Let them eat maize

Michael Onsando
18 December ,2018

Kenya is headed for a bumper maize harvest even as farmers in the North Rift region struggle to sell their last season’s crop. 

You only need to look up to know that maize is one of the key foods consumed in the country. Those of us who studied GHC (now social studies) might remember it being listed amidst one of the staple foods of the region. We use it, and have been using it, for a variety of meals. Whether pounded into flour, boiled, burned (yaani choma) or processed we have loved our maize for a very long time. Maize is so important that is one of the key factors considered when calculating the cost of living.

Given that maize is mainly grown in the rift area – a region that has been key in swinging votes over the last couple of elections – it makes sense that the crop itself has been politicized. Coming into a consistent market with high demand both the farmer and the consumers find themselves vulnerable to the whims of those who hold the infrastructure – a vulnerability that is exploited through every election period.

In the 90’s Maize prices were affordable as the buying and selling prices were favorable to households. Despite the fact that there were a number challenges, farmers were able to harvest the cereal and sell it at a price that favored both them and the consumer. 

In a bid to keep voters happy it is best for any incumbent government to show that they are in control of market forces by reducing the price of unga on the shelves (source: Making Elections Arap – A book on manipulating Kenyan voters by Daniel Moi*) . Last year amidst a drought, two elections and brokered maize from Uganda the maize prices were spiraling out of control and the government had to do something.

Their great idea was to hold the price of unga at 90 bob while subsidizing the prices between millers and wholesalers. Basically, they decided to make everyone happy, win the election, then figure it out later. But, as a wise saying goes, you can’t make everyone happy – you’re not pizza. And neither was this plan. The farmers were left unhappy by the happenings with the price per bag being unacceptable. Knowing that this year things would be better, they held on to their maize.

It’s now later and I never thought that a bumper harvest could be a bad thing. The simple math in my mind goes “more maize = more money.” That’s not what this year looks like. Speaking earlier this year, Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at the tegemo institute, said, “The country has enough maize stock to sustain the country until July 2019 but farmers are extremely broke and not making money. This is a bad year for the maize farmer in Kenya but a good one for the consumer.” Which means that the farmers that held on to their maize from last year find themselves holding onto maize (isn’t the damn crop perishable? How long can one feasibly hold on?) for longer, given the drop in demand.

And it’s not like the guys who sold their crop to the National Cereals and Produce Board(last year) have been paid. The board ran out of cash because it paid brokers who supplied the aforementioned-brokered maize from Uganda. The farmers are owed about KES 3.5 billion according to the Daily Nation. This scandal itself has had far reaching impact with Agriculture Ministry Principal Secretary, Richard Lesiyampe, former NCPB boss Newton Terer, Finance GM Cornel Kiprotich Ng’elechey and 15 other senior officials arrested and charged over irregular purchase of maize worth KES 11 billion.

“Kenya on May 16 announced Sh6 billion subsidy on maize imports to help lower the cost of flour which had shot up due to a regional drought and poor planning.”


“Whatever it is, when your goal is the job rather than the solution policies come last. It’s like the idea is first get the money and get in, second pay it off and then finally try and fix some problems so you can get voted in again. And this kind of thinking leads to myopic ideas that won’t really fix anything in the long term.” 

Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem like we are ever on top of the maize problem at all. It is being stolen, illegally imported, underpriced, overcharged unavailable or, as is the case now, over-available. The smart farmers have stopped allocating as much land to maize compared to other plants with one Uasin Gishu farmer only having 79 acres of maize this year down from the 210 acres he had in 2014/2015. Of course, given the cycle, this trend might lead to an undersupply, but there’s little recourse for the farmers faced by an indecisive government and fluctuating prices mostly due to artificial factors.

This takes me back to this government, planning and foresight. Where is the data that correlates maize consumption and the markets? Where is the data that the government uses to project the needs of the people? Do we actually know how much we are consuming and plan for it – ask for allocations and work around them? Or do we continue to react to factors a little planning could have revealed long before they became problems?

*not an actual book

Kenya’s Perpetual Drought

Brenda Wambui
10 April ,2018

We suffer from a range of disasters as a country: flooding, fire tragedies, terrorism, corruption, diseases and epidemics, and drought – these reduce our quality of life, destroy our infrastructure, disrupt our economy, and cause a diversion of resources intended for other things. They also ensure that we remain underdeveloped.

Our country is particularly drought prone. Only 20% of our country receives high and regular rainfall. The other 80% is classified as Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL), where annual rainfall is low, so drought is a regular thing. Currently, four counties (Isiolo, Garissa, Kajiado and Tana River) are classified in the alarm phase according to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) in February 2018. Ten counties have moved into the alert drought phase up from six in December, with most counties reporting a worsening trend. Only four out of the 23 ASAL counties (which make up a majority of Kenya’s land mass) recorded a stable trend.

The Kenya Red Cross also said that about 3.4 million people concentrated in 10 ASAL counties are facing food insecurity, and possibly famine, as a result of prolonged drought and failed rainfall. As a result, they are seeking KES 1.044 billion to fund their 2018 drought response and recovery program which is projected to reach 1,373,294 people.

In many ASAL areas, the October-November-December 2017 seasonal rainfall started late, had poor temporal and spatial distribution, was below average in total amount and stopped earlier than usual. This has affected the major harvest that was expected as a result of these rains in February 2018. In almost all counties, the vegetation situation was worse in January than it was in December. This may mean that most people, including subsistence farmers, will be relying on markets for their food. This scarcity and high demand will lead to much higher food prices.

Considering that the drought hits pastoral areas the hardest, their livestock will be malnourished, given the unavailability of water and forage. They won’t be able to fetch their usual prices. This means that pastoralists, too, will need food aid. It also means higher meat prices, because much of the livestock will die, as we have already began to see.

Drought is a weather condition. An extended period of dryness. We cannot prevent it, though we can predict it and prepare. There are three kinds of drought. Meteorological drought, which is when rainfall falls below a certain level that would lead scientists to consider it a drought. This could be seasonal. There is hydrological drought, which is often caused by meteorological drought. This is when water body levels fall below a certain amount. Finally, there is agricultural drought, which is when there is a significant reduction in crop yield, such that it may fall to a certain level considered to be a drought. This is also usually caused by the first two types of droughts. Kenya experiences all three types.

Famine on the other hand, is an economic condition. It is man made, because it is caused by a failure to plan. A failure to manage food supplies. For famine to occur, there has to be unavailability of food. Which does not necessarily need to happen when a drought occurs, because it is not like drought comes out of nowhere. It is not a surprise. Famine leads to hunger and starvation. A drought need not lead to famine, but in Kenya, it always does. We have a long history of famine and drought.

In 1997, we had a drought that affected the lives of 2 million people. In 2000, Kenya had its worst drought in 37 years. It affected 4 million people, who all needed food aid. In 2004, the long rains (normally expected between March and June) failed, leaving 2.3 million people in the need of aid. In 2005, famine was declared a national catastrophe, affecting 2.5 million people in Northern Kenya. In 2010 and 2011, we had our worst drought in 60 years. Across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, 13.3 million people were affected. In 2014, we had a drought that affected 1.6 million people. In 2015, approximately 1.1 million people needed food aid because of rainfall shortages.

In 2017, over 2.7 million people were in need of food aid according to the NDMA. This number represents around 20% of the population in pastoral areas, and 18% in marginal agricultural areas. Maize yields fell by 50%, beans by 40 to 50%, and sorghum by 30% as compared to 2015. Some places experienced as much as a 70% drop in crop yields, and livestock was selling for as much as 25% less than 2015 prices. Because the February 2018 estimate is that more people will need food aid (at least 700,000 more people), we can project that the situation may be even worse this year.

Drought is one of the reasons we are unable to achieve the sustainable development goals – such as the ones related to attainment of food security, poverty eradication, and promotion of environmental sustainability. It makes no sense that we continue to rely on rainfall in our agricultural sector, knowing that our country is mostly arid and semi-arid. Whenever our rains fail, we have drought, followed by famine, which causes hunger and starvation. This continues to happen yet agriculture is a key driver for our social and economic development. This continues to happen even when we have an early warning system, and a drought management authority.

This is baffling. Most water for human consumption and other uses is derived from rivers whose recharge depends on rainfall. Our grid is also largely powered by hydroelectricity, so drought also leads to power shortages. In the year 2000, Kenya Power lost USD 20 million, and the national GDP contracted by 0.3%, because of drought. Drought also accelerates the process of desertification and biodiversity loss. People lose their jobs when industries shut down as resources get depleted, children drop out of school because their parents can’t afford to pay their fees because of the economic impact of drought, as well as the suspension of school feeding programmes when there is a famine.

The funds the Red Cross is seeking will go to nutrition, cash transfers, food vouchers, rehabilitation of watering points and animal slaughter. Which is odd, because this is the sort of thing a country with a government should be able to do for itself. While we cannot let people starve, if we continue to fundraise from our already overtaxed pockets to cover things we already pay taxes for, aren’t we encouraging our government to continue with its corruption?

Drought is an all-round disaster, and it is sad that we continue to take it lightly. Or government, and not the Red Cross, should be able to have enough food relief for affected people with special food formulas for the most affected, such as children, the elderly and mothers. They should have in place resources for human disease control and treatment, as well as animal feed and supplements. They should have enough water reserves for both humans and livestock, and allocate cash for all this because drought is not a surprise. They should plan for livestock disease control, shelter for these animals, debt relief for their owners, destocking, restocking, distribution of seed, the list is long.

We also need to have the government championing practices that will help the average Kenyan in such times. For example, promotion of water harvesting and storage (which is illegal in Nairobi), training water user associations, planning for new water sources, deepening wells, removing silt from water pans, and planning future interventions. They also need to promote animal production and drought resistant crops, improve extension services, and develop our cereal banks. They need to ensure we have enough pasture & water for livestock, building up, strengthen networks between herders, develop livestock markets, conserve and protect pasture.

They also need to establish a common approach to disease control for livestock, vaccinate, deworm, and maintain cattle dips. The crops they promote should be drought resistant, early maturing crops and indigenous plants that require little water. They also need to promote agro-forestry for fruits, fuel, fodder and medicine, and have proper pest and disease control in place. This is their responsibility.

They may claim that many things “begin with us” as citizens, but famine definitely begins with them.

Kenya’s Killer Roads

Brenda Wambui
2 January ,2018

In December 2017, over 330 Kenyans lost their lives in road accidents while traveling for the holidays. Over 40 people died in road accidents within 24 hours at Sachang’wan and Bungoma. 36 people lost their lives at Migaa on the 31st of December 2017. For purposes of comparison, 148 people died in the Garissa University terror attack.

The NTSA’s (National Transport and Safety Authority) response was to abruptly ban all night travel by Public Service Vehicles (PSVs). This left several hundred passengers who intended to travel on the night of 31st December stranded, since the ban took immediate effect. “In order to review the current measures in place to improve road safety, the authority in consultation with other relevant government agencies hereby suspends night travel for all long distance public service vehicles from December 31. All travel must be scheduled to take place between 6 am and 7 pm.” As a result, PSVs are being driven even more dangerously in an attempt to reach their destinations before 7 pm. Unlicensed, unregulated private motorists have begun offering commuter services between key towns at high fares.

Driving and being driven in Kenya is a high stakes activity. Kenyan roads are hazardous, and each day we make it home okay is a happy day. Because we recognize this, we established the NTSA five years ago, in October 2012, with the vision of having a sustainable and safe road transport system with zero crashes. Their goal is to facilitate the provision of safe, reliable, efficient road transport services.

In Kenya, over 3,000 people, mostly pedestrians, die in road accidents each year. Globally, 1.24 million people die per year on roads, but 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries even though they have fewer motorized vehicles. The age group that is most affected is the 15 – 29 age group worldwide, with road accidents being their leading cause of death. These accidents cost us about 5.6% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year. An agency like NTSA’s existence comes from a place of necessity, however, their interventions seem not to work.

Road deaths in 2015 increased to 3,057 up from 2,907 in 2014. This is an increase of 5.15%. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Kenya’s goal was to reduce fatalities from road accidents by 50% between 2009 and 2014, yet they have not reduced. The NTSA has yet to provide comparative figures for 2016 and 2017.

Even more worrisome is that instead of measuring their performance in terms of lives saved, they cite how much they collect in fines instead, as if that is their mandate. They impose arbitrary speed limits on highways, which are meant to facilitate the high speed flow of traffic, and hide their speed cameras in bushes so as to arrest errant motorists, as opposed to announcing them with signs to remind the motorist to slow down.

I get it – speeding is the main cause of most road accidents we have, followed by drink-driving, not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while on a bike, not using child restraints, distracted driving and so on. As a result, the interventions that follow should be – we must reduce the speeds that drivers drive at, make sure they don’t drink and drive, penalize people for not wearing seatbelts, helmets, using child restraints, using their phones will driving. And so on. Yet we’ve done these things, and they are clearly not working, given that road accident fatalities are not reducing year by year. So what gives?

Enforcement. Do we do these things consistently? Effectively? Efficiently? Let’s take highway speeding, for example. 3,057 people died in 2015. How many of them died on highways? On Thika Road? 70. Mombasa Road? 60. Waiyaki Way? 50. Jogoo Road? 30. That’s a total of 210 people – 6.87%. Yet where are we most terrorized by NTSA about speed? Highways.

The World Health Organization has an annual global status report on road safety. The most recent one is from 2015. Road safety is included under two sustainable development goals. We want to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages: by 2020, we should halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. As it stands, that would mean our target is to get them down to 620,000. We also want to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable: by 2030, we should provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.

Almost half of the world’s road deaths are those of pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motorcyclists. The average for Africa is 43%. In Kenya, however, they account for 70%. In 2015, 268 drivers and 642 passengers died in road accidents, making up 30%. The rest were as follows: 104 pedal cyclists, 553 motorcyclists and 1340 pedestrians. Only 30% of those who die are inside cars.

It becomes apparent that to reduce fatalities from road accidents, we need to ensure that pedestrians, people on bicycles and motorcyclists are safer on the roads. We need to strike a balance between ease of mobility and safety. In the “Safe Systems” approach, used successfully in countries like Sweden, the speed limit on a section of a road takes into account safety, mobility and environmental considerations, as well as the impact of the speed on the quality of life for people living along the road.

Where motorized traffic mixes with pedestrians and cyclists, the speed limit must be under 30 km/h. This is due to the vulnerability of these road users at increasing speed: an adult pedestrian has less than a 20% chance of dying if struck by a car at less than 50 km/h but almost a 60% risk of dying if hit at 80 km/h. On roads where front impacts with other road users are possible (such as on non-divided rural roads, and two way roads) a “safe speed” will be lower than on highways, where head on collisions crashes are unlikely.

We need to ensure that both the drivers and riders on boda bodas and personal use bikes wear helmets. Many people say that they don’t because of hygiene, so perhaps we need to mass introduce helmet liners and other products that help prevent the transmission of skin diseases through these helmets. As we do this, then, we can also strictly enforce the wearing of helmets as a must by all people on bikes. The quality of these helmets should also be guaranteed, and low quality helmets should not be allowed into the country. There are some that crack as soon as someone falls, regardless of the magnitude of impact. These should not be allowed.

When it comes to drink driving, strict enforcement of the blood alcohol concentration limit/alcoblow should be there. The guys at these stops should be well trained and know the importance of not taking bribes – you take a bribe now, in 20 minutes the drunk driver kills someone, or multiple people. We also know that young and new drivers are a greater risk on the roads, especially if drink driving. They may then enforce lower blood alcohol concentration limits for them, to ensure that they are present on the road. This can then be graduated based on age group and driving experience. The effects of drink driving by commercial drivers (such as truck drivers) and PSVs is even more severe, because their vehicles tend to kill multiple people when involved in fatal crashes.

This means that strict enforcement of blood alcohol concentration limits should be enforced on them, especially on high risk roads, and at high risk times (such as between 5 pm and 10 pm, and during the entire night). We also need to tell Kenyans to stop warning others about alcoblow checks. If you can show them that they are actively contributing to the deaths of others, they may stop this behaviour.

Then there are seatbelts. Wearing seatbelts saves lives, yet it is no longer strictly enforced. We need to go back to doing this, and not just front seat passengers. All passengers should have their seatbelts on. For children, regular seatbelts don’t work as well – they need special restraints. Whether it’s a well fastened car seat, booster seat – have your child in a special restraint for him or her. It increases their chances of surviving a car accident by up to 90%. They should also travel in the back seats of private vehicles as it is much safer.

We need a law that applies an age, weight or height restriction on children sitting in the front seat, and a national child restraint law based on age, height or weight. We also need to make sure child restraints are affordable and accessible. We could have community based education and distribution schemes, maternity hospital loan schemes, voucher programmes and so on. We also need to look into how to enforce this in PSVs – which many people use with their children when moving from place to place. How can we make matatus and buses safer for children?

Then comes distracted driving, caused mostly by mobile phone use. This distraction comes in the form of auditory distraction, visual distraction, cognitive distraction and manual distraction. If one is on a call, for example, one is manually distracted due to holding the phone, and while listening to the call, one may miss audio cues on the road. Texting is even worse – it takes your eyes off the road, your attention is focused on the phone, and you are holding the phone so you are manually distracted. Even when using an earpiece, one is probably still distracted cognitively, which is the most dangerous form of distraction while driving. Drivers talking on a phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who aren’t. While this number applies to four wheeled vehicles, it doesn’t mean motorcyclists are any safer. Fighting distracted driving should be a key focus of the NTSA.

Vehicles and roads themselves must also be safer. Cars should be crash worthy, and have electronic stability control. This aims to prevent skidding and loss of control in cases of over-steering or understeering, and is effective at preventing different types of crashes (single car crashes, head-on and rollover crashes, and crashes involving multiple vehicles), reducing both serious and fatal injuries. Political will to enforce these interventions also needs to exist. We need to embark upon radically fixing our police force.

We should also have vehicles on roads that consider pedestrian safety. Softer bumpers, better bonnet area clearance and removal of unnecessarily rigid structures are required to reduce the severity of a pedestrian impact with a car. This means that most of the old cars on our roads would not make the cut. Roads themselves need to be safer. Planning decisions are usually made without sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes – for example, cycle paths and footpaths are frequently not part of our road network. Neither are bridges.

We should optimize the movement of people and goods with road safety in mind. This optimization needs to take into account the mix and safety of all road users. We should also promote non-motorized forms of transport, such as walking and cycling. A good step in this direction is changing the perception that walking and cycling are for poor people. We can do this by separating these different kinds of road use, eliminating conflicts between high-speed and vulnerable road users. This is simple – have pedestrian walk ways, have separate cycle lanes. Look at Kileleshwa and Kilimani, for example.

We also need advocacy efforts to keep road safety high on the government and public agenda. We can do this through public awareness campaigns to increase understanding and support for enforcement measures, and to sustain a high perception of enforcement. This may even incentivize compliance. Until we start doing these things seriously, the NTSA will remain the butt of many people’s jokes, and rightly so.

Kenya’s Ban On Plastic Bags

Brenda Wambui
5 September ,2017

After three previous unsuccessful attempts to ban the use, sale, manufacture and import of plastic bags in 2005, 2007 and 2011, we finally managed to do it on 28th August 2017 when the ban came into effect. It was gazetted by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Professor Judy Wakhungu, on 28th February 2017 and Kenyans were given a six month grace period to prepare themselves for lives free of plastic bags.

The ban is with good reason: plastic bags take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, and are a major contributor to the 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the sea every year. At current rates, it is estimated that by 2050 we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish. About 100 million plastic bags were handed out to Kenyan shoppers (before the ban) each year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and many of these bags found their way into our food chain through cows, goats, fish and other animals. Professor Wakhungu stated that plastic bags constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in Kenya.

Indeed, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) cites the inability of plastic bags to decompose (which affects soil quality), the littering plastic bags in various parts of the country, the blockage of sewerage and water drainage infrastructure (causing floods during the raining season), damage of ecosystems and biodiversity, death of animals after consuming plastic material, endangering human health when used for packaging food (in particular hot food), producing poisonous gases (for example, when used as fuel to light charcoal) and air pollution when disposed by burning in open air. All these are solid reasons.

Kenya becomes one of more than 40 other countries to take a tough stance on plastic bags, though our ban is by far the harshest. The only plastic bags exempt from the ban are garbage bin liners, plastic bags for disposing medical waste and chemicals, as well as plastic bags used for industrial packaging of products. If found contravening this law, one is “liable to a fine of not less than two million Kenya Shillings, and not more than four million Kenya Shillings, or imprisonment of a term of not less than one year but not more than four years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

If this sounds Draconian, it’s because it is. Plastic bags are such everyday things in Kenya that many people can’t imagine their lives without them. We are accustomed to buying fruits, vegetables and other household goods and having them packed in plastic bags. When we buy fruits, roast maize or even roast meat on the roadside, the vendor will most times have their hands covered in a clear polythene bag so as not to directly touch/possibly contaminate our food. This is because it is difficult to maintain good hygiene given the limited access to tap water in many places. We have even had cholera outbreaks for this reason. In informal settlements, due to the lack of a proper sewage/waste management system and sanitation facilities, flying toilets (where people relieve themselves and throw the plastic bag out) have been the norm.

Because of the central role plastic bags play in Kenyans’ lives, many understandably panicked when they realized that this time the country was actually going through with the ban. Questions were asked (and continue to be asked) about the extent of the ban – it was these questions that led to garbage bin liners to be excluded from it. Even more questions need to be asked.

For example, why is it that government agencies chose to be antagonistic about the ban’s implementation? Many Kenyans reported being stopped on the streets for random police searches without warrants, and when found with plastic bags, being extorted for a bribe in order to be released. This led to scaremongering online until NEMA clarified that it had not sanctioned these searches, and that their initial target with regards to compliance was manufacturers and suppliers. Why was this not communicated beforehand to avoid the seemingly unavoidable victimization of Kenyan citizens by state organs? Why is it that we keep paying for state laxity?

Something else that stands to me was that there seemed to be little concern over the jobs that would be lost – the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) estimated that over 60,000 jobs would be lost and 176 manufacturers closed. This is not to say that the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags should continue, but to ask why we care so little about the incomes of average Kenyans. Are there any efforts to ensure that they are able to find other jobs? If their skills are highly specialized, are we thinking of how they could be retrained for other opportunities? Or does that not matter in Kenya?

The ban is also a continuation of the Kenyan policy mindset that prefers punishment to reinforcement. Why? As opposed to long jail terms and Draconian fines intended to decrease the manufacture, import, sale and use of plastic bags, why not treat Kenyans as allies, as opposed to enemies? This would involve educating Kenyans on why we are banning plastics, and taking them along on a journey – from conceptualization to actualization – until we reduce and afterwards end the use of plastic bags. What are the viable alternatives for plastic bags in all the scenarios they are used in Kenya? What do people do with the stash of plastic bags they have at home?

We need to understand why plastic bags are such a key feature of Kenyan life. Perhaps, however, we do already understand. It is the work of our national and county governments to guarantee our health and safety – something at which they have failed consistently in the recent past. When people use flying toilets, it is because of government failure. When people are unable to have accessible/reliable water supply and have to wrap their hands in plastic bags, it is because of government failure. When people pay private garbage collection services, it is because of government failure. It could be that the state is well aware of this, and as opposed to fixing the situation, it is committed to band aid solutions that fight the symptoms but not the disease.

I am fully behind global and local efforts to end the use of plastic bags (and plastic in general) in favour of eco-friendly alternatives. However, these efforts need to centre the people they affect. We need to ask ourselves what failures got us here as a world, and as a country, and how we can solve them with the majority’s buy in, while providing viable solutions. The reason plastic bag use is so prevalent in Kenya is because of system failures. Until we fix these failures, the use of plastic bags will continue to be a problem.

What We Learn From Building Collapses in Kenya

Brenda Wambui
20 June ,2017

On the night of Monday, 12th June 2017, a seven storey building collapsed in Kware Pipeline in Embakasi. This building had been condemned by the National Construction Authority (NCA), and marked with an X on the outside to indicate this. The tenants in the building had been warned of its collapse, and most of them had evacuated it. They did so after cracks opened up in its walls and it was visible that the building would not survive much longer. However, they said “two to ten or more people were missing” having refused to leave the building when they were warned.

By Tuesday morning, St. John Ambulance established that 15 people were missing. The owner could not be traced. They only knew him by one name – Karanja. A Nairobi Lands executive said that Kware area was unplanned, and that no developments were allowed there. However, most of the developers there “were brought” by politicians. In the rubble, one could see many personal belongings, such as jerricans. Residents of Kware, angry about the slow pace at which government operators were carrying out the rescue mission, threw stones. In turn, the police fired tear gas at them, slowing down the whole operation. This is not the first time that buildings have collapsed in Kenya, killing people in the process.

On the night of 29th April 2016, during the heavy rains season, at least 12 people were killed when a six storey building in Huruma collapsed, and over 130 people were injured. Rescue teams were late to the scene of the collapse, no doubt leading to more people dying, because of traffic jams on the roads due to flooding. The day before that, a wall collapsed on Lenana Road, killing four people. In 2015 alone, eight buildings collapsed killing 15 people. This led to Uhuru Kenyatta ordering a buildings audit, which covered most parts of Eastlands, Dagoretti, Kasarani, Zimmerman, Roysambu, Githurai 44 and 45, Garden Estate, Thome, and Kilimani. This audit, carried out by the NCA, found that 58% of the buildings in Nairobi were unfit for habitation. In early 2015, it was also found that about 60% of buildings under construction in Nyeri, Muranga, Kirinyaga, Laikipia, Embu and Nyandarua counties risked being demolished because they did not comply with the National Construction Authority Act 2014.

The fact that it continues to be possible to put up multi-storey death traps is something we need to question. To begin with, most of these buildings have inadequate foundations vis a vis their size. The owners/developers of these buildings cut costs by not having solid/deep enough foundations, because they are generally costly. In many cases, they also do not consider the solidity of the soil in the area in which they are building. Buildings end up being built in swampy areas, and collapse as a result.

Then, the materials used in construction simply can’t bear the load of some of these buildings. Counterfeit materials are used, and sometimes scrap metal is even substituted for steel. Even when steel is used, it is weaker than what is required to carry the load of the building. The concrete in many of these buildings also tends to be substandard. Even when the right materials are available, sometimes the workers make mistakes, many of which can be attributed to poor training and lack of skills. Badly mixed concrete, for example, even when it is of the correct quality, may still be unable to carry the load of the building. The reason these workers are hired in the first place yet they lack the skill is because building owners/developers want to cut costs.

This is the same reason why many of these buildings tend not to have involved an architect or engineer when being constructed. As a result, we get buildings that are structurally weak, and that will eventually collapse. The strength of these buildings also isn’t tested, yet this is supposed to happen according to the law. This happens for the same reasons that these buildings are able to be constructed in the first place – at every stage of construction, there are many building owners/developers looking to cut corners and save money, and willing bribe takers that are part of the system supposed to enforce our regulations who enable them by looking the other way. The people who die when these buildings collapse are victims of greed and corruption.

It would seem that much of the available housing that is unfit for habitation is in low income urban areas. Buildings in middle and high income areas are mostly safe. It becomes apparent that we do not care about poor people in this country. This is why people in the slums do not have running water; why the hygiene in their neighbourhoods is poor, and sanitation facilities scanty. Why we don’t care that they can’t afford cleaner forms of fuel and have to use charcoal to cook. Why we are only concerned once something disastrous happens. Like flooding, or a fire. Or a building collapse.

The collapse of the building in Kware, and the many others before it, is a direct consequence of the corruption and greed that we allow to run our country. It is proof that corruption kills. It is an indictment of our systems and institutions, and until we change them, Kenyans (disproportionately the poor) will continue to die.

The Northern Collector Tunnel

Brenda Wambui
11 October ,2016

For lovers of drama, Kenya’s politics never seem to disappoint, and yesterday was no different. On 10th October 2016, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s former Prime Minister, held a press conference to reveal the details of a project he says the current government has been hiding from Kenyans.

Mr. Odinga said that just above the Murang’a region, in the Aberdares, there was a tunnel, known as The Northern Collector Tunnel, and that its effects would be some of the worst the country and the continent have seen. The source of many rivers is the Aberdares, and he says that this tunnel will divert this water to Ndakaini dam in Thika for consumption in Nairobi. According to him, this project began in 2014.

He says that seven rivers, all of which feed into the River Tana, are targeted – this river is the longest river in Kenya, and its annual flow is 5,000 million cubic metres (5 trillion litres), and it is Kenya’s most important river, feeding Kindaruma, Kamburu, Gitaru, Masinga and Kiambere dams. The river and its tributaries pass through many Kenyan regions, such as Meru, Kitui, Garissa and Garsen, and it is a source of livelihood for communities in these areas.

Mr. Odinga cites that though the World Bank (and the French government) are funding the project, whose cost he states is KES 6.8 billion, they classify it as a Category A project. The World Bank has safeguard policies whose objectives are to ensure that they/their projects do no harm by protecting people and the environment from adverse impacts, do good by enhancing social equity, reduce and manage risk both for the World Bank and the clients in question, and respond to a worldwide constituency.

A project in Category A means that the potential impact is broad, diverse, and potentially irreversible. It involves large scale conversion/degradation of natural habitats, extraction/conversion of substantial amounts of forest and major resettlement of people; and involves production, use or disposal of hazardous materials, as well as direct discharge of pollutants resulting in degradation of air, water or soil. Think about it – what if government had a project running that involves the felling of most, if not all, of Karura forest? We’d go ballistic, rightly so. Only that the effects of this collector tunnel will be much worse given the size and importance of Tana River.

Raila Odinga says that the terms of reference for the conduct of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) were not approved until July 2014, and the EIA report was not approved till November 2014. The NEMA license was also not issued until February 2015, yet the government commissioned and began construction anyway. This is very callous, and very uncharacteristic for a government that likes to announce and launch all its projects and even take credit for those of the previous government that have only been completed during their time.

Hydrogeology (the geology of water occurring under the earth) is an important factor to consider when carrying out such a project, especially for a river as big as Tana, which draws its water from several other rivers flowing through different areas. The influence of such a tunnel must be studied in order to evaluate changes in volume and direction of surface and groundwater flow, modifications to water channels due to increases or decreases in sediment load, damage to adjacent aquatic ecosystems, and possible water quality contamination.

When a tunnel is built, it lowers the groundwater table, drying up wells and natural springs. Raila Odinga correctly states that severe loss of water on the Tana River will lead to drying up of both ground and underground rivers and streams in Garissa, Ukambani and Tana River Delta, and that the larger Murang’a, Garissa, Ukambani and the Tana River Delta region will be deserts within five years of this project. In Murang’a alone, he states that 77 species of aqua life which include 7 species of fish are expected to be extinguished.

I wonder, since hydroelectricity is our main source of power in this country and the Tana River feeds the Seven Forks scheme, what he government’s plan is with regards to this. Are they going to have enough capacity to generate power for the nation using geothermal, wind and solar energy? Is this why we are pushing forward with an ill-advised coal power plant in Lamu, despite protests by the people who live there?

Murang’a also experiences landslides more frequently than all other parts of the country due to rainfall and human activity. It also doesn’t help that it’s a mountainous region. These landslides are caused by sedimentation due to the steepness of the area, as well as water movement. So you can imagine what a project that affects both the earth and the water underground in the area will do to Murang’a and its people.

What worries me the most is the blasé attitude of the government. National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said that Mr. Odinga was actually the one who launched the project four years ago, alongside Charity Ngilu, and that he’d termed the project noble. He hypothesized that Raila Odinga was unhappy with who won the tender, since he had favoured another contractor who would have given him a 10% cut. Aden Duale did not deny the existence of the project, though.

It no longer surprises me that this is the sort of reaction the government would have towards questions about a project that will undoubtedly affect the lives of millions. They probably do not care, otherwise they would have made more of an effort to involve the public, especially those who live in the Tana River basin. They would also have come clean, offered an apology and addressed the concerns stated above. But I guess this is what matters when your government thinks you are disposable – your opinions on matters that ultimately affect your life don’t matter. Neither do you.

Edgelands: A New Reading of the City

Guest Writer
15 March ,2016

by Kahira Ngige

“…one such concept is that of “urban metabolism”, which refers to the metabolic processes by which cities transform raw materials, energy and water into the built environment, human biomass and waste. The adoption of this concept has fostered new imaginations of what the city is and how material and immaterial flows – through infrastructure, through different economies – mediate the production and reproduction of the city, both as a biophysical and socio-economic entity…”

The control of biological processes has governed the theory and practice of modern town planning since at least the 19th century. We call the output of this thinking the Hygienic City. Modernity is the antithesis of metabolism – it does not allow for failure or disruption or reinvention. The city is predictable. Raw materials flow in – capital flows out.

In reading the city we look for instances of troubling – at how the linear process of modernity is subverted by biological super-systems. To do so we look at sites such as Dandora and Kibera – the City Apocalyptic. Monstrosity begins to creep into the urban imagination and spatial notions such as scale, mass and size are inadequate in contemplating the ecological implications of these mutations.

They cannot be read quantitatively but as specters of past mistakes or, as one may be tempted to call them, imminent doom. At the same time we must be careful not to analyze these manifestations through hygienist principals of what cities should be (or rather how the detritus of city function should be offset and hidden by a spatial logic). Instead, we look at instances of adaptation and alternative scenarios – the dumpsite as gold mine, the proto-formal recycling and upcycling processes, the cottage industries that feed off these monstrosities.

Examining the human subject within this city of constant change and decay, we wonder about the limits of the body in surviving this landscape. For this we have public health records to turn to. Looking at incidences of mental diseases, respiratory ailments and mortality rates. The “host” city rebels.

The more important question is, how does the body interface with this urban environment that is often hostile? This symbiosis of bio-mechanical systems, city governance and control, and ecological catastrophe present itself in highly unusual ways. The diseased body is the epitome and the output of the metabolic city.

While the city’s failure is largely recognized by all, the scale of catastrophe is masked in a kind of coded double speak. The State for all intents and purposes views failure as temporal – existing in the now rather than in some idealized future. I therefore critique Utopias like Konza City that reject metabolic process and historic precedent.

In both modernity and State Utopias we find that the human subject is a being to be perfected, controlled and bred. In the Nairobi of the mid-20th century, racial stratification was coded in the everyday narrative of technological progress. In utopias of the future, class distinction is celebrated above all else.

This brings us to the issue of marginality –how the limitations of state power create the grey zones where the urban boundary meets nowhere. These are the graveyards of past mistakes and radioactive truths. Sites of new housing for the poor rooted out of slums and ghettos (the products of monstrosity) are in themselves curious in biological role and economic function.

The ecology of the city, whether in the sewer network, parks, forests or the in-between spaces is a microcosm of the city. It’s a living, breathing organ underneath the tarmac, railroads and glass towers. Embedded within this ecology are veins of optic fiber and copper – our nervous system – the system of technological control. This complexity mirrors the body and is in a way, symbiotic. Technological advances and ecological catastrophes demand a new reading of the contemporary city.

In thinking about complexity we use the “cyborg” as a metaphor of the abstract organic and inorganic processes that constitute the Urban. In thinking about the relationships between city, subject and ecology we begin to table a discourse that exists in reality and in the abstract world of imagination. Meshing the language and syntax of metabolism with the techno-capitalist jargon creates a scenario of limitless potential seeing as the city is made up of the sum of all these interactions and more.

The intermixing of the corporeal body and the hybrid technological innovations that are the extensions of our biological selves creates an environment of hyper-awareness. The cyborg metaphor is therefore the critical lens through which complexity; virtuality and technology intersect with notions of self, the governed, and increasingly, the politics of the governed.

Rounding off this idea of metabolism in relation to the city and the body we come to the realization that the multiplicity of city life is a reflection of the extended identity if the body. Our “real” selves and our various virtual, cyber and genetically manipulated “selves” operate under complex systems of control and feedback –this is the urban system. The grey contact zones of bare life and marginality therefore operate on a level of absolute precariousness.

The antithesis to this prevailing logic is the nature of human self-organization and the replication of support systems and networks in the absence of state control and provision. Thus, parallel systems of food production and the dissemination of illegal water connections coupled with the use of mobile devices to undertake financial transactions at all levels is a fusion of this thing we call “informality” with the highly structured apparatus of a technically advanced financial system. The marginalized, reduced to a life of mere existence, find ways to feed off the system.

In looking at metabolism we reject formal distinctions of the colonial city, with its roots in phrenology, eugenics and medical practice. In reading disruption in the city we look for moments of chaos and the chaotic whole.

The ignorance of history (especially the Colonial) and specific cultural practices renders the state sanctioned claim to modernity hollow. In relation to the city and the body, or more specifically, the subject and the covert system of control, we begin to outline the demarcations of state led amnesia.

Reading the city becomes an exercise in unpacking our lives.

Kahira Ngige is an urban planner living and working in London.

Why Your Power Bill Will Not Be Reduced By 30% – At Least Not Yet

Guest Writer
28 October ,2014

by Anonymous

“My government will be able to cut the cost of power by 30%”

President Uhuru Kenyatta

The statement above captions the overarching sentiment at the launch of the 140 MW Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The event was dubbed as the first tangible step towards the Jubilee government’s ambitious endeavour to increase Kenya’s electricity generation mix by another 5,000 MW in less than 5 years.

The event was also a demonstration of this government’s shift from the old guard (or from analogue to digital, as they would say). The tradition has been dull launch ceremonies at which a red ribbon is cut over a stone bearing the name of the President at the time (this still happened). However, this government also treated Kenyans to the pomp and flair of large screens, on-stage conversations and banter between the deputy and the President, as well plenty of Facebook photos of him doing presidential things, as new age democracy demands.

The addition of 140 MW of renewable energy is a feat worth commendation. Kenya has the potential to generate 7 to 10 gigawatts ¹ (GW – that is, 1000 MW) from geothermal energy alone. The demonstration of the government’s continued support of the energy sector and electricity sub sector is an important indicator for both local and foreign private investor companies (called Independent Power Producers or IPPs).

Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir was not quite accurate in describing the Olkaria IV power plant as the largest power plant in the world – that title is held by the Hellisheiði Power Station, with a nominal capacity of 303 MW of electricity ². Kenya’s continued efforts in geothermal energy development will however position the country as a world leader in the adoption and commercialization of this energy source. For that, we have the efforts of both the Kibaki and Uhuru administrations to thank (though the Olkaria IV project is largely attributable to the efforts of Kengen under the Kibaki administration owing to the fact that the feasibility study for the project was completed in August 2009 ³).

The issue at hand is that the government has given a very specific target (i.e. a 30% price reduction) but has not highlighted how it will be achieved. We will look at some key questions that I feel should have been addressed by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Kenya Power and the Ministry of Energy.

The Nature of Our Power Industry

Figure 1 - Kenya Power Post

Figure 1: Kenya Power Generation Mix in MW produced by different technologies in the energy sector 4

The chart above highlights Kenya’s electricity generation mix. The chart does not include non operational power plants, and only factors in the effective rather than the nominal capacity of the respective power plants (meaning the actual MW power contribution that the power plants can produce rather than their production potential when they were designed). The values used are those reported by Kenya Power as at June 2013, and they do not include any off-grid power stations or emergency power generation units, which are largely thermal based (thermal power stations are those power plants which generate electricity by burning fuels such as diesel and heavy fuel oil to produce electricity). Kenya’s official generation capacity is approximately 1941 MW (whose distribution still stands in close proximity to the representation to the chart in Figure 1).

140 MW is 7.213% of the total electricity generation mix. This may seem small, but in the electricity sub sector it is significant. Rather, it would be, but there’s a catch. Kenya has signed contractual agreements (called Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to purchase power from thermal power stations in Thika (80 MW) and two in Athi River (at 80 and 83 MW respectively)).

“This is a reality”

Deputy President William Ruto

The Burden of Existing Commitments

The addition of another 243 MW from heavily priced thermal stations almost negates the comparative benefit of 140 MW recently added, as well as that of the 140 MW expected to be added by December 2014.

Electricity is a commodity which is traded similarly to wheat or maize. Kenya Power buys electricity from Kengen (which partly state owned) and other IPPs at a tariff which is set for the lifetime of the project on a take or pay basis (typically for a 20 year period 5). This in effect means that Kenya Power has an obligation to pay all power producers for electricity generated whether or not the company needs the power produced, or more likely, if the grid cannot absorb the power generated.

What does this mean?

Let’s examine what Kenya Power’s bill will look like at the end of 2015 for its obligations to the Olkaria Plant vis-à-vis the combined thermal plants:

Step 1: Calculate the total energy produced:

Multiply the capacity of the plant by the number of hours it will produce electricity for in a year by its capacity factor (which is basically the ratio of a power plant’s actual production capacity compared to its nominal production capacity).

Thermal Power Plants:

243 MW (nominal capacity) × (24 × 365) (hours in 2015) × 65% 6 (plant capacity factor)= 1,383, 642 kwh

Geothermal Power Plants:

280 MW (nominal capacity) × (24 × 365) (hours in 2015) × 96% (plant capacity factor) = 2,354,688 kwh

Step 2: Calculate the Bill:

Multiply the kwh generated by the set tariff (which averages at 22 US Cents for thermal power plants, and 7 cents for geothermal power plants).

Thermal Bill:

1,383, 642 × 0.22 = 304,401 USD

Geothermal Bill:

2,354,688 × 0.07 = 164,828.16 USD

In this scenario, Kenya is generating 70% more electricity from the two Olkaria plants than it does from the three thermal stations, and at 54% less of the cost. (This analysis will be revisited later, in the discussion on Kenya Power.) This is why geothermal energy is brilliant for our grid: we have a lot of it, and in the long run it is quite cheap.

How fast can Kenya Power reduce your bill by 30%? To answer that question, we need to look at the company.

Kenya Power

The first analysis of Kenya Power is an examination of its actual bills from 2012 – 2013 (at which point Kenya only had 245.4 MW of geothermal energy tied to the grid). This demonstration will extrapolate the previous discussion on the comparative costs from thermal energy.

Figure 2 - Kenya Power Post

Figure 2: Kenya Powers payments for electricity purchased from IPPs as well as the pass through fuel costs which you pay directly in your electricity bill 8

31% of Kenya Power’s power purchase costs in 2013 were from thermal sources, including the 9.3% of thermal contribution to Kengen’s portfolio. Worse still, the consumer spent more on fuel costs (fuel costs are pass through costs, meaning that the consumer pays them directly, not Kenya Power) than he/she did for actual purchase of power.  Fuel costs were approximately double the power purchase cost in both 2012 and 2013.

Whether or not we can add the planned 5,000 MW to the national grid is not up for debate – the question remains how fast we can do it. This is an important question because timing is everything in energy transactions, moreso when elections are on the horizon as they will be in 2016/2017 when this government plans to switch on the last MW in the cumulative tranche of 5,000.

Timing is important for another reason – Kenya Power has committed to pay the thermal based power stations for at least 20 years, with you, the consumer, paying the fuel costs (which are almost double what Kenya Power pays these IPPs).

For Kenya Power to have a sustained reduction in the cost of power, it must not only increase cheap energy sources like geothermal, but also taper its exposure to thermal power in the short term. Therefore, it stands to reason that with 243 MW of thermal power yet to be added to the grid within the next year, any power cost reduction gains made from the additional geothermal would be lost if there were to be any variation in the international cost of crude oil.

Oil prices are pretty volatile – almost in the manner of the four seasons. Oil enjoys tranquillity (low cost) in its summer and spring months only to return to furious and vengefully brutal cold in the fall and winter months when the price shoots up. Unlike the meteorology departments that can “accurately” predict weather, we cannot forecast the price of crude oil. What we do know is that this trend is cyclical, and the price will eventually go up.

Truth is singular – it affords no person the privilege of making derivatives of it, nor are any diversions from it permissible.

The truth is this, Mr. President – you have enough resources within Kenya’s renewables to power this country, but to see a dramatic reduction in power costs you must put a date on which the last thermal power plant will be connected and thereafter rapidly seek the liberalization of the distribution of electricity. Cut off the chains from the unnecessary monstrosity that is thermally generated electricity and you can finally deliver freedom to an industry and a people that are desperately ready for such a revolutionary stand. To do this would finally grant the Kenyan people their long deserved (energy) independence and their freedom.


1 Hussein. M. Fatumah. Kenya’s Experience In Renewable Energy- UNFCCC. ADP 2.4 SESSION (March, 2014).

2 Hellisheiði Power Station official website. http://www.or.is/en/projects/hellisheidi-geothermal-plant

3 Olkaria IV Geothermal Project. Project Design Document Version 03. 7/11/2012. http://cdm.unfccc.int/filestorage/g/s/CNUDEWM3VTYP91GBOZQ7XJA8HIS240.pdf/Olkaria%20IV%20Geothermal%20Power%20Project_PDD%20ver03.pdf?t=aFh8bmR1OW9ifDCytxgZUwOnjo3EpQy1TdEj

4 Statistics derived from the Kenya Power Annual Report 2013 and the ERC list of Electric Power Generation Licences Issued by ERC to date

5 Njagi K. Laurencia  Public Private Partnerships In The Power Sector In Kenya. Law, Justice and Development Week 2012

6 Capacity factors are project specific. The value of 65% has been selected as a conservative estimate from Gulf Power’s 83 MW project in Athi River. https://ifcndd.ifc.org/ifcext/spiwebsite1.nsf/DocsByUNIDForPrint/449695DFAAF3B48B852578A100762CD6?opendocument

7 http://geo-energy.org/reports/Geothermal%20Risks_Publication_2_4_2014.pdf

8 Statistics derived from the Kenya Power Annual Report 2013

And Then They Came For Me

Guest Writer
16 September ,2014

by Asha Jaffar

“I have been living in Kibera for 34 years. I’m now moved to an 8×8 room with my family.”

Victim of the demolition

It has always been happening.

I can’t remember when it started but it’s been going on for very long and I’m tired of it. It gets tiring having your homes destroyed in the name of development. It gets very tiring.

Development, injustice and the courts are the three things here. These are the things Kenya needs to redefine. Or, at least, try to understand.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The beginning, as always, is a question: Why are projects passed through Kibera without ever being for Kibera? The railway, the southern bypass – these passed through us (residents of Kibera). We have received no benefits from these programmes. Our homes have been destroyed. Our roads are still bad. Our schools and hospitals are struggling. This is the development I’m waiting to hear about. Instead they brought more bulldozers.

“The prime duty of the police is to maintain law and order. It’s such a shame when they become an accomplice in protecting goons.”

Ezra Randy

In 2009, after a few months in government allocated housing near Langata Women’s Prison, many families moved back to Kibera – they could not afford the rent.

On 12th January 2012, under the guise of upgrading slums, many of them were rendered homeless. Despite a court injunction staying the demolitions for another five days, their homes were destroyed.

No one spoke about this.

“I am a firm believer that the National Land Policy and Evictions and Resettlement bill is adopted.”

Dan Orogo

Still in 2012, more houses were brought down to pave way for the Southern bypass. The bypass would stretch from Mombasa Road, past Ole Sereni Hotel to Langata Road, through the Nairobi National Park and move through Kibera to join the Nairobi – Nakuru highway at Rironi, near Limuru. The government promised to compensate the National Park but has said nothing about the Kibera residents whose houses were demolished.

Who will speak for us?

“Will the government come up with another act like of the national park and compensate the people whose houses have been demolished?

Will the government give the people another land given that it has taken from them what they used to call home?”

Voice Of Kibera

I saw it all. On the morning of 8th September 2014, we got a call from one of the women living around the Railway area-42. She told us that houses were being demolished. They did not even give people time to salvage their belongings. Construction company H-Young was contracted by Kenya Railways to demolish houses. This was stopped after residents went to court, buying time until the case is heard on 14th October 2014.

This didn’t stop H-Young as they tried to demolish the houses in August 2014. The community resisted them and they had to leave. In September, hired goons came and demolished the houses. H-Young has not officially accepted that they were behind the recent demolitions, but they have not denied it either. We strongly suspect it was them.

Daniel Nguka, one of the people responsible for the demolition, was arrested after we made a lot of noise on Twitter last week. He was charged with robbery with violence but was later released on bond. Who does Daniel represent? Who is he working for? Why did he take charge in demolishing houses?

“I was battered and harassed.  I am pregnant but they did not have any mercy. They stepped on my stomach and currently I don’t know if I might have complications regarding my pregnancy.”

One of the victims

11,000 families are to be moved by Kenya Railways, starting this September, from Kibera and Mukuru. How can Kenya Railways go against a court order?  How can they go against the agreements they made with the people living along the railways regarding compensation? More importantly, how can they do all this without consequence?

Petition no. 239-Milimani Court: –




Upon reading the application presented to this court on 3oth July 2014 by counsel for the petition under Article 23(3) 9C of the constitution of Kenya and rules 23 and 24 of the constitution of Kenya (Protection of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) High court practice and procedure rules 2013, AND UPON READING the supporting Affidavits of KEPHA ONJOUR sworn on 22nd May 2014 together with annexures thereto AND UPON HEARING counsel for the petitioners counsel for the 2nd respondent and counsel for the 1st respondent.


THAT mention for further directions and orders on 14th October,2014
THAT in the meantime status quo be maintained.

We took to Twitter to tell our story (under the hashtag #kiberademolitions) because that was the only way we thought the world would listen. It worked. We  got our M.P. to call on Kenya Railways and stop the demolitions. After countless tweets and texts, Kilimani police station sent 9 policemen who arrested the people who were demolishing those houses.  They were charged then released on bail. We are now trying to get our M.P., Ken Okoth, to table this issue in parliament

“The corporation received a Sh 3.9 billion ($45 million) loan from the World Bank for constructing alternative housing units for affected families.”

Business Daily

Many of the families I spoke to had their names removed from the list of the affected persons and were calling upon the M.P. to ask the World Bank to provide the enumeration list that was done in 2010. They were also asking for a new transparent enumeration process.

The World Bank has rules and regulations on how to deal with people. Every single thing we have seen here breaks those rules. Compensation was agreed upon – it did not happen. Still, the World Bank backs this project.

“It has taken along time for the Kenya Railway Corporation and Pamoja Trust to implement the relocation project of the people living and doing businesses along the railway line in Kibera,the process involved a very high level of consultations with all the stake holders involved.

The new buildings built around Jamhuri to accommodate the replaced individuals better referred to as Project Affected Persons (PAPS) has raised more heat, Kibera residents are feeling short changed since most of what they see are not as per the agreement in the Relocation Action Plan Document (RAP)so they have convened 4 meetings to engage the Pamoja Trust and Kenya Railway demanding for explanation.”

Voice Of Kibera

Kenya Railways never attended the aforementioned meeting, or any other for that matter. We have tried to meet with them repeatedly, and they have postponed the meeting for the fourth time now.

This campaign, like the issue, is on-going. We are not done. We are currently fundraising for the ten families affected. We are still looking to meet Kenya Railways. We will still go to court. It’s always been happening.

It needs to stop.

Asha Jaffar is a writer, poet and activist who believes that speaking is the only thing that’s going to help us change the world. Follow her on Twitter @AshaJaffar and follow/support her cause at #kiberademolitions

My Day With Al Gore

Guest Writer
8 April ,2014

by Kristin Muthui

One thing that is becoming very clear, as people continue to argue about climate change and its impact on society, is that if we want to change the situation, we need to address inequality before it threatens our way of life.

On a global level, this manifests itself in the strange mechanisms that have been developed to solve the problem. For example, getting people in rural Africa and Asia to stop using firewood for cooking and start using ‘efficient’ stoves and switching to bio pellets and solar energy cookers, while companies continue to dig for oil, run huge industries on coal and encourage rich countries to consume even more.

Climate scientists have started talking about doomsday scenarios, or what we can call the “Easter Island theory” – where an entire civilization collapses because the ecosystem was completely destroyed. It has happened over and over again in history – even in Africa – with the Rozi, Great Zimbabwe, the Egyptians, and the Romans.

Developed countries will be shielded from the worst of the damage caused by climate change – they have purchasing power and strong systems. But again, as more and more people fail to be able to survive, the chickens will eventually come home to roost.

This brings me back to the Climate Reality leadership training I recently attended. It was wonderful. We listened to inspiring men and women, such as Wanjiru Mathai, who spoke to us about climate related challenges facing Africans today, and how they are mobilizing communities with practical solutions that tackle both climate change and social injustice to improve their lives.

Then we had a full day with Al Gore, who is famous for bringing issue of climate change to ordinary people when he released his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. He has continued to encourage ordinary individuals to agitate for change through their personal networks and within their communities. The man oozes optimism and charisma, and has only one message to sell: Every individual has a personal obligation to fight against climate change, especially because the survival of the human race depends on it.

I was inspired by the young African entrepreneurs that came to speak to us. Two in particular caught my attention, as they were both from East Africa.

These boys share many similarities – they both grew up in the rural areas, and both spotted problems in their villages that they wanted to solve. One got the chance to go to university, the other did not. Both are successful entrepreneurs today, providing renewable energy (solar panels and lamps) to rural Africans.

We all know or have heard of people like these who beat incredible odds to make something out of themselves. They may not be billionaires or in power, but they have managed to lift themselves out of poverty, got themselves an education and are now fully functioning, confident members of society.

This is an example of the kind of Africa we live in. On one hand, you have people like me – urban, well-educated and obsessed with acquiring stuff, criticizing Western media for making Africa look like a shit hole and aspiring (consciously or unconsciously) to live up to what I imagine are Western ideals.

I don’t have any creative ideas to solve challenges in my society – I’m too busy fighting to get my little trappings – a nice phone, a good job, maybe even a nice car.

On the other hand, you have the rest of our population – disenfranchised, facing basic problems such as how to get food on the table, how to go to school and keep surviving in an environment that seems to crush you at every turn.

Like many Africans, I am keenly aware of this divide – but I am not sure how to bridge it. It can be awkward for us in many ways – for example, the misconception that I am somehow arrogant and feel myself superior for what was given to me without a day’s effort in my life.

Some of it is the fear that I will be perceived as arrogant and conceited by my less fortunate peers. I also imagine the sense of inadequacy some people may face. Because as much as our society is divided along tribal lines, we all know that the “money vs non-money” is much more pervasive.

“For them, it is about doing something to make them feel good. But for us it is about survival.”

This is what one young man running a youth group explained to me.

I knew what he meant. That the boy who started a business selling solar panels did not do it because he wanted to change the world – he did it because he needed to make money.

On one hand, middle class young people have education and intangible resources such as networks, access to information and strong role models to shape their safe little dreams. On the other hand, young people in rural areas and disadvantaged urban areas have the great ideas and the tenacity to bring them to life, simply because it is sink-or-swim for them.

What would happen if we brought ourselves together and united as young people, instead of rigidly separating ourselves based on the achievements of our parents? What if we actually came together – masters of social media and Twitter activism – with the folk willing and ready to go out and protest in the streets?

What kind of awesome ideas would come forth from this more open society? And what does this have to do with Al Gore and climate change?

Fighting for a more just society is intrinsically linked to fighting for a more sustainable society. But coming together, and no longer hiding behind clever social media updates and wordy blog posts, is critical if we want to see any kind of change.

There is a deep cynicism that has overtaken the youth, not only in Kenya but in Africa as a whole. We would rather talk about how society will never change and how our politicians will be forever corrupt. We think that we are being clever with this kind of thinking but the truth is we have disempowered ourselves.

Someone made an interesting comment recently: That young people in the world today are in a kind of ‘Animal Farm’ exercise. We criticize the system not because we hate it, but because we long to be a part of it and resent being excluded. We haven’t ‘owned’ our generation yet.

What can we do about it?

The easiest and most comfortable thing is to start changing the discussion. It is happening already. Kenyans on Twitter, when not launching scathing attacks on random objects, are a force to reckon with. Food drives, searching for missing people, raising funds, they can really do it all.

So why not start a new discussion? A discussion about what we can start doing today? Why not encourage each other instead of perpetually encouraging negativity?

The next step follows naturally. Organising ourselves for our causes using existing organisations or by creating new ones. Getting out there and roping in our friends and family to our cause.

Finally, when we have critical mass, we can stand as one voice and do the unimaginable – demand that our governments respect us and do as we demand.

The truth is, I did not need Al Gore to tell me that climate change is real. But I did need him to remind me that I have a responsibility to be part of the solution to our generation’s problems, because no one else will do it for me.

Kristin is particularly sensitive to environmental and social issues. She has a degree in Business Management that she doesn’t use and hopes to make a real contribution to climate change solutions someday in the future. Follow her on Twitter @mumbiwairimu