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Cultural matter delays proposed highway expansion

Shareholders of Original Sigona Enterprises Ltd have successfully persuaded the High Court to direct the national museums to hear their views regarding the status of Sigona House as a cultural heritage.

The three shareholders who lodged the petition argued that Sigona House was an ancient building constructed during the Second World War and meets the criteria to be declared a monument.

The proposed expansion of the Nairobi-Naivasha highway from the James Gichuru Junction in Nairobi to Rironi in Kiambu County may be delayed as the National Museums of Kenya considers whether a house in Sigona should be protected.

Mr Isaiah Ngumi, Mr Evanson Jomo and Mr Daniel Ng’ang’a told Justice Joel Ngugi that the house was like “Bethlehem as we know no other place in the world that binds us together better than it and should be preserved as a cultural artifact”.

They said the property should be preserved like other ancient sites in Kenya like Gede Ruins and Mombasa Old Town.

According to the elderly men, Sigona House was where their age-mates received their basic education. They moved to court to block its demolition to pave way for the expansion of the highway.

Opposing the petition, the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) argued that no one could stop the government from compulsorily acquiring property once the constitutional threshold of due process had been achieved.

The authority further said the court could not compel the national museums to declare Sigona House a monument as that would amount to usurping the powers of an independent statutory body.

But the judge was informed that the shareholders had petitioned the national museums in September 2015 to consider the house as a national monument.

NO JUSTIFICATION

After the national museum sent its two officials to the controversial house, they concluded that there was no justification for the gazettement of the building as a monument.

The petitioners alleged that the design of the road expansion would not only needlessly lead to the demolition of the house but also other historical buildings and cultural sites that should be preserved.

Other buildings to be demolished include a church, two petrol stations and a borehole which serves about 5,000 people.

They argued that the National Transport and Safety Authority had acquired an alternative route in 1988, to the west of Kamuguga-Zambezi junction, which was more appropriate for the expansion of the road. Justice Ngugi dismissed this assertion.

The judge gave the national museums up to the middle of this month to structure a process that would hear and consider the views of the petitioners, other stakeholders and the public regarding the status of Sigona House as a cultural heritage.

Also to be considered is whether the building meets the criterion for gazettement as a protected house under the National Museums and Heritage Act.

“It goes without saying that if the national museums confirm its decision after following due process that Sigona House does not fit the criterion for gazettement, there will be no need to interfere with the compulsory land acquisition.

“Conversely, if the national museums recommend Sigona House for gazettement as a protected building, it follows that the land will be unavailable for compulsory acquisition,” ruled justice Ngugi.

The elderly men have accused the national museums of colluding with Kenha and the National Land Commission to demolish the building to pave way for the expansion of the road.

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