NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 16 – Thousands of Soweto residents were on Wednesday re-enacting the biblical exodus as they followed Prime Minister Raila Odinga into the new Promised Land – not of milk and honey, but multi storied brick houses.
The Prime Minister led slum dwellers in the relocation exercise which saw residents of Soweto East zone A relocating from their village to the new Kibera decanting site next to Lang’ata women’s prison.
The relocation exercise kicked off at 9:00 a.m.
The High Court on Tuesday allowed residents of Soweto slum to relocate to the new highrise houses built by the government.
However, the court has extended orders barring the government from demolishing the current structures in Soweto pending hearing of a case filed by landlords.
The landlords had moved to court seeking full compensation from the government before the tenants were moved out of their premises and structures pulled down.
The case is due in court on October 8.
The PM has however assured the Nubi community in the slums that the government respects the agreement it entered with them that a section of land be set aside for them and a communal title deed issued.
Addressing the press on Sunday ahead of Wednesday’s exercise, Mr Odinga said phasing out informal settlements in Kibera is part of the government’s commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goals and is being done in the interest of the residents.
He termed as unfortunate the fact that Kibera remains the way it was in colonial times more than 40 years after independence adding that the government is determined to construct new houses and ensure the deserving get them.
The PM said the government recognises that Nubians who were settled there by colonial authorities after the two world wars have nowhere else to call home.
“This slum was used to settle veterans of the two wars that ended many decades ago, particularly members of the Nubi community. Over the years, it has grown to be cosmopolitan with all communities of Kenya found here. But it also remains the biggest slum in Africa South of the Sahara. It is not a reputation we can be proud of,” the PM said.
He said the completion of first phase of the permanent houses in Soweto East marks a realisation of a dream he long held and which made him run in Langata and not any other constituency in 1992.
“When I entered politics in 1992, I made a deliberate decision to run in Langata because I strongly felt I could make a change in Kibera. There are many other constituencies I could have chosen in Nairobi but I chose Langata because I felt very strongly about Kibera. That is why I take very seriously the exercise of relocating residents from the informal settlements to new houses on Wednesday,” Mr Odinga said.
The PM said he moved a Motion in his first term in parliament seeking a permanent solution to the perennial land disputes in the slum and discussed with various past Lands Ministers without success.
“All those days we were in the opposition and nobody implemented our agenda. When Narc took over in 2003, we put Kibera back on the agenda. Under the Grand Coalition government, President Kibaki formally launched the upgrading. It is part of a program we had in our days in the opposition and residents should appreciate that we are implementing it now that we have a chance,” he said.
Mr Odinga said all informal settlements will come down in phases as soon as formal settlements are up.
“We are preparing ground for a modern, low income residential estate with modern schools, markets, playgrounds and other facilities. We will create space by clearing informal settlements from which people have been relocated.”