Missing Link: The road to development with no human face

Panoramic image showing the residents of the Deep Sea informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, 25 August 2012. Click for an interactive 3600 view.

Looking around it could just be another cold wet day in Nairobi and everyone is getting on with their business. But get a little closer and you can feel the tension. A storm is brewing and the hope of a clear blue sky feels seasons away. Thousands of people living in the Deep Sea settlement in Nairobi, Kenya could lose their homes in the coming weeks.

The Deep Sea community has been living under the threat of eviction since 2009, when they first heard that a road, known as “Missing Link”, would run straight through their homes. On 20 June 2015, they were told to vacate the area as work on the road was about to start.

Smiles amid uncertainty 

The road is not all bad. It could mean better access to work, schools and health care for Nairobi’s residents, and enable people to walk and cycle along the road in safety. But for a quarter of Deep Sea’s 12000 residents who will lose their homes, the negatives far outweigh the positives. People like Patience*, who lives with HIV/AIDS, will be disconnected from her only symbol of hope – the hospital where she gets subsidised medication is on the site earmarked for the new road. Patience like many others will have to leave Deep Sea without the security of alternative housing.

Diana Nyakowa Angaya, 52, at her home in Deep Sea slum, Nairobi. She cleans houses for a living and spends her free time being the volunteer community health worker. © Nikola Ivanovski
Diana Nyakowa Angaya, 52, at her home in Deep Sea slum, Nairobi. She cleans houses for a living and spends her free time being the volunteer community health worker. © Nikola Ivanovski

This morning as I walk through the settlement I am met by the disarming smiles of babies in the only baby day care centre, oblivious to the fact that the crèche may not exist tomorrow. I meet Diana Angaya in a hurry to attend to her client, Patience. Patience’s face is marked with worry until Diana gives her a hug of reassurance and once again her face lights up.

I look around and my eyes are drawn to the beautiful graffiti on the walls of the toilet blocks promoting sanitation and a healthy environment. The road will also destroy a nursery school, two churches and five of the eight toilet blocks. It means that people will lose their livelihoods, such as 38-year old Joseph Mulatya who is a metal fabricator; their social networks and the support systems for people living with HIV/AIDs will break down.  Many of their human rights including the right to housing, water, sanitation, education and health will be violated.

Follow the law, do the right thing 

The Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) is building the road, jointly funded by the Government of Kenya and the European Union (EU). Although KURA has held some meetings with Deep Sea residents, they fall short of the process they are meant to follow under Kenya’s international human rights obligations. KURA hasn’t provided the residents with enough information, and the compensation they have offered is not enough to cover residents’ losses or provide alternative secure housing. One housing activist told me, “The compensation is not even enough to pay someone to safely take down my house for future reuse, let alone buy me a new home.” At best, with the meagre amounts being offered, residents may only be able to move to another slum where they will once again be at risk of forced eviction and homelessness.

Shattered dreams 

Deep Sea residents are not opposed to the road – they just want the construction to be carried out in a manner that respects their human rights. They are still trying to talk with KURA but are met with intimidation and threats. On 8 July 2015, KURA told residents that unless they withdrew their court action challenging the eviction, KURA would not negotiate with them. That night, a private developer arrived with a violent team of youth, police and masons to erect a wall to cut off the community’s access to the surrounding more affluent areas of Highridge and other parts of Westlands. Residents’ told me that in the chaos that ensued, several people were injured. One by a teargas canister and others by stones which seem to have been thrown by the hired youth. 

Mum, how will I be going to my school?

A little girl crying out to her mother.

As I was leaving the community I heard a little girl crying, she asked her mother, “Mum, how will I be going to my school?” I shed a tear! KURA’s high handedness just shattered a bright dream for this girl.

Never giving up

The Deep Sea residents refuse to bend, and are continuing to fight fair in court. I have been working alongside communities in Kenya for many years, asking the Government of Kenya to pass a law that will stop forced evictions and set out safeguards that must be strictly followed before any eviction happens. The “Missing Link” is a stark reminder of how urgent it is that the government acts now.

Please take action! Support the Deep Sea residents: http://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/AFR32/2054/2015/en/

There’s more on this issue on ‘We are like rubbish in this country’: Forced evictions in Nairobi, Kenya.

This is not the first time I have raised this issue. In 2013, I wrote about it in the blog “I’ve witnessed a million and one forced evictions“. Diana, whom I mentioned earlier, writing on World Habitat Day two years ago, on ‘We don’t eat, we don’t sleep’: A message from Kenya on World Habitat Day, couldn’t have said it better when she said, “We are tired of force evictions every year.”