What you need to know:
- More than 2,000 residents of Kamae estate will lose their properties at the fall of the hammer.
- Kamae Community chairman Francis Ng’ang’a says there are about 2,400 plots of about 66 by 32 feet.
Miriam Wanjiku’s* tone is a riddle. One moment it is rippling with hope, the next it plummets into lows of pain and regret, and you cannot tell exactly where one feeling ends and cues in the other.
She is among thousands of Kamae Phase II residents facing a court-ordered eviction from a 120-acre tract owned by Kenyatta University.
In a few days, she might lose her house, and the 0.0002-acre plot it sits on. For good.
At the thought of losing the parcel, she gets teary, then sighs deeply. Clearly overwhelmed, she stares at the vastness of the sky, lost in words. When she musters the courage to speak, her first words are: “I hope the appeal ruling will be lenient.”
“I just can’t get my head to imagine watching this investment being flattened…I just can’t imagine looking at the rubble where my plot stood.”
“Erected on the parcel is a residential building with 14 units - 10 single rooms on the ground floor and four bedsitters on the first floor,” she says. “I can’t stand watching this being flattened by the bulldozers.”
Ms Wanjiku, a businesswoman, borrowed Sh1 million in June 2018 and invested the whole amount on this parcel of land. At the time, all she saw was an investment opportunity. She didn’t know it was contested land.
And that whatever the original owner might have been running away from would catch up with her years later: a court’s decision ordering all inhabitants to vacate.
Sited a few metres directly opposite the Kenyatta University Hospital gate, hers is prime land by all standards.
Immediately after she got wind of the original owner’s intention to sell the land, her business instincts kicked in. She knew it would give back tenfold.
At the time, she and the seller only presented themselves before the Kamae Community chairman and sealed the ownership exchange deal.
She didn’t even know that a few months later, this would be her livelihood – her primary source of income, her home – and by extension a burden to her.
“I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of losing all these,” a teary Wanjiku says.
The owner only wanted to vacate the place, leaving behind all the investments. It was an incomplete residential building. She says she improved the units and added four more on the first floor.
The only story the seller told her was, “he had chosen to give up this plot to develop another plot elsewhere”.
Three years later, having lost her job at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic when counties were locked down, her whole life now thrown into a spin, she depends on this as the “only tangible investment”.
The court’s verdict, issued on September 23, is that she and more than 2,000 others will lose their properties at the fall of the hammer after 60 days.
A few days before the verdict was issued, she got wind of the court case. When she asked the Kamae Community chairman about the impending demolitions, he only asked her to stay calm and wait for the court’s decision.
“He promised that if the court did not rule in our favour, the community would appeal,” she recalled. “He also said that President Uhuru Kenyatta had sorted out our issue.”
Now, she stares at possible eviction. But that’s not all. She’ll be left stranded, and with an outstanding loan to service for the next one year.
And since the Kamae chairman broke the news of the court’s decision to other residents on WhatsApp, she says, there has been a mass exodus from the area.
“I think these are people who had alternatives and had anticipated the court’s ruling,” she says.
Wanjiku’s story is not an isolated case. It echoes that of several other commercial plot owners.
Kamae Community chairman Francis Ng’ang’a says there are about 2,400 plots of about 66 by 32 feet.
He told the Nation that they had filed a notice to appeal against the court’s decision.
Kenyatta University Hospital stands on one edge, separated by a tarmac road from over 20,000 residents whose homes are to be flattened. This is the Kamae area, originally Ka Mae (a Kikuyu word for place of water). It was formerly Marengeta (a Kikuyu word for swampy place).
Stories are told that President Jomo Kenyatta gifted this parcel to his dancers - Nyakinyua. And they and their descendants have been inhabiting the land since 1966.
They later approached President Moi, who agreed to let them settle on the land and directed that they be issued with letters of allotment. Then a surveyor demarcated the boundaries.
It is said the then Nairobi provincial commissioner, Cyrus Maina, showed them the boundary, which is the current Northern Bypass road. A survey was done and letters of allotment processed. And onwards, they claimed the land by virtue of allotment letters issued by the government of President Daniel Moi in 2000.
Court documents show that President Moi directed that the residents, known as the Marengeta squatters, be added another 70 acres. The directive was made at a public rally in Korogocho, Nairobi, on November 22, 2000.
Twenty years later, the legislature has overturned the late president’s words, throwing the victims into confusion and a quagmire.
Justice Loice Komingoi ruled that the allotment letters issued on the orders of President Moi could not override a duly registered title.
“Allowing a claim to both adverse possession and ownership in respect to the suit property would be tantamount to allowing the claimant to approbate and reprobate. A claim of adverse possession does not lie in respect of public or government land,” Justice Komingoi ruled.
When the Nation team visited the area, life was pretty normal: masons here, another team there, both working to on storey buildings.
In an undated video, seen by the Nation and believed to have been recorded a few days before the ruling was made, President Kenyatta promised to sort out the Kamae issue “once and for all” when he officially opened KU Hospital.
The very land he faced when he addressed hundreds of residents who yearned for a lifelong solution to their problem is facing unprecedented uncertainty yet again.
His words are the only memories of what would be a solution that residents hold on to.
Mercy Nyambura, 66, one of the original owners of Kamae Phase II, recalls the President’s affirmation as though it happened yesterday. She also remembers July 7, 1987 fondly – that’s when, she says, her parents moved to Kamae Phase II. When they died, she inherited their parcel.
“President Uhuru had promised us title deeds. And, we’ve been waiting for them. Instead, now I hear, bulldozers may be descending here soon to rain havoc,” the mother of five children told the Nation. “My parents were original plot holders.”
“I’m wondering just when the President’s words ceased to be final,” she added.
A few metres from Ms Nyambura’s shack is Mama Wambo’s hardware store. This also doubles as her house.
“I have no home other than this,” she said.
“I grew up here, got married here, and now I have sired children here. Where else will I move to?” she wondered.
Her hardware store sits less than 10 metres from the “safe” boundary – the 30 acres that Kenyatta University is willing to give back to the community now occupying it.
Just like Mama Wambo, Mr Maina inherited the 60 by 30 plot from his parents. And his story is not any different:
“This is the place I have known as home. However, for the last decade, I’ve lived with the fear of my house being demolished.”
The father of two offers, “I don’t know where I’ll move to if I wake up to bulldozers tearing down structures here. But I am willing to move to wherever the government will show us.”