Kenya begins huge Kibera clearance

Kenya begins clearing Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa with approximately one million residents.

Kibera Nairobi, Kenya

The slum originated in 1918 as a Nubian soldiers’ settlement in a forest outside Nairobi, with plots allotted to soldiers as a reward for service in the First World War and earlier wars.

The British colonial government of the time allowed the settlement to grow informally, primarily because of the Nubians’ status as former servants of the British crown that put the colonial regime in their debt. Furthermore the Nubians, being “Detribalized Natives” had no claim on Land in “Native Reserves”. (Parson, Timothy (1997))

On 16 September 2009 the Kenyan government, which claims ownership of the land that Kibera stands on, began a long-term movement scheme which will rehouse the people who live in slums in Nairobi.

The clearance of Kibera is expected to take between two and five years to complete. The entire project is planned to take nine years and will rehouse all 2 million slum residents in the city.

The project has the backing of the United Nations and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is a local MP, and is expected to cost $1.2 billion. The new communities are planned to include schools, markets, playgrounds and other facilities. The first batch of around 1500 people to leave the slum were taken away by truck on 16 September 2009 from 6.30 am local time and were rehoused in 300 newly constructed apartments with a monthly rent of around $10.

The project start has been postponed several times as PM Odinga was unavailable to oversee the first day. He was joined on the first day by Housing Minister Soita Shitanda and his assistant Margaret Wanjiru with all three assisting residents with loading their belongings onto the trucks. Also present were several dozen armed police officers to oversee the arrangements and to deter any resistance.

The process has been legally challenged by more than 80 people and the Kenyan High Court has stated that the government cannot begin demolition works until the case is heard in October, but will be able to demolish the homes of people who leave voluntarily before then.

The 80 plaintiffs are a mixture of middle-class landlords and Kibera residents and they claim that the land in Kibera is theirs and hence the government has no right to demolish the shacks. The Nubian community, who have lived on the land for nearly 100 years are also disappointed with the scheme and one elder has said that the present housing should be improved instead.

The project has also come under fire from urban planners who say that it risks repeating the mistakes of previous schemes which have seen rehoused residents having to share apartments with other families in order to afford the rent or residents moving back to Kibera and renting their homes to middle-class families.

There is also controversy over the timings of the project with the first phase, rehousing 7,500 people, being delayed by five years and one government official stating that if the project continues at the current pace it will take 1,178 years to complete.

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