Rights groups in Kenya are pushing authorities to resettle tens of thousands of squatters evicted just ahead of the holidays to make way for a Chinese-backed expressway.
Kenyan Lucy Wangare, in her forties, cleans a makeshift tent that has provided her family flimsy shelter since October, when Nairobi city authorities evicted them from their home of almost two decades.
She, her husband, and her sister spent the holiday season living in the tent, enduring cold and wet nights.
City authorities evicted more than 40,000 squatters like Wangare from the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum and razed their homes to make way for construction of the Nairobi Expressway.
What is left of the Mukuru slum looks like a wasteland, with scores of makeshift tents forming a small island.
Authorities gave them just days’ notice to vacate their homes, says Wangare.
“If you look at where I sleep, you’d think I wasn’t a Kenyan citizen, you’d think I was a refugee, said Wangare.
They used to have property and houses but, right now, they’ve been left destitute. She blames Kenya’s government.
The half a billion dollars elevated expressway aims to ease Nairobi’s notorious traffic by connecting the main international airport to the city center and wealthy suburbs.
The Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation is building and financing the expressway, which should be working in 2022, and will collect the tolls for nearly three decades.
Despite critics calling it a road for the rich, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta defended the project while taking a tour of it the day before Christmas.
“The difference that is being occasioned by the road building, the drainage being build, by the sewage being put in — I do believe that within another two years, Nairobi will be a truly 21st century city, catering for its population in a positive manner and in a manner befitting our people,” said Kenyatta.
But Kenyan rights activists fault the government for not striking a balance between the need for infrastructure and human dignity for those evicted.
Anami Daudi, 25, is with the Mukuru Community Justice Center.
“It’s so traumatizing, people are having mental issues here, we have other special challenges, they should get like special attention. But you find out that even the facilities we have around they can’t even accommodate to create maybe that space to provide such services,” he said.
The single squatters left homeless, like 38-year-old Pauline Gathoni, struggle with security fears.
“It’s very dangerous to spend the night here, especially for us, women,” she said. The men can defend themselves if attacked, but she can’t fight anybody. ”If someone attacks me and steals my property, tells me to leave, I will have no choice but to obey them,” she said.
City authorities’ promises to compensate and help resettle the evicted families have yet to come true.