Homes destroyed with no warning, MPs told

Tuesday November 22 2011

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU [email protected]

The story of the demolition of Kyang’ombe and Maasai villages was on Tuesday narrated by witnesses at Nairobi’s County Hall.

Members of Parliament listened in silence as they were told of the horror, destitution and suffering that engulfed the slum dwellers who were evicted late October. (READ: Council carries out dawn demolitions in Nairobi)

They heard the story of a child who was hit by falling debris as the bulldozers descended on the houses of the slum dwellers.

“We buried that child at Lang’ata (cemetery) on Saturday,” Ms Agnetta Odhiambo said.

MPs from House committees on Lands and Natural Resources, National Security and Administration, and from Transport, uncharacteristically listened without interrupting as victims narrated their ordeal.

Ms Odhiambo said she had lived in Kyang’ombe “for a long time”. She said when the Deposit Protection Fund, which falls under the Central Bank, announced it was selling the land, she was eager to buy.

The widow with school-going children said she raised Sh250,000. “I wanted to own a piece of land as I have none at home,” she told the MPs.

The almost 490 villagers came together under a group called June 17 and agreed to raise Sh64 million — the price set by the Deposit Protection Fund.

The agreement, they said, was that they pay 10 per cent upfront and clear the balance within 120 days. After paying the deposit, they raised Sh19 million in six months.

They have been holding meetings with Central Bank to put together a repayment plan for the balance. But on the night of October 19, the bulldozers came.

Accompanied by hundreds of armed police officers, the iron monsters crushed their houses and their belongings. (SEE IN PICTURES: Nairobi demolitions)

“There was no notice. They just came and began demolishing. You would get the mattress out, but when you went back for the sufurias, you’d see the bulldozer crushing the cupboard and bed.

“We have nothing. We kept wondering why they were doing this to us. Are we refugees in our country?” asked Ms Odhiambo.

“If we stole government land, why weren’t we jailed like convicted thieves? Why were we treated as if we are less human?” she asked.

The MPs were told the title to the land belonged to the collapsed Trade Bank, and that is how the Deposit Protection Fund came into the picture.

Ms Marietta Nzioka said she was ignored when she presented a court order blocking the demolitions.

“Mama wacha kutusumbua na karatasi ya choo,” Ms Nzioka quoted Nairobi Provincial Police Officer Anthony Kibuchi as saying. “I felt very bad that he was equating a court order to toilet paper.”

She said after the order failed to stop the demolitions, the residents refused to pay their lawyer because “what was the point of going to court when its directives were ignored.”

The chairman of the joint committee, Mr Mutava Musyimi, said the disregard for the court order raised crucial questions. He said the divide between the Judiciary and Executive was wide and, left unchecked, portends doom.

Kyang’ombe area chairman Bernard Bosire also complained at the way he was treated by Nairobi Provincial Commissioner Njoroge Ndirangu.

“He kept us waiting for half an hour and then sent us to the regional coordinator who gave us tea, soda and snacks. How could we drink tea when our people were being crushed in the ground?” he said.

“Then someone made a remark. They said that even if you remove us from the tin houses of Kyang’ombe to Runda, we’ll start building slums and leave the posh houses,” Mr Bosire recalled.

For now, the slum dwellers want tents, food and water to keep going as the committee continues with its investigation, which has a two-week deadline.