They could pass for squatters, given the sprawling slum in which they live. But these are landowners, with title deeds for their land in one of the most exclusive addresses in the city -- Runda. Here, a quarter of an acre goes for up to Sh100 million and they are sitting on a gold mine.
On the Northern bypass as you branch off using the Kiambu Road underpass, an extensive slum that sits on both sides of the affluent Runda looms large.
Most call it Githogoro slum, but its inhabitants, mostly people who inherited the land from their parents, maintain the area is called Muringa Farm. Their parents and grandparents made a living farming coffee here.
“This place was a coffee farm. It was the source of income for our parents when we were young, until 1987, when the late President Daniel Moi issued a decree abolishing coffee farming in Nairobi province. Now, where Runda Police Station stands is where Muringa Coffee factory was,” Mr Dominic Kariuki, the chairman of Muringa Residents Association, and one of the landowners, told the Nation in an interview.
Muringa Farm was made up of farmers from Kiambu town, Ting’ang’a and Ndumberi, and out of the original 72 shareholders of the farm, 50 have died, leaving the land to the second or third generation.
“With this (presidential decree) the land had to be subdivided among the 72 shareholders and given that the majority of them came from poor backgrounds, they decided to sell their land, which today forms most of the Runda estate,” Mr Kariuki recalls with nostalgia.
Githogoro Slum is in Karura Sub-location, Highridge Location, under Westlands Constituency.
The inhabitants say they have resisted enticement from deep-pocketed individuals to sell their ancestral land.
“Offers to sell have been there because of the net value of the location of the land as well as the neighbourhood, but most people who live here know no other home and they live here with all their children,” Mr Kariuki adds.
The beauty of it is that the land is a freehold, with title deeds, he says, explaining that if it was under leasehold, it would have been politicised a long time ago, its owners evicted and the land probably sold fraudulently.
Muringa Farm is currently more than 200 acres, with land owners saying they have previously made a fortune by selling part of it to developers.
Some of the land owners were also beneficiaries when the Northern bypass was being built. They sold 12 acres to the government to pave way for the road. In 1992, some members of Muringa Farm sold 42 acres for Sh170 million. The land is now called Runda Meadows.
The good offers would also lure the neighbouring coffee farms, where farmers sold their land to MAE Property, who bought huge chunks of the land and resold it at a profit to the Runda residents.
Mr Joseph Kinuthia, a land owner, says he has never thought of leaving the area. “We live in the heart of Runda. We are not here by choice, but by right. How do you leave Runda, where going to town takes you less than 30 minutes?” Mr Kinuthia quips.
The face of the slum is changing, and more developers are positioning themselves to buy out those with huge chunks of land who are willing to move elsewhere.
When the Nation visited the area, high end houses for sale, a school targeting the middle class and go-downs earmarked for business people, were coming up.
Gertrude’s Hospital has also set up an outpatient clinic inside the slum, as a way of giving back to the community. A nurse told the Nation in confidence that patients pay Sh200 for consultation, compared to the main hospital, where the charges range between Sh2,000 and Sh4,000.
Due to the low cost of housing, the slum is home to hundreds of casual workers in Runda. A one-room iron sheet structure goes for Sh3,000 a month, a stone-walled single room is Sh6,000 and a shop costs Sh10,000.
The land owners in the slum say they have good relations with their wealthier neighbours and all matters of concern are handled through the Muringa Residents’ Association and the Runda Residents’ Association.
Mr Joseph Gitau Njau, a land owner and the vice-chairman of the Nyumba Kumi Initiative in Githogoro, says there have never been serious cases involving their neighbours.
They live in harmony, he says, disclosing that majority of the security guards in Runda live in the slum.
However, area chief Barnabas Masakhalia laments that after Kiambu County stopped approving liquor licences, the slum has become a centre for illicit alcohol.
It is a challenge that needs to be addressed because it can affect security in the slum and its surroundings, he says.
“We are working closely with local security officers to arrest the situation before it gets out of hand,” says Mr Masakhalia.