It was not made of expensive roofing tiles but the sprawling Kariobangi Sewage Estate in Nairobi, now lying in a pile of rubble, offered a home for thousands of residents.
In 2008, allotment letters were issued to the land owners by the now defunct Nairobi City Council.
For the 8,700 residents of this estate, May 4, was an ordinary day as they went about their businesses against all odds to put food on the table amid Covid-19 pandemic. For two months, they had observed the curfew and lockdown rules from the government in a bid to stop the spread of the virus. Little did they know their lives would be put on a spin as they prepared to usher in a new day.
The events of that chilly Monday morning will forever remain edged on their minds. Scenes they only saw in movies, were unfolding right before them. Roaring bulldozers raided the estate dismantling houses and flattening everything on its way.
Mean-faced police officers, armed to the teeth, stood guard ready to deal decidedly with anyone trying to interfere with the exercise.
A handful of residents managed to salvage their belongings but the majority were left without anything to hold on to.
Some, overwhelmed by emotion, collapsed and were carried away to safety by their neighbours. When they came to, it dawned on them that the exercise, carried out by the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) to pave way for the construction of a sewerage plant, was complete.
For weeks now, families have been spending the nights in the cold. And with women and children being the most vulnerable, concerns have been raised over their safety.
Lucy Wanjiku is one of the residents left desolate by the demolition. The mother of two, aged two and four, has had her life turned upside down literally. The 46-year-old mother could hardly hold her back tears as she narrated her ordeal.
Ms Lucy’s is a story of double tragedy. In October, she was kicked out of her house by her landlord because she could not raise a three months’ rent arrears she had accumulated.
With nowhere to stay with her children, she ended up on the streets of Kariobangi Sewage informal settlement. One evening, two men grabbed her by the neck and raped her in turns for hours before disappearing into the night. She got pregnant that night.
In March, she managed to pull herself together and rented a one-roomed house in the sprawling informal settlement. As fate would have it, two months later, she is back to the unforgiving streets after her rented house was demolished. Homeless, heavily pregnant and penniless, she is lost in thought.
Ms Lucy says she is expecting her baby in June and the uncertainty of days to come has left her hopeless.
Another resident, Ms Cynthia Adhiambo, had just arrived home from Mama Lucy Hospital after delivering a baby girl on May 2. With a healthy bundle of joy safely in her hands, Ms Cynthia looked forward to raising her daughter and giving her the best. But the second night after her return, as she was breastfeeding her baby, she was jolted by a commotion outside. She barely had time to grab her baby’s cloths and run for dear life as buildings came tumbling down as the bulldozers demolished their semi-permanent houses.
Lucky for her, a friend offered her a place to stay until she finds her footing.
The same fate befell Ms Joyce Mbula, 47. The mother of eight was found flat-footed and could only manage to salvage a few household items.
“I woke up my children in a hurry and carried the few items we managed. We fled and watched from a distance as our homes were flattened. Since then, we have been outside in the cold, with nowhere to call home,” she says.
Although she is squatting at a friend’s house in Kwa Mbao area in Kariobangi, Ms Joyce says life has become even more difficult especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
She says her work of washing clothes and hawking homemade liquid soap has suffered a great deal forcing her to eat into her savings.
“I am still struggling to come to terms with the reality but I leave everything to God,” she says.
The cries of the evictees have fallen on deaf ears and many like Ms Lilian Wandia have been searching for alternative accommodation but lack of money is hindering them from relocating.