Africa

Nairobi slum residents speak out against eviction

Susan Njanji

More than six million people have been forcibly removed from their land and homes in recent years in several African countries.

The 19-year-old leans against a rusty metal wall at his school in a Nairobi slum, pondering the government’s plan to tear down the building as part of a new round of forced evictions.

“We need a conducive environment to proceed with our exams,” said O-level pupil Ben Ogada, who sits for his final pre-university examinations in December. “The government’s threats are disrupting our learning process”.

His Korogocho Glory School, built 15 years ago just off the banks of Nairobi River, faces demolition when authorities set in to clean up the river, heavily polluted by an adjacent dumpsite.

London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International is warning that 127 000 people risk forced eviction when the clean-up begins.

School authorities say more than half of the 500 pupils will be affected by the plan.

Even primary schoolchildren are worrying.

“I am not happy that our school might be closed. I want to be a pilot when I finish school but how can I do that if the school is closed,” said 11-year-old Silas Wondera.

The eviction loomed as Amnesty International rolled out its global “campaign to demand dignity” in Nairobi’s Korogocho slum settlement.

Under the campaign, slum dwellers are petitioning Kenyan authorities to make better their plight through a free cellphone texting service.

“Forced eviction is very widespread throughout Africa,” said Amesty’s secretary general, Irene Khan.

More than six million people have been forcibly removed from their land and homes in recent years in several African countries, including Angola, Nigeria and Kenya.

“Very often it’s often seen by government as an inevitable consequence of economic growth. But we are saying that the poor don’t have to pay the heaviest price for economic growth were governments to plan,” she said.

She said “people who live in slums face human rights violations that stop them from improving their lives in the slums as well as to improve their lives to get out of the slums”.

Nearly half of Nairobi’s four million people live in slums lacking basic services and live in “constant fear of harassment and evictions”, she said.

Mother of eight Eveline Akuku (46) has been a slum resident for more than 20 years.

“The government says all houses that are 30m from the river will have to go,” said the unemployed woman, with her 36-month-old daughter pulling her skirt, as she pointed to the river dividing her house and a stinking rubbish heap.

Alice Atieno (46) sits in front of her pole-and-mud house blankly staring in the direction of the river.

“I am worried because I don’t know where I will land. This has been my home for the past 23 years,” she said.

‘There is room for them’
Korogocho chief Rebecca Balongo, a local government official, said the dredging of the Nairobi River is part of the authorities’ slum-upgrading scheme. She could not state the numbers likely to be affected.

“The people will have to move but we will facilitate their relocation, there is room for them. I will make sure there is orderliness in the process and that there is no disruption to schooling,” she said.

A defiant pastor, Caleb Alingo, who set up the Korogocho School, said: “My prayer is that what God has planned and built, let no man demolish”.

He said pulling down the school would “dump these children back to the dumpsite” situated just a few metres away and from where most of the children’s parents scavenge for a living.

Khan also warned that the plight of slum dwellers risks worsening due to the global economic meltdown.

“There is a real risk that aid money is going to get low, that the priority for economic growth is going to get so high that it will be pursued at any cost,” Khan said.

UN-Habitat estimates that about a third of sub-Saharan Africans live in slums or squatter settlements.—Sapa-AFP

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