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STATE HOUSE SQUATTERS

Squatters next to State Lodge Published on September 22, 2007, 12:00 am By Moses Njagih

They have chosen unlikely place to wait for land from the Government – next to a State lodge.

 For these squatters, the wait has been long – really long.For over 17 years, they have braved hardships and miseries of living in temporary shelters.Most of them live along a road reserve less than two kilometres from Sagana State Lodge.

Gatundu North Mp, Mr Patrick Muiruri (left) Lands minister, Prof Kivutha Kibwana and Gatundu DC, Mr Dan Mesis, when they visited the squatters in Kieni forest. Picture by John Muchucha

From their often chilly and squalid surroundings, the irony of the glitter of Sagana State Lodge reflects on them, representing the presidential authority that could deliver them from their dire want. Poverty has gnawed their wait continuously while hygienic conditions in their dwelling decline progressively.Each rising day brightens their hope that the Government, which ruthlessly evicted them from the only place they knew as home, would respond to their cries and resettle them.It is almost two decades since the squatters, who are now living along the road reserves in Mathira — in what has come to be referred to as Muoroto slums — were kicked out of Mt Kenya forest.Security personnel, they recount to anyone who choose to hear, ruthlessly torched their houses. The flame consumed all their property. Nothing was saved and in less than 20 minutes, they had been reduced to paupers. They neither had anything nor anywhere to go.

Little did they know that the shanties would be their homes.

 

Empty promises

 Like many other squatters in Muoroto slums of Kagochi, Kiaruhiu and Iruri, Ms Margaret Wanjiru has chosen to wait for the Government, which for years, has promised to resettle them.The squatters, who were living in Ragati, Hombe and Chehe forests, which form part of the larger Mt Kenya forest, were evicted between 1989 and 1994.

This was part of the Government programme aimed at ridding forests of squatters. After the eviction, the Government promised to buy land where it would resettle them. That is when the wait began.

 

Years have passed since that promise was made and the more 750 families of squatters are still waiting.

 

Although they were initially optimistic that the wait would end, many are now worried the Government might not honour its promise. Many have grown weary.

 

Senior Government officials, including the First Lady, Mrs Lucy Kibaki and Lands and Settlement minister, Prof Kivutha Kibwana, have visited them, giving promises that the long wait is about to end.

 

“When Kibwana told us in March that we will be out of this place by June, we were optimistic and we began the countdown. But June came and passed,” says Mr James Maina Mugo, the secretary of a group of evictees agitating for resettlement.

 After the lapse of Kibwana’s period, the First Lady, may be on her way to the lodge, called on the squatters. The visit renewed their hopes.

“No human being should be living under the conditions that you are in. President Kibaki’s Government will ensure that you are moved from here to a better place before the General Election. I am asking you to exercise patience, as you have over the years,” Mrs Kibaki told the squatters when she addressed them at Sagana Primary School, a short distance from the lodge.

 

Kibwana told them plan to buy part of the expansive Solio Ranch, which had been earmarked for resettlement of the squatters, was under way. And the poor, landless, homeless and almost hopeless people were elated.

 

One of the directors of Solio Ranch, Mr Edward Parfet said recently in a statement to The Saturday Standard that the ranch management had negotiated with the Government to sell 15,000 acres at Sh85,000 per acre.

 

Four boreholes and access roads serve the area, which the ranch management has set aside for sale.

 

But it was not long before local politicians poked holes into the deal. They complained that the land was over-priced.

 

The hitch slowed down the sale and became a protracted argument that has gone as far as Parliament where questions about the settlement and Solio ranch have been asked.

 Parfet said Sh85,000 is below the market price, which is between Sh150,000 and Sh200,000.

He added that Solio Ranch would not have sold the land at below the market price except that the Government intended to use it for the settlement of squatters.

 

“We have a letter from the Ministry of Lands confirming that it is satisfied with the price of Sh85,000 per acre,” says Parfet.

 

Contacted, Central PC, Mr Kiplimo Rugut, says his office is waiting for a directive from the Ministry of Lands, before subdivision and resettlement.

 

“I may not say exactly how the plan is proceeding but I know that the Ministry of Lands, the Treasury and the owners of Solio are in serious negotiations,” said Rugut.

 

The PC moved to dispel fears of squatters, promising them that their long wait is about to end.

 

“There is no turning back on this as the Government is committed to keeping its promise to the squatters. There should be no worry as they will be resettled within the time promised by the First Lady,” assured the PC.

 “We are waiting for a go-ahead from the ministry and we are optimistic word will come soon, then we can move in to sub-divide the land and resettle the squatters,” he added.But in the meantime, the squatters will have to wait. 

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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