The old colonial hovels in Nairobi’s Eastlands are no more than glorified sheds — yet residents have told Governor Evans Kidero they are just not ready to move out.
When he appeared at a City Hall press conference last week, Dr Kidero was edgy, apparently after realising his juniors had lied to him that tenants had agreed to move and pave the way for a Sh60 billion scheme, the most significant project by city authorities since the construction of middle-class estates of Buru Buru in the 1970s and 80s.
On that day, Dr Kidero wanted to bring real estate investors willing to pump in billions of shillings in what was to be his signature venture.
But while six firms had won the tender to build modern flats, all but two failed to appear for the signing ceremony; and for good reasons.
The problem was that tenants had not been convinced to move out. Secondly, the county government did not have title deeds to some of the estates.
But it is the tenant question that is becoming Dr Kidero’s headache in a city where only 35,000 new houses are built annually against a demand of 120,000.
Just two days after calling journalists to launch his pet project, the governor turned to the Urban Renewal executive, Mr Tom Odongo, for an answer.
Dr Kidero was furious and demanded to know if there were any binding agreements signed with tenants.
“You talk of a draft MoU and agreement. Does this mean we don’t have a final and signed documents with tenants after all these negotiations?” Dr Kidero asked Mr Odongo.
Controversy started when tenants occupying the old 17,000 units dared developers to evict them.
SCUTTLE THE PROGRAMME
The governor now threatens to scuttle the programme, a costly thing to do, given that elections are just nine months away.
Nairobi’s population is expected to grow to 14 million by 2050 and the county government has little space left for new houses.
That is why it targets housing estates in Bahati, Ziwani, Makongeni, Kaloleni, Shauri Moyo, Jericho and Mbotela, in addition to others marked for demolition.
Dr Kidero admits the city has a housing deficit of 500,000 and expects the new ones to fill a three per cent gap of what is required.
By Friday, he appeared clueless on the state of negotiations between his administration and tenants, who are demanding among things, rent compensation before leaving.
The devolved unit, according to Mr Odongo, has held 46 meetings with tenants since February but the only things to come from the forums were unsigned draft MoUs. Also, there are no compensation agreements or documents to letters of ownership.
Jeevanjee Resident Association chairman Patrick Musau said the last time the county government talked to them about the project was on October 3, 2015.
“We held a meeting at the City Hall boardroom and disagreed on compensation. Officials kept changing the narrative and did not want to commit in writing the agreements we reached,” he said.
According to Mr Musau, City Hall proposed to build the houses in the open spaces and tenants were to move into the finished units before the old ones were demolished.
“Later, we were informed that contractors would not work in an occupied area,” he said.
However, Mr Odongo blamed the tenants for the muddle. He said they returned the draft compensation deal and Mou.
“They had also agreed to sign tenant purchase ownership and letters of offer,” said the executive.
In February last year, Mr Odongo promised the tenants that their lives would not be disrupted and that they would continue paying rent once they moved to the new units. The other houses were to be mortgaged.
During the press conference, a clearly shocked Kidero could not hide his disgust.
He gave the officers five days to see to it that the MoUs and agreements were signed. The governor said Jeevanjee and Pangani residents would agree with the county by next week and necessary papers will be signed.
This, however, is a long shot for City Hall, given that the issue has turned political. So political that the tenants were accompanied to the press conference by Starehe MP Maina Kamanda, a former councillor and a Jubilee stalwart.
Though Dr Kidero said tenants from Jeevanjee, Bachelor Quarters, Pangani, Old and New Ngara would sign agreements soon, Mr Kamanda said improper negotiations had contributed to fear among the residents.
Mr Kamanda, known for his abrasive politics, said the county government did not have title deeds for some estates, leading to a stalemate.
Houses in these estates, built to house the African labour force during the colonial rule, are dilapidated — the result of decades of negligence.
Even in their hey days, when Nairobi used to have a mosquito superintendent to take care of African workers, the estates were not meant for families.
Over the years, the brick houses have lost their lustre, the wooden doors fortified with steel to keep out burglars.
But the giant wooden Z-Bar flush-fin windows are still in place. They were meant to mimic open spaces in rural African villages.
Some of the open spaces have been taken over by kiosks, overgrown grass and rivulets of sewer water — thanks to blocked lines.
According to Mr Kamanda, City Hall has title deeds of only two estates; Jeevanjee and Pangani.
He said that was the reason the devolved unit signed a two joint venture agreement for Jeevanjee and Pangani. And that is why he was confident that the evictions — or transfer would not happen soon.
“I want to tell you that this project will not start any time soon and so there is no need to panic,” said the lawmaker.
DECONGEST BAZAAR AREA
Part of the reason could be that when the 1913 Nairobi Sanitary Commission made recommendations on the future of Nairobi and drew the “European Commercial and Residential Areas” and the “Asiatic Commercial Area”, it only put African areas as the lands outside the eastern edge of the municipality with the boundary near City Stadium.
The Indian settlements were put in Ngara (now Old Ngara) in a bid to decongest the Bazaar area, now the space occupied by Biashara Street.
Residents of New Ngara, which was to be reconstructed at a cost of Sh9.05 billion, also said their estate should not be touched.
Mr Kamanda said the structures did not need renovation since “they are new”, adding that the playground had been grabbed, a claim Dr Kidero did not dispute. Most of the grounds are swamped by kiosks, garages and charcoal dealers.
Old Ngara is a far cry from the beautiful well-laid one-bedroom blocks of the 1960s. It is on the north of River Nairobi near what was once the dumping ground of human waste in the 1900s.
Bachelor Quarters and Jeevanjee were built to house singles who were to be away from family oriented Pangani Estate.
Shauri Moyo was built as a sympathetic gesture for people evicted from mud-walled Pangani and Kambi ya Malaya. Jeevanjee was named after the tenderpreneur and contractor A M Jeevanjee.
And because Nairobi had plenty of space then, and due to lack of foresight, the houses were scattered.
This is the wasteland on which the county government wants to build the houses.
Unfortunately, convincing residents to move would be a herculean task for Dr Kidero’s administration that is caught between history, politics and pressure to provide a housing solution to Nairobi.
That the residents have stayed put, and given that the negotiations are still on, the idea of giving Eastlands new housing estates remains a pipe dream.
Additional reporting by John Kamau