context, the mechanical adherence to the rule of law especially for significantly poorer people is problematic as that would involve a crass disregard for the challenges they face- the cost of raising a family, of paying rent, of earning a living in an area with diminished economic opportunities. A more constructive question –what prompted the settlement of people in road reserves? – would be a more humane intervention in dealing with those who have businesses and residences built on road reserves. As it is, Kenya suffers a high unemployment rate. What does this portend for those low-income earners who have lost their businesses and residences which were demolished? What will become of those who will lose their businesses, jobs and or residences at Uthiru-Ruthimitu ward? Scores of employees and small-scale traders are likely to lose the source of their livelihoods. While they may have not faithfully followed the laws of the Kenyan state, their situation ought to be sympathized with owing to the extenuating circumstances that led to their supposedly illegal attempt to survive. With this in mind, they are eligible for compensation. While more privileged property owners may have better access to legal representation, there is a need for lawyers to take up the case of the less privileged in Dagoreti area.
*Names have been changed
Monaja is a performing/recording artist and a historian.