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Sense of betrayal as highway snakes through Kibera

It is under the tree that some affected residents chose to calm their nerves when Capital FM News visited them on Tuesday/MOSES MUOKI

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 31- Right at the centre, a baobab tree is flourishing.

Everything else around it has been flattened by bulldozers, paving way for a Sh2.1 billion highway snaking through the expansive Kibera slum in Nairobi.

From the ground, the lone baobab tree has grown over the years to its current height and down there, the affected lot will have to start their lives afresh.

It is under the tree that some affected residents chose to calm their nerves when Capital FM News visited them on Tuesday.

From it, they drew inspiration that even if all is gone, life must go on despite some of them going separate ways with their childhood friends and losing their sources of income.

And though they feel a sense of betrayal and pain, those who spoke to Capital FM News put on a face of resilience and determination even if the future remains uncertain.

“Where are our leaders?” it is a question this reporter was put to task about several times from random residents.

– Demolitions awakens need for social amenities –

And while parents ponder their next move, tens of children were seen running up and down playing games, at the flattened grounds oblivious of the predicament of their parents.

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Maybe just a reflection of how they critically need social amenities like playgrounds, for the thousands of children living in other parts of the populous slum, the largest in Africa.

“All my three children are playing all over,” Mercy Auma said raising her left hand to indicate where they were.

Though may be short-lived, they have enough space to be just that – children.

– Entire community disintegrated –

For Kenyans living outside the slum, the road is critical and more so now when Nairobi is grappling with exasperating traffic, whose ripple effect to East Africa’s largest economy is dire.

The 4.2-kilometre four lane dual carriageway, also known as the Ngong Road-Kibera-Kungu Karumba-Langata Link Road, has been under construction since 2016 but had stalled over time because of legal challenges.

H Young & Company, a Chinese firm is undertaking the construction.

The highway will have 2.5-metre wide cycle tracks on each side, 2.5 metre wide footpaths and piped drains on the outer kerbs.

But Daniel Orogo, a Kibera-based human rights defender is bitter about the project and the hasty manner under which it was carried.

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“Why were the demolitions hurriedly done?” Orogo rhetorically posed before continuing to provide the reasons.

According to him, the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) did not want to compensate the affected residents, “as had been agreed.”

He doesn’t understand how the government working on ensuring all Kenyans get a decent life on one hand, “would then proceed to demolish what the poor residents of Kibera can afford.”

“Is the government violating its own orders?” he asks

“How do you justify that six schools have been demolished, a week to examinations?”

“How do you justify demolition of religious institutions, youth centres including the Beyond Zero clinic, a sole government project in the area?”

He has endless questions, for which only the authority can provide answers.

But down the valley, as one heads to Langata road, the Chinese contractors are proceeding with work.

Men are at work.

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-Victims retire to fate but want jobs-

Though the future seems to hold an ominous dark cloud, youths groups whose projects were demolished want the government to ensure they are given jobs during the project.

Some may resort to crime, the group leaders have cautioned.

Abdi Ali alias Razer is one of the leaders, of a bio centre that employed several locals but not anymore.

“We should be given priority during the road construction. We have been left jobless but that doesn’t mean we don’t have families to feed,” Ali said.

Just like his alias name depicts, he wants their fears “shaved” and a future guaranteed.

“Some were engaged in crime before we recruited them. We don’t want them to return into their bad ways because of idleness,” Ali cautioned.

Even though the baobab tree will eventually be cut down and its stump uprooted as the construction of the highway goes on, Kibera residents have vowed to remain rooted to hope for a better ‘tomorrow.’

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