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Kenyan railroad to sweep aside slums

Kibera slum

Kibera slum in Nairobi. khym54 under a Creative Commons Licence

In 2003, when Kenya’s government changed hands from long-serving autocrat Daniel Arap Moi to London School of Economics-educated Mwai Kibaki, many Kenyans looked forward to accelerated development and a shift from years of stagnated growth.

Indeed, that year, Kenyans were rated as the most optimistic people in the world, going by the enthusiasm and hopes for a new dawn that the entry of Kibaki, a renowned economist, heralded for the East African country.

And the former president did not disappoint. His model for growth was simple and ingenious – invest heavily in infrastructure development, roads, railways, air, oil pipelines and sea ports. This would spur growth in all other development sectors and the benefits would trickle down to the masses.

Master plans were drawn to expand and open new roads, railways and ports; with that inevitably came a flood of Chinese bankers and contractors, who at the time were beginning to have a pronounced presence across Africa, in pursuit of fresh opportunities and resources.

Among the major planned projects was the construction of a 472-kilometre ‘Standard Gauge Railway’ (SGR), linking the Indian Ocean city of Mombasa, to Nairobi, and on to Uganda and Rwanda. The project followed the tracks of the old East African railway built in 1901 by the British colonial government, which at the time ran the ‘East African Protectorate’.

The project did not develop during Kibaki’s term. In 2013, his successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, took over where Kibaki had left off, with the intention of making the massive $353-million undertaking his flagship project. In 2014, financed by China’s Exim bank, construction work kicked off in earnest.

As with other major developments across Africa, the railway will have its human victims, among them, James Mwangi, a resident of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, reputed to be the biggest in Africa.

Mwangi, together with some other 250,000 poor Nairobi slum-dwellers, has settled down along the path of the railway, in a shack where he lives with his wife and two children, and where 22 years ago, he started a scrap metal and hardware business.

He is among the residents of three slums, Kibera, Mukuru Kwa Njenga and Mukuru Kwa Reuben, that must now move at some point this year in order to pave the way for the massive project meant to increase haulage capacity from the seaport of Mombasa to the inland cities of Nairobi, Kampala in Uganda and Kigali in Rwanda – and on to the Eastern towns of the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has made it clear that all structures, from dwellings to business sheds on the path of the SGR, together with their owners, will have to go. If the 2018 completion deadline is met by contracting company China Road and Bridge Corporation(CRBC), it will be just in time to see Kenyatta’s five-year term come to an end.

The KRC has not stopped there; it has made it clear that the residents, some of the poorest in the country, will not be compensated because they are squatting ‘illegally’ on government land.

They must then brace themselves to start another life elsewhere, irrespective of the number of years they have lived here. Some have been here for over 50 years.

The residents are yet to come to terms with the reality that they will have to move. Houses elsewhere in Nairobi are much more expensive, with the monthly rent for an average one-bedroom apartment $150; in the slums, a shack goes for $37 for those who rent, and about half the people live in shanties of their own.

A government project meant to upgrade the slums and build proper houses for its dwellers has been moving at a painfully slow pace. When the first 200 units were completed seven years ago, many were illegally allocated to government officials and their networks, leaving the poor of Nairobi’s slums in their usual place.

What’s more, the majority of the people work as labourers in city factories, within walking distance from the three slums, so when they are evicted they will have to begin paying daily fares to work. With daily incomes of $3 and families to support, that’s something they can hardly afford.

Those who run their own small businesses, like James Mwangi, will have to look for employment or other sites from where they can conduct their trade.

Meanwhile, reports indicate that some 5,000 workers will be shipped in from China for the railway project, allegedly to do ‘skilled’ work that locals have no expertise in.

Kenya: confusion follows Mau Mau compensation deal

It was announced last week that an out-of-court settlement had been reached between a group of Kenyans tortured in the Mau Mau uprising on the 1950s and the British government. But now confusion seems to have taken over, with other veterans coming out to stake a claim, saying that they too should have been included in the lawsuit, which was filed by Leigh Day on behalf of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC). The British law firm was working on behalf of over 5,000 people who now stand to gain from the £19.9 million ($31.2 million) payment. Numerous law firms say that they too will join the gravy train and file cases for more freedom fighters.

The apparent free-for-all created by the news of the pay-out can partly be pinned on reports that Leigh Day will reportedly pocket 30 per cent of the money awarded, while the victims will themselves get 70 per cent.

In what looks like a dash for a piece of the cash, two more firms – Tandem Law and GR Law, both based in Britain – are now claiming they will soon move to court to press for large amounts of compensation for more ex-fighters against British colonial rule.

Tandem Law, with local Kenyan partners Griffin Legal, is in a legal battle on behalf of over 8,000 veterans. GR Law, in partnership with Rabala and company advocates, has been recruiting ex-fighters on the ground in readiness for a suit similar to the one which gained the compensation deal along with Leigh Day.

Questions are now emerging as to whether the new law firms will be able to recruit genuine victims and ex-fighters, given that not that many of them will still be alive today, a fact underlined by the advanced age of the veterans who came out to receive the news in Nairobi last week. There are fears that these firms, in their haste to cash in on this scheme, may recruit impersonators.

Some in Kenya feel that $31.2 million is a poor deal considering that, after the subtraction of legal fees, the victims’ share will be just $4,542 each. The KHRC has responded by saying that it will sue the Kenyan government to compensate the fighters fully, claiming that the real responsibility for compensation lies with the authorities in Nairobi.

Now the wait is on to see whether the KHRC lives up to its word; the amount promised is laughable, even in Kenyan terms. It is not enough to pay for medical bills in a decent private health facility, let alone take care of the frail veterans for the remaining years of their lives. Kenya’s government would do well to place the ex-fighters under a medical insurance scheme to cushion them from extreme vulnerability and also to give them a form of monthly pension.

Many in Kenya feel that anything short of this would amount to callous and criminal neglect of the very people to whom the country owes its freedom.

Could Kenyatta aid Mau Mau case?


An appeal by the British government is seeking to overturn a London High Court ruling that an elderly group of Kenyan Mau Mau veterans have a valid compensation case. The appeal is due to be heard on 13 May, in what is promising to be a case closely studied not only in Kenya, but across the world.

The British government is unhappy that the courts found merit in a case that may have serious financial implications on its finances and far-reaching impacts, thanks to the country’s imperialist past.

In Kenya, victims, human rights activists and well-wishers are worried that if the case is thrown out then the veterans will lose their last chance to receive some justice for torture they suffered at the hands of the British authorities – in the form of compensation. But there is a possibility that the new Kenyan government will step in.

The men and women behind the case, former freedom fighters who suffered cruelty at the hands of British colonial authorities nearly 60 years ago, are seeking millions of pounds in compensation. This is, according them, money that would help them get medical attention for their frail condition and to live a relatively easier life in their old age.

The British government’s appeal is based mainly on the fact that the injustices happened so many years ago, and that few witnesses remain alive. This does not invalidate the fact that inhuman treatment was committed by a government against citizens of a foreign country seeking justice on their own land.

In Kenya, opinion seems unanimous that even if the status quo is maintained in the case, the appeal will have the effect of delaying proceedings and minimizing the chance that many of the ageing veterans would enjoy the cash if it is ever paid out.

Already courts have been fixing dates three months apart; in other words, very little progress is likely to happen during 2013.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan octogenarians’ suffering continues, as they live in penury, unable to afford medical care in a country where there is no such thing as social welfare.

The probability of this appeal going through is, of course, too painful to contemplate for lawyers Martin Day Leigh, the Kenya Human Rights commission (KHRC) – who are the brains behind the suit – and the victims.

Some people are hoping that the new Kenyan government, led by Uhuru Kenyatta, will implement a request made to authorities last year seeking government financial support in the matter, recognizing that so far legal fees have been borne by well-wishers and donors who have no direct obligation to help.

Arguments have been made that Kenyatta, himself a harsh critic of the West, son of former British detainee Jomo Kenyatta, and a suspect at The Hague’s International Criminal Court, may just look at this matter favourably.

KENYA VOTES: The weakness in the media’s election coverage

radio mic
Maina Waruru fears vernacular radio stations could be used to incite hate Flowizm, under a CC License

As Kenya goes to the polls on 4 March 2013, the question uppermost in the minds of many, both locally and abroad, is this: if the election result is disputed, will the country slip into the kind of mindless violence witnessed after the election in December 2007?

Besides those who orchestrated the unrest five years ago – politicians and the now defunct electoral body the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) – the media has also been blamed for its sins of commission or omission in fanning the deadly ethnic fighting that followed the announcement of the presidential results.

Indeed, journalist Joshua Sang, a morning presenter with vernacular Kalenjin language station Kass FM, is facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, alongside presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, his running mate William Ruto, and former head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura.

Whether Sang is innocent or guilty of using his position at the radio station to incite members of the Kalenjin ethnic group to forcefully eject non-Kalenjins from the multi-ethnic Rift Valley region is beyond the point. As witnessed in Rwanda in the 1990s, the radio and other media are tools clearly able to reach the masses and can therefore be used by evil, careless or naive people with devastating effects on the wider society.

Kenya has numerous vernacular radio stations and people fear that it is these that could be used to incite hate against communities and candidates in a country where political discourse is defined by ethnic group.

While TV stations, national language radio stations and mainstream newspapers have been fairly restrained in their coverage of the political campaigns, or at least have not openly shown bias or painted certain candidates negatively, the same cannot be said of vernacular radio stations.

My mother tongue is Kikuyu, so it is only the Kikuyu-language vernacular stations that I can understand. There are three main ones in Kenya: Kameme FM, owned by the Kenyatta family’s Media Max Limited; Inooro FM, owned by media tycoon Samuel Kamau Macharia; and Cooro FM, owned by the state’s Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation.

While Inooro’s owner Macharia has openly declared his support for Raila Odinga’s presidential bid, there is no evidence of openly biased reporting or skewed messages of hate about his main rival, Uhuru Kenyatta. Cooro FM has also striven to be neutral but since it has such a low audience, few are likely to notice.

The same cannot be said for Kenyatta’s Kameme FM. As any listener will confess, the station goes out of its way to paint political rivals as evil, unworthy Kenyans capable of no good. During most of its news and call-in programmes you can hear language that plainly borders on hate speech.

The station is most notorious in the mornings, the most popular time to listen to the radio in Kenya. Presenters set the pace, talking only in negative terms about Kenyatta’s competitors, while inviting views from listeners.

It gets worse: the hosts fail to moderate audience comments and carelessly air dangerously tribal and hateful views. It fails to appreciate that in Kenya a candidate is never seen as an individual, but as representative of his or her ethnic group.

It is stations like this one that I fear may, if not tamed by authorities, be used more to fuel violence than to mediate dispute should one arise.

My analysis does not in any way exonerate other, non-Kikuyu, stations. It is not lost on me that the Standard Group media houses, including Standard newspaper, KTN TV and Radio Maisha, and Radio Africa’s Star newspaper, have shown an open bias toward Odinga’s CoRD alliance – but that is not to say they have used a dangerous risky tone which could jeopardize Kenya’s chance of a peaceful election.

Join us for our live blog ‘Kenya Votes’, during the presidential polls on 4 March 2013. We will be working with Radar and citizen journalists reporting on events from all over the country, via SMS.

Britain must compensate all Mau Mau veterans


I was excited last week when I learned the High Court in London had ruled that a group of ex-fighters, now ageing and mostly ailing, could sue their former colonial master.

It was through an old teacher of mine, Mr Gacahau, that I heard firsthand about the torture, brutality and general injustices committed against him and thousands of others during Kenya’s darkest years, 1952 to 1960.

I last saw Mr Gacahau some 12 years ago in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, He was part of a noisy protest made up of a group of old men and women – all ex Mau Mau fighters and detainees – who had just presented a petition at the British High Commission with the support of human rights lobbies.

He had taught me Swahili in high school, way back in mid 1980s. He barely barely remembered me, but he was excited when I told him I was a former student. Although he was happy, I was saddened to see how he had aged and how weather beaten he looked. Memories of the stories he used to tell mid Swahili lesson came flowing into my mind.

He had joined the Mau Mau struggle for independence in 1953 as a teenager, barely 17, and had his education abruptly cut short to answer the call of duty to his country, joining fighters in Mount Kenya forest where he served and a messenger and ‘doctor’ to his brigade in the jungle.

He told us he attained some formal education and how, as well as drafting letters and keeping records for his brigade, he would serve as a ‘doctor’, mainly dressing the wounds of injured guerrilla fighters.

What captivated me most about the tales he narrated to us was how he would, at times, collapse while walking due to exhaustion and days of sleepless nights while fleeing the bombardment of advancing British colonial troops and local loyalist police – the despised ‘home guards’.

Also enthralling to me were the tales of sheltering under trees during nights of heavy downpour and his later arrest followed by cruel prison life, torture and punishment for being a Mau Mau fighter, guilty of agreeing to sacrifice and join the quest for land and freedom.

Many of these people went on to live in abject poverty, deprived of the basics of peasant life, such as land, after it was shared out in their absence while they engaged the superior British forces in combat – a huge irony considering that it was the theft of millions of acres by colonial settlers that had prompted them to take up arms.

Many also have to contend with poor health and, being elderly and with no health insurance, thousands have succumbed to disease in a country where a welfare system does not exist.

While the British government has stated that it will be appealing the decision, I would wish to see, like their lawyer Martyn Day of Leigh Day, an out-of-court settlement on the matter before it is too late for these veterans.

They have had few opportunities in life. Independent Kenyan governments have ignored their plight, only making mention of their gallant efforts each year during the Mashujaa (heroes) Day celebrations.

As a Kenyan, who knows many ex-fighters leading miserable lives even in my own village, I know the suffering these people have faced.

I call on the authorities in London to do the right thing and drop the appeal.

British lawyers on the hunt for Mau Mau fighters in Kenya

At the beginning of October 2012, a group of Kenyan veterans was given permission to sue the British government over torture in a historic high court ruling. Two British law firms are in engaged in a fierce hunt for former Mau Mau freedom fighters. Both Leigh Day and Tandem Legal are trying to hook in as many victims from Kenya’s pre-independence era as possible, with a view to suing the British government for compensation.

AP Photo
Two young Kenyans arrested for making 'inflammataory' speeches in 1952. AP Photo

While Leigh Day has been pursuing the cases for close to five years, with the help of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and well-wishers, Tandem Legal and partners are going it alone. They appeared on the scene last year, after the high court in London ruled that the Mau Mau War Veterans’ Association had a legitimate right to make a compensation claim against the British government for acts of torture and imprisonment.

Since then, Tandem Law has visited many parts of Kenya in pursuit of clients, signing contracts for free legal representation. Critics, however, are questioning the companies’ motivation. Many fear that the real driving force is monetary gain for the firms themselves. Observers are happy to note that Leigh Day, through senior partner Martyn Day, has in the past squeezed out close to $1 million for Maasai who were injured by munitions left behind in British soldiers’ training grounds in northern Kenya.

Read Maina's blog: 'Britain must compensate all Mau Mau veterans' here.

Torture recompense comes to Kenyans

The regime of ex-president Daniel Arap Moi arrested Waweru Kariuki in the late 1980s. A political activist, he was held at the infamous Nyayo house torture chambers, where police tried to make him confess to belonging to the underground Mwakenya movement, which was then championing democracy in Kenya.

Life was never the same again. Kariuki lost his post as an hotelier in the resort town of Mombasa and, 25 years later, has yet to fnd another job. Micro-enterprises like a food kiosk have failed to yield a stable income. His family has led a life of poverty as a result – two of his four children have missed out on secondary education, and they struggle to meet pressing needs such as medical bills. Living alone in the capital, Nairobi, Kariuki has led a hard life.

Democracy activists were outlawed under Moi.

AP Photo/ Sayyid Azim

But this may be about to change. Kariuki is among thousands of Moi- era torture survivors taking advantage of Kenya’s reformed judiciary to pursue compensation – however modest – for torture and subsequent loss of income. Since December 2011, the courts have paid out sums ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 to more than 20 people.

‘The awards are not enough to make up for the pain or even for lost opportunities, but they will help alleviate some suffering,’ agrees Kariuki, now 50, who expects his claim will be resolved by August this year. He praises the work of the Mwatikho Torture Survivors Organization, which is at the forefront of fghting for justice for Nyayo torture victims, as well as the new chief justice Willie Mutunga, himself a torture survivor, for pushing for the victims’ cause.

Kariuki hopes that Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, a wider process investigating historical abuses, will demand an apology and recognition for all ex-political prisoners and stop similar persecution from taking place ever again.