Plea for Nairobi village vanishing as land hived off for mega projects

Sunday January 24 2016

A section of buildings in Gichungo that are marked for demolition. The standard gauge railway will pass through this village between Karen and Dagoretti. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A section of buildings in Gichungo that are marked for demolition. The standard gauge railway will pass through this village between Karen and Dagoretti. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By VINCENT ACHUKA
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On land that belonged to Amos Njoroge’s grandfather now runs the Nairobi-Kampala railway, the Southern Bypass, the Mombasa-Eldoret oil pipeline, a mains fibre optic cable and, in a few years, the standard gauge railway (SGR).

But at 51, he is not too keen on the money that comes as compensation whenever the government acquires land for a big project.

Instead, he is afraid that future generations of Gichungo village, on the border of Dagoreti South and Karen, will never know their cradle as their population gets squeezed out with every new project that comes up.

Call it fate or coincidence but the geographical location of the village on the outskirts of Nairobi has over the years turned it into a central point for grand transport projects before they divert to different routes on their way to Western Kenya.

“This used to be our playground when I was young,” he says, while pointing to the well-manicured pavements of the bypass. “The railway was already there but my grandfather told me the land it runs on belonged to our family, too.”

“It is no longer about the compensation ... our parents have been buried here. We know that when the government wants land, it will get it but our people are asking: Why is our village targeted all the time?”

DEVELOPMENT

The current railway and the bypass road are just 50 metres from each other and the pipeline is about 200 metres away.

The government approached them towards the end of last year over a plan to route the standard gauge railway through the village and negotiations are under way.

The route plan is part of Phase Two of the project, which will connect Malaba and Kisumu to the SGR.

The proposed line will start from the Nairobi South Railway Station and run through the Nairobi National Park before crossing over to the edge of Bomas of Kenya.

It will then run through Karen estate along the Southern Bypass, at which point it will cross Gichungo village and Dagoretti Forest on its way to Mai Mahiu before heading to Naivasha and Western Kenya.

Conservationists have already raised the alarm over the plan to use the national park, whose existence is under threat as the Southern Bypass also cuts through it.

Residents of Karen, through the Karen Lang’ata District Association (KLDA), are planning to meet to discuss the new developments.

UNRESOLVED ISSUES

For Gichungo residents, however, unresolved issues over past land acquisitions have made them sceptical of any new government project in the area.

Local area leader Joseph Kamau says they were not properly compensated for land the government acquired to construct the pipeline in 1992.

“First they said they wanted five metres and that was what was gazetted,” he says.

“Years later when Telkom wanted to use the same space for the fibre optic cable, they brought papers which showed what was signed for was 30 metres and we went to court,” he explains.

The court awarded them compensation for the mix-up but the fear that their village will be wiped out of Kenya’s map once the new railway line comes along is what is giving the older residents sleepless nights.

“Imagine your children bringing their grandchildren here and telling them that this is where your grandparents were buried but right now it is a railway station,” says Ms Eunice Nyokabi, a resident whose house is marked for demolition to pave the way for the railway line.

“Some people were given only Sh80,000 per acre of space the pipeline used but at least they were left with some of their land. This time I think we will have to bid our village goodbye. People have not come to terms with that idea,” she says.

For safety reasons, a corridor of another 270 metres will be hived off the village as it will be dangerous to construct a railway line too close to the existing oil pipeline.

There is also a plan to construct a railway station on this location. This will leave just about 300 metres length of Gichungo village in existence.

Hundreds of houses and dozens of business establishments are up for demolition and the residents will be forced to move out.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has time and again declared that the SGR will raise Kenya’s GDP by 1.5 per cent once it becomes operational as it is expected to lead to higher volumes of national and regional trade.

The current railway line is credited for opening up Kenya in the 19th century and spreading civilisation while the Southern Bypass has contributed to better traffic flow on Mombasa Road.