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How NYS projects promised so much, only to break dreams

Some of the projects in Kibera such as fish ponds that failed after the NYS scandal

Fridays in 2016 will forever be etched in Idris Abdalla’s heart. They were golden days, more special than all holidays he had ever had.

After spending five days labouring under the scorching sun in Kibera slums – cleaning filthy trenches and sweeping roads – Abdalla would retire to his home on Friday afternoon, and prepare for what would be a fun-filled evening.

He would take a shower and put on his best clothes, a smile brightening his face. Then he would join his peers at their ‘base.’ Here, everyone’s eyes would be glued to their mobile phones as they anxiously waited for a special message from the Ministry of Devolution and National Planning.

The message would come with a unique sound, or so they thought. So precious was the sound that they christened it ‘kring kring.’ It was the sound of money, a signal for the youth to profit – for the first time in their lives – on the sweat of their brow.

Friday was pay day. A happy day when all their troubles and vulnerabilities were forgotten. Abdalla was among 3,600 young people in Kibera who benefited from the National Youth Service (NYS) programme that sought to put idle youth to work.

Each was paid Sh300 a day while an additional Sh150 would go into Sacco savings. In total, they would each expect Sh1,500 in their mobile wallets every Friday. Suddenly, the money stopped coming.

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“Tulikuwa tumezoea ‘kring kring,’ alafu tunasikia tu mara moja imeisha. Na sisi hata hatujakosea mtu (We were used to the ‘kring kring’, then suddenly the money stopped coming. Yet we have not wronged anyone),” said Abdalla when Weekend Business visited him at Kibera’s DC area. He is a member of Young Tusk group.

NYS projects have crumbled under the weight of corruption allegations. About Sh1 billion of taxpayers’ money is suspected to have been siphoned from the programme, bringing one of Jubilee Government’s best projects to near-collapse.

And as it came down, dreams such as Abdalla’s were also shattered. Last year, the programme was suspended after NYS was rocked by the Sh791 million scandal which led to then Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru resigning.

It is not just the income that came to a crashing end, the projects also came to a standstill as financing taps were closed. Crime, which some quarters estimated had drastically reduced by over 75 per cent with the construction of several police posts, shot up again as unemployment and idleness crept in.

Before what has come to be known as the “NYS Scandal” became public, more than 96 ablution blocks connected to the sewer lines are said to have been built in Kibera. In addition, 13,000 urban agricultural sacks for growing of sukumawiki were also acquired in an effort to ensure food security in the poverty-stricken informal settlement. Nine posho mills and 72 fish-tanks were also built by NYS.

Today, just a few of the projects are active. Ministry officials who used to regularly visit the slum to inspect the progress of the projects have not been seen since the NYS scam was reported a year ago. And just as the main project was mismanaged from the top, most of the ones still on course have been derailed by local politics and corruption.

At Kibera 42, the fish-tanks have been overgrown with grass and plastic bottles are strewn all over the site. Just next to the tanks is an incomplete hall with broken sinks and empty bulb holders. Paint is already peeling from some walls even before the building becomes active.

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The hall has been turned into a gambling den and, nearby, a vandalised posho mill stands forlornly. This is replicated in most projects across the slum.

Abdalla and the other 25 members of his group have tried to soldier on. They still run the public toilet, making between Sh300 and Sh400 a day. However, the fish-tanks are empty of either water or fishlings. The youth stopped operating them two months after the NYS Scandal erupted.

“When the project stopped, we tried to buy water by ourselves but realised it was very expensive so we stopped,” said Abdalla, adding that they now only depend on revenues from the toilet. “We used to get free fish food, water and fishlings from the Government. People, and even the Government itself, would come and buy our fish,” he says.

NOT ANYMORE

For Rajab Chimoi, also a former beneficiary of the NYS project, the toilet business has not lived up to the expectation of helping the youth. “The toilet is on someone’s land. He has locked five toilets, leaving only three for customers. Yet at the end of the day, he still needs a share of the revenue collected,” he says.

There is no water

Although the projects were meant for the youth, some landowners volunteered to give land to the Government where the projects would be set up. It is not clear why the Government did not just buy the land. “If this was built for the youth, (they) would not be idle,” said Rashid Juma, pointing towards some boys sitting by the toilet. “We don’t even understand why it has been written ‘NYS’ if it is not of any benefit to the youth,” Rashid added.

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Chimoi says the toilets, tanks and pipes are still intact, but there is no water. “You cannot buy everything in the house, but forget to buy food. There will be no cooking.” Far from its objective, the NYS programme succeeded in creating low-level corruption in Kibera. As the fat cats at the headquarters carted away over Sh1 billion in sacks, some project leaders in the slum made away the material to sell.

According to a resident, Peter Oloo, the building materials were used for the management’s personal development. “Why do you think that our toilets are incomplete? Since the time this project began we would have started earning by now,” he said.
The way the NYS programme was structured created a powerful overseer, called a “platoon” by the residents, who could hire and fire at will. The position created a monster, according to Oloo.

Some of the platoons are said to have used their positions to patronise those in the programme and orchestrate the looting.

One of the platoons from Kisumu Ndogo was accused of corruption by a number of units from the area. He is accused of diverting the materials and ordering other officials to cover up for the theft and, in extreme measures, get rid of records.

“Initially, I did not know the level of looting that was going on until some of the records went missing,” said a former worker at the project. Our source thought that the materials were being used for projects elsewhere so he was not concerned even when he noticed that some of them were missing. “Each time,” explained our source, “I would find that part of what I was recording was missing. One day, a platoon who I will not name asked for the book that I used for record-keeping before the pages were filled up and gave me a new one.”

When he asked about the old book, the source said, he was told off and threatened with sacking for poking around too much.

The unity displayed by the community leaders when stealing the building materials was sickening, according to Moses Mwai (not his real name). He said everything seemed coordinated among the platoons because if none could blow the whistle, then they were all in it.

“The youth could not ask questions because we risked being fired. There is a warehouse near our home and at night I could hear one of the platoons come at night and take the materials out, until the warehouse was nearly empty,” said Mwai.

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To top it off, one of the leaders used the stolen materials to build a bar in the area – where the hitherto project beneficiaries go to drink. Just as in Kibera, similar projects were carried out in other informal settlements – Mathare, Korogocho, Mukuru Kwa Njenga in Nairobi, Kiandutu in Kiambu, and Nyalenda and Obungu in Kisumu.

 

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