On Dec 27, Samuel Okoth Otieno, a resident of Mukuru kwa Njenga slums, was allegedly shot dead by police officers during chaos that followed the demolition of structures on land whose ownership is disputed.
Trouble started after a surveyor with armed police escort started surveying the approximate 100 acres where 40,000 people had been evicted from.
Residents protested that the surveying was in violation of a court order that had stopped further demolitions until the ownership of the land is decided.
Nation.Africa has learnt that the matter has since been escalated to the highest office and the planned evictions halted.
Consequently, Nairobi regional commander Mr Augustine Nthumbi and Embakasi police station commander Mr John Nyamu have since been sent on compulsory leave to pave way for an Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) investigations into their role in the demolitions.
The two were relieved of their duties temporarily after they were questioned by IAU officers probing the case led by Director Mr Mohamed Amin.
Also questioned was Dr Mark Leleruk, the officer seconded to the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) to be in charge of operations.
Amnesty International has welcomed the decision to send the two on compulsory leave.
“We urge IPOA and National Police Services’s Internal Affairs Unit to speed up investigations and the victims' families to demand justice for those killed and assaulted in the operation,” read the statement.
The bulldozers have been busier than ever in 2021, their operators drenching in sweat, flattening the homes of thousands of residents of the Mukuru kwa Njenga, Njiru and Deep Sea areas of Nairobi.
Mukuru residents were the last victims of the tenacious behemoths that paid them a visit in November. The earthmovers, accompanied by lorries that locals said had the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) logo, steadfastly crashed their houses and only left after the homes were reduced to rubble. They have been homeless since.
On Monday, while picketing for justice and demanding government intervention, residents engaged in running battles with the police, who used teargas to disperse the agitated stone-throwing crowd.
“They lied to us that they were only clearing the houses that stood in the area reserved for roads, only for the bulldozers to turn on our houses, flattening them in a matter of minutes,” said Duncan Njenga, the son to the late Njenga Mwenda Kariuki, for whom the area was named.
Had his father been alive, Mr Njenga believes their houses would still be standing. His family lost property worth millions when all their homes and rental units were levelled.
Erick Ambuche, a resident of Kwa Njenga and the founder of the Slums Outreach Programme, expressed surprise at the demolitions. He said community leaders had held talks with the county and the national government several times to solve the land squabbles.
On January 19, 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta, while visiting Kwa Njenga Primary School, directed the Lands Cabinet secretary at the time, Charity Ngilu, to consider adverse possession of the land for the locals. But no such thing materialised.
Two years later, in 2017, the same land, LR No. 209/12425 IR.32622, was declared a Special Planning Area (SPA) zone. The decision came after several community-based organisations held talks with the Nairobi governor at the time, Evans Kidero.
“We had expected that the government would now facilitate the construction of decent and affordable houses in this area after the SPA idea was adopted. Instead, our houses were demolished without any consideration of our human rights. It is very sad,” Mr Ambuche said.
Following the SPA zoning, NMS issued a caveat on May 2, 2020, followed by Kenya Gazette notice number 1609 of 2020 on the same issue, dated May 8, 2020, that prohibited any construction for two years.
“In exercise of powers conferred by section 52 (1) of the Physical and Land Use Planning Act, 2019, the Nairobi City County Government declares all the land measuring 550 acres covering the informal settlements of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Mukuru Kwa Reuben and Viwandani wards all within Nairobi City County as a Special Planning Area,” the notice said.
This came as a relief to residents.
“We would be threatened by hired goons, some of us evicted and our houses demolished at night on weekends. We felt safe with the government’s concern, but now, all that confidence in the government is gone,” said Kennedy Angutha, the Nyumba Kumi chairperson in the area.
Community leaders in Mukuru kwa Njenga wrote a letter to the National Land Commission barely three months ago, seeking its intervention to settle their grievances.
Residents reminded NLC chairperson Gershom Otachi of the President’s directive in 2015 that the squatters be settled and be issued with title deeds “but land cartels have invaded the parcel, subdivided it and are selling exorbitantly to outsiders hence displacing original structure owners” the letter says.
In response to queries from the Nation, Mr Otachi said the agency’s preliminary investigations showed it was privately owned and as such, the NLC had no mandate to handle the dispute.
“The residents, in their letter, were not very clear on what exact role they would want us to (play) in this matter. We only have a mandate to intervene when the land in question is public land,” he said.
Michael Ochieng’, NMS director for public works and transport, said he was not aware of the demolitions and denied that the agency was involved in flattening the houses.
The increasing number of polythene tents filling open spaces in Mukuru kwa Njenga tell a story of pain and hopelessness.
The Mukuru residents are not alone. In March, thousands of people living near Njiru Secondary School in Kasarani constituency, Nairobi, were left homeless in similar demolitions.
The demolitions of houses allegedly built on school land went beyond the initial plan and stretched to other houses hundreds of metres away.
This was the case for Jeremiah Musimi, whose five-bedroom house was flattened though he lived a whole kilometre from the marked area. The house was barely two years old and he was yet to finish paying back the bank loans he took to build it.
He bought the land from its owner in early 2017. The seller and Mr Musimi had been friends for several years. Before he paid for it, the elderly man showed him all the documents proving he owned the land.
“The mzee even has credit on his land rates. He has made excess payments to the government for this land. He has been paying his land rates for this property ever since I knew him,” Mr Musimi told the Nation.
At the time of the demolitions, the two had been working on transferring ownership. The young father of two had conducted a land search and confirmed that the old man was the real owner of the parcel.
But having all the required documents proving land ownership did not stop the humongous bulldozers from flattening his investment worth millions on March 30.
The demolitions began on Saturday, March 27, targeting the houses right next to Njiru Secondary School. This was no cause for alarm, as residents had been informed about it, Mr Musimi said.
Three days later, he and his neighbours were roused from their sleep with the sound of earthmovers that huffed menacingly, with their arms holding their buckets high over their roofs. They were granted a few minutes to gather their belongings and leave.
Mr Musimi managed to remove some of his items, but most were crushed as the heavy machines squashed his home. He had to take his wife and their two children to a friend’s house nearby.
His family is at his rural home in Machakos, as he keeps shifting between his friend’s houses in Njiru and Chokaa. He is still paying for the loan he took to build the house that no longer exists.
Despite their numerous protests and requests to NMS and the national government to intervene, no arrests have been made and the State has issued no explanation to the former land and house owners, who have now been reduced to paupers.
“I was there last week. The plots are now being resold to new owners. I have all the documents showing ownership of my piece of land but that place is now highly guarded,” said another resident, who refused to provide her name for fear of retribution.
“The guards were hired by a man named Mwangi, who we came to realise worked with goons to destroy our homes.”
When the Nation reached out to “Mwangi”, who, we have established, is Francis Githua, he requested us to call him after one hour. When we called at the agreed time, he hung up the phone and sent a short text message.
“I am busy now. I will call you later,” the message said. He never called back.
The former homeowners are pushing on, wistfully recalling their idyllic days when they lived their dreams after years of toil and struggle.
““I did not see any eviction notice; no protocol was followed. We should have been served with notices. Kenya is not ours; we are just foreigners in this country,” Mr Musimi concluded.
Twenty kilometres away, the bulldozers were in action yet again in October, demolishing the homes of over 600 families in the Deep Sea slums of Westlands to pave the way for construction of Sixth Parklands Road.
As in the other demolitions, residents were not aware that their homes would be destroyed on the same day they met Nairobi Regional Commissioner James Kianda and Kenya Urban Roads Authority officials, who were seeking the views of the public on the planned development.
Among those affected was Beverly Asande, 57, whose house was flattened on October 1. She is physically challenged and cannot walk without using her crutches. She was born and bred in the very same place that she called home.
This happened even with a court case seeking to stop the demolitions. The outgoing president of the Law Society of Kenya, Nelson Havi, who took the matter to the courts, described the operation as illegal.
None of those whose houses were flattened were compensated, despite claims to the contrary by the Kenya Urban Roads Authority.
They still live in makeshift tents in Deep Sea and pray to God that justice will eventually prevail.