Politics, not squatters, stands in varsity bid to build hospital

Sunday February 8 2015

Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor Olive Mugenda. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor Olive Mugenda. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BILLY MUIRURI
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Just one kilometre from the Kahawa West-Ruiru bypass, an imposing landmark is coming up.

The architectural design that can be viewed from the bypass leaves no doubt that the on-going construction of Kenyatta University’s Referral Hospital will be a conspicuous building.

Just opposite, several dusty roads lead to a sprawling residential area. At the start of one road is Mt Zion Resort, a mid level bar and restaurant that offers residents a place to unwind.

But deeper in the estate, a mixture of old shanties and semi-permanent houses dot the area. Over the years, some modern houses have sprung up, boosting local businesses.
This is Kamae estate, the epicentre of a long running war between residents and Kenyatta University (KU).

Sandwiched between Kamiti Maximum Prison and KU, the bypass separates the estate from the institution. KU wants the residents evicted so that it can build the biggest children’s hospital in East Africa.

According to documents, the 300-bed hospital remains on paper even as Sh2.5 billion lies idle awaiting the eviction.

But the residents have stayed put, insisting they were given the land by former Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi.

The land dispute has escalated so much that the matter has been left to President Uhuru Kenyatta to solve once and for all. But will he act?

A State House official hinted to the Sunday Nation that the President is avoiding the matter like the plague.

But what’s the real Kamae story?

In 1964, President Kenyatta allocated the squatters 30 acres of land to settle. These were workers in European farms, which had now reverted to the government.

The government wanted to put up Kahawa Barracks and, therefore, the squatters had to move further afield.

An extra 10 acres, which served as riparian land, were also occupied, giving rise to the name Kamae from Kwa Maai (place with water).

Many years later, this land became too small for the families and their descendants. In November 2001, during a rally in Korogocho attended by among others then Lang’ata and Kasarani MPs Raila Odinga and Adolf Muchiri, President Moi allocated them another 70 acres.

The Presidential Press Service (PPS), in stories published in the mainstream media, said Kamae is “government land and no one should claim ownership.”

The president directed that the families which had settled there in 1975-76 be issued with title deeds. KU says it can only recognise the squatters settled on the 30 acres of land and not those purportedly given the 70 acres.

NOT BINDING

Vice-Chancellor Olive Mugenda has always insisted the 70 acres were issued in a roadside declaration and, therefore, not legally binding.

Prof Mugenda says non-squatters encroached on university land and wonders what kind of squatters are able to build the kind of houses that dot Kamae.

She says most of the people bought plots from unscrupulous land grabbers knowing only too well that the land belonged to the university.

But Kahawa West MCA Ngaruiya wa Njambi, a grandchild of one of the settlers, disputes this.

“It is our grandmothers who were squatters many years ago. Some of us have gone to school, got jobs and have built better houses for our parents,” he says.

Mr Ngaruiya acknowledges that some of the plots have changed hands after being bought by third parties. “Settlements grow. Squatter children change their lives. Others sell off their inherited land and move. Development in Kamae is a result of people moving out of squatterhood,” said the MCA.

Prof Mugenda has practically lobbied all arms of government to have the land back. It began with the Judiciary where suits and counter-suits have been filed over the years.

She has also personally sought the help of President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto during their visits to KU late last year.

But the President is at a crossroads as all eyes turn on him to solve the matter.

While the university has a legitimate reason to seek its land, most of the residents are from Kiambu county, and specifically the President’s home area of Gatundu.

Politically speaking, Kamae alone has 10,500 people with 3,500 being registered voters.

The National Land Commission jumped into the fray last month with chairman Mohamed Swazuri declaring KU the legal owner of the land.

Parliament has also intervened with both the Land and Education committees doing a round there.

However, although they are yet to table their reports, the committees have outrightly indicated they would not recommend eviction.

On Thursday, Education committee members told a rally at Kamae that they would protect their interests. Area MP Waihenya Ndirangu seems to have mobilised the political apparatus to oppose eviction of his constituents.

A fortnight ago, Mr Ndirangu took seven TNA MPs led by Starehe MP Maina Kamanda to Kamae and told the residents not to bulge. “We are telling KU to expand vertically, not horizontally,” said the MP.