Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Making Tracks?

Among the major planned projects for Kenya is the construction of a 472-kilometre ‘Standard Gauge Railway’ (SGR), linking the Indian Ocean city of Mombasa, to Nairobi, and on to Uganda and Rwanda. The massive $353-million undertaking is financed by China’s Exim bank with a completion date of 2018. 5,000 workers will be shipped in from China for the railway project, allegedly to do ‘skilled’ work that locals have no expertise in. 

The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has made it clear that all structures, from dwellings to business sheds on the path of the SGR, together with their owners, will have to go. The KRC has made it clear that the residents, some of the poorest in the country, will not be compensated because they are squatting ‘illegally’ on government land. Some have been here for over 50 years. The railway’s human victims will be some 250,000 poor Nairobi slum-dwellers.

They must then brace themselves to start another life. Houses elsewhere in Nairobi are much more expensive, with the monthly rent for an average one-bedroom apartment $150; in the slums, a shack goes for $37 for those who rent, and about half the people live in shanties of their own.  A government project meant to upgrade the slums and build proper houses for its dwellers has been moving at a painfully slow pace. When the first 200 units were completed seven years ago, many were illegally allocated to government officials and their networks, leaving the poor of Nairobi’s slums in their usual place. What’s more, the majority of the people work as labourers in city factories, within walking distance from the three slums, so when they are evicted they will have to begin paying daily fares to work. With daily incomes of $3 and families to support, that’s something they can hardly afford. Those who run their own small businesses will have to look for employment or other sites from where they can conduct their trade

The reality of life under capitalism is a long way from the image we are sold. No matter how hard a lot of people work, they will not bridge the inequality gap. Real life under capitalism is characterized by high levels of obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. The fact remains that we’d all be a lot better off if we lived in a society that placed less emphasis on the private ownership of the means of production and instead opt for common ownership by people as a whole.  There is a lot of talk about changing society through revolution. Let’s make it happen. 

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