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Refuge that turned into death trap

Tuesday September 13 2011

Stephen Mudiari | NATION Sinai slum residents rebuild their shacks on September 13, 2011.

Stephen Mudiari | NATION Sinai slum residents rebuild their shacks on September 13, 2011. 

By BILLY MUIRURI AND JOHN MAKENI [email protected]

Onyo: usiingie hapa kukojoa. Utashtakiwa (Warning: Do not relieve yourself here. You will be prosecuted)”.

This is the most conspicuous message you encounter after every two rows of houses in Mukuru Sinai slums at Viwandani in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.

Sinai, a name derived from the biblical place where Israelites sought refuge after a torturous journey from Egypt, was founded as a place of refuge for the city’s poor.

The slum’s first settlers moved to the area after being evicted from Mukuru Kaiyaba.

What started as a tiny village on the banks of Ngong River in the mid 1980s has become home to about 50,000 people, according to government records.

Seeking jobs

Each day, Sinai residents line up outside adjacent factories looking for casual jobs.

Mr Clement Mburu, 55, the chairman of Sinai village, recalls his journey to Sinai in 1984.

From his home in Mang’u, Thika, Mr Mburu first settled at the nearby Lunga Lunga area where he set up a kiosk.

“I moved to Sinai because Lunga Lunga became so congested,” he says.

Like other “immigrants”, he was seeking more space.

He recalls queuing outside the factories for jobs and landing one without much hustle. Then emerged turf wars as youths competed for space with the more established families at Lunga Lunga, he recalls.

And so Sinai original, Paradise Sinai and Sinai Reli villages sprung up.

“We were forced to go downwards towards the sludge-filled Ngong River. People cleared huge trees and bushes and planted vegetables. It was no man’s land,” he says.

Sinai was synonymous with rickety Bedford matatus that charged Sh2 for the 6km trip to the city centre.

Mr Mburu says the area is cosmopolitan, with different communities having learnt to co-exist peacefully.

“Half the people do small-scale business while the other half seek casual jobs,” he says.

With a population of about 50,000 people, Sinai is a place every politician vying for the Makadara parliamentary seat never takes for granted.

Despite the obvious squalor and struggle, external TV antennas dot the sea of roofs covering the land that stretches about 1km.

If former Kanu operative Ben Musau, who is said to be one of the slum founders, were to return to life, he would be surprised to find the place he helped set up turn into a death trap.