More than half of Nairobi’s population (more than 2 million) live on just 5% of the city’s residential areas in slums lined by rutted, ill-kept roads, while the green suburbs of the large, neat houses in the wealthy suburbs are far better served.
40,000 people have been made homeless by demolition works for a major toll road in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Amnesty International Kenya says it believes the roadworks have created a humanitarian crisis, as schools, businesses and 13,000 homes spread across nearly 40 hectares (100 acres) of the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum have been demolished since October, clearing land for a link to the Nairobi expressway.
The first round of demolitions in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which were publicly announced on 8 October, started only three days later. Heavy road-building machinery flanked by Kenyan police, flattened homes and businesses along a 30-metre-wide strip of Catherine Ndereba Road. The road connects Mukuru to the industrial area to the north. The 17-mile (27km) expressway will link the international airport to the central business district and plusher residential areas. It is designed to ease the congestion on the city’s A8 main artery, so notorious that it is said to cost the country millions in lost business. The road is financed by the Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation, which will use the tolls to recoup their $550m (£410m) investment.
The vast majority of people will not be able to afford the road in a city where walking is the dominant mode of transport, accounting for 45.6% of commuters, compared with 40.7% by bus, 13.5% by private vehicle, and 0.2% by rail. People walk because they cannot afford a bus fare. Many people will struggle to afford the tolls, expected to cost between $1 and $15 depending on the vehicle and the length of journey. Critics have branded the elevated route a road for the rich, flying over the old, potholed highway in an illustration of the gulf between Kenya’s rich and poor. Even its bus lane is expected to carry only larger coaches, not the matatus favoured by the poor.
In November, buildings on a large area of adjacent private land were also razed, with people living there saying that they had no warning. This land, owned by a private firm, Orbit Chemical Industries, had been at the centre of several complex court disputes.
“There were police beating people and launching teargas." Police “started caning people”
Africa Kiiza, trade policy analyst at the University of Hamburg in Germany, says infrastructure development in east Africa is happening “at all costs, whether that’s environmental or humanitarian”.
“This is development for who? You are affecting the people who you are meant to be helping.”
According to Kiiza, African governments often look to China for funding development as the country is less rigid than US or European funders when it comes to human rights or corruption. “China does not care, as long as it’s getting the construction tender,” he says.
Kenya is heavily in debt to China. Kiiza describes the relationship between the two countries as “parasitic”. The power imbalance is a “reinforcement of imperialism, where, if a country fails to pay, it is forced to give away access and control to natural and strategic resources like ports and airports”, he says.