NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 20 – The High Court on Thursday halted the demolition of structures at Kibera’s Soweto slum to pave way for better housing.
Justice Abida Ali-Aroni said that a group of plot owners have raised issues dealing with fundamental rights, but she also noted that the government intended to better the lives of residents by upgrading the slum.
She therefore stopped the demolition exercise for one week to allow all parties have argued their case and directed lawyer Kibe Mungai to serve the Attorney General, the Minister for Lands and the Commissioner of Lands with the court.
84 landlords moved to court stating that they were not opposed to the movement of tenants from the structures but are against demolition of their semi-permanent units before they are issued with leases to the plots.
They argued that they have acquired legitimate interest in the area and which cannot be taken away by the government unlawfully.
The project, which has so far cost the Ministry of Housing Sh500 million, is being conducted by the government in conjunction with the UN-Habitat under the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme. The government plans to remove all shanties in 10 years.
To pave way for the upgrading, the government has completed 600 units in Lang’ata and plans to move more than 1,800 people to the new houses in a move that has been welcomed by many including the tenants.
But the property owners argue that the government has reduced the whole issue into a tenants’ problem and pushed aside their interests.
Mr Mungai told the court that under section 75 of the Constitution, they have property rights and interests which should be protected.
Through a notice dated August 14, the government gave the residents one month to vacate the structures from Soweto East in an area classified as Zone A. the notice gave them up to September 15 to vacate.
But the 84, who allege to own approximately 550 acres adjoining Kibera railway station reserve, argue that they read mischief in the programme.
According to their lawyer, before the notice was issued, a remuneration was conducted in the area and tenants issued with a special identity card numbered C1. The landlords on the other hand were issued with a card numbered B1 and this, they say, was no proof of ownership or occupancy.
“The applicants have a right to be given leases. It is not government land. The interests of others have to be taken into account,” Mr Mungai argued.
He said that some of the residents who are of Nubian descent were settled in the area by the government between 1960 and 1980. Others, he said, were Mau Mau veterans and their descendants who were settled their after independence.
While issuing the temporary orders, Lady Justice Aroni also certified the matter urgent and directed all parties to appear in court on August 28.