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You can stay for now, judge tells railway land squatters

A World Bank directive and a decision by the High Court may have shielded the residents of Mukuru Kwa Rueben and Kibera who have encroached on the railway reserves from having their property demolished.

Kenya Railways had issued a two-week notice through a paid advert on the local dailies on November 15 requiring anyone who had encroached 100 feet on either side of the tracks in Mukuru Kaiyaba, Kaloleni and Likoni to vacate or face forceful eviction at the expiry of the notice which ended on November 29.

Conspicuously missing from the notice were Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Rueben which coincidentally have the highest number of encroachers combined and pose the biggest threat.

The state corporation insists that the impending demolitions in the affected areas are in the first phase and more will come.

Compensated

However, it has been established that the government’s hands are tied in these two areas despite a directive by the Transport Cabinet secretary Michael Kamau, insisting that all structures on railway reserves be demolished immediately.

Instead, Kenya railways will provide alternative housing to the encroachers before evicting them.

The complex resettlement plan involves the construction of 9,000 housing units in high-rise apartments on either side of the railway tracks in the two slums at a cost of Sh7 billion.

A 12.3 km wall will be constructed and adjoined to the rear of the new settlements to prevent further human activity close to the railway line. The new human settlements will be connected to each other through overhead foot bridges.

Up to 11,000 families which had either settled or set business beyond the legally accepted 30 metre way-leave on each side of the railway by 2010 when a mapping exercise was carried out will be resettled in the new houses.

There will be shops constructed to ensure the residents do not lose their sources of livelihood.

Five contractors were awarded contracts to carry out the project and one of them moved to Jamhuri a month ago and started clearing land for the construction that is expected to take 18 months.

A site office has already been constructed and soon they will get down to business.

This comes in the wake of a spirited campaign by the Transport, Public Works and Housing Committee in Parliament.

Its Chairman Maina Kamanda termed it as, “awarding people who have encroached on government land is setting a bad precedent in the country and this will encourage people to be encroaching on road and railway reserves because they will be compensated.”

Alternative land

Residents in the affected areas have accused the State corporation of being discriminatory, vowing not to move until they are provided with alternative land.

Phyllis Muthoni who runs a fruit vending business said, “I have sold from this point for five years and there is nowhere I can go. If they (Kenya Railways) want us to move out, then we should also get houses like those in Mukuru kwa Rueben.”

Previous attempts by the State corporation to evict slum squatters from its land in Kibera were unsuccessful after the squatters took the matter to court in 2004 under the umbrella of the Railway Dwellers Federation of Kenya supported by a number of NGOs.

The Federation’s Chairman Peter Bondi said he was surprised that Kenya Railways changed its mind and decided to carry out selective demolition in the Wake of the Mutindwa accident.

“The Kibera and Kwa Rueben projects were supposed to be examples on how people can be relocated and then other slums were to follow after.

I don’t know why the government suddenly changed its mind, but there will be no resistance.”