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Decades-old battle for soul of Shauri Moyo

Alberto Leny @PeopleDailyKe

Residents of Shauri Moyo estate are caught in the middle of a plan to demolish old houses in the sprawling Eastlands division as part of the Nairobi Urban Regeneration Project.

Investigations by People Daily and interviews with residents, whose history is inextricably linked to the birth and growth of the capital city, reveal intrigues dating back to the colonial times and which have persisted to date.

But first, how did Shauri Moyo, now creaking under the weight of neglect, squalor and haphazardly constructed extensions, acquire its Kiswahili name, which, loosely translated, means “it’s up to the soul”?

When the British built the railway line that cut across the city, the area beyond the present day City Stadium, Burma market, all the way past Kamukunji to Karura Forest was a dense bush with thorny acacia trees.

“There were wild animals and the colonialists who built the railway used to tell the native workers that anybody who dared venture there would do so at the risk of being devoured by hyenas, hence they coined the phrase Shauri Moyo,” recalls Mzee Thomas Muturi, a former general artisan with the Kenya-Uganda Railway.

Origin of name

After the British settled into the upper part of Nairobi, the area became the dumping ground for human waste and garbage and also a cemetery before the sewerage system was put in place. As Nairobi grew, the colonial government zoned the city into European, Indian and African residential areas.

Mzee Kalombe wa Ngalu at his Shauri Moyo home which he says he has been living in for five decades.

Shauri Moyo was built in 1932 after the natives’ grass-thatched, mud-walled houses in the current Pangani area were demolished to pave the way for occupation by the Indian community.

Africans displaced from Pangani were resettled in Shauri Moyo as compensation for their houses demolished by the colonial government.   

Now the past has re-ignited intrigues on the housing crisis in Nairobi after  Shauri Moyo and thousands of other houses in the Eastlands built during the colonial era have been declared inhabitable and condemned for demolition.

The other reason is that they occupy large tracts of land that are more cost-effectively utilised by putting up highrise flats that can accommodate more residents while improving on sanitation.    

But there is a catch. The11.6 hectares of prime land adjacent to the central business district stretching to Bahati and Kiambio occupied by the residents do not belong to the Nairobi County Government.

The former Nairobi City Council (NCC) made several attempts to take possession of the land, leading to numerous litigations that it lost and ended in favour of the residents.

Head tenants

Shauri Moyo Plot No 140 has 175 units (each block consisting of six houses) and 22 shops. In November 1973, at a council meeting, NCC directed the landlords of each unit, referred to as ‘head tenants’ be issued with title deeds. Each paid Sh1,060 as survey fees to NCC for the subdivision as members of the Shauri Moyo Ex-Pangani Residents Society was registered in 1974.

The society chairman, Wilson Ogwang’, says in 1979 NCC made a further resolution that they are issued with title deeds. It later notified them that the title deeds plan had come from the Survey of Kenya and asked them to pay Sh3,938,750 to forward to the Lands Office for the issuance of the documents.

Through Rachier and Otiende Amolo Advocates, the society, in November 2014, forwarded the cheque to the Commissioner of Lands for preparation of title. A delegation from the Ministry of Lands visited to confirm the size and location of the society’s land and promised to issue the titles immediately.

But residents of Shauri Moyo are still waiting for the titles. Earlier, the Lands Office wrote to the chairman to bring the documents from NCC so that they could register the lease.

Shauri Moyo resident Thomas Muturi with the writer during an interview. Muturi says he has lived in the estate most of his adult life and does not know any other home.

The then Lands minister James Orengo also got involved in the matter after it emerged that NCC did not want to surrender the land despite earlier council resolutions and had instead attempted to repossess it.

The society started engaging in the legal process to secure the land pitting it against NCC shortly after its establishment in 1974.

In a landmark judgement, then Chief Justice Alfred Simpson, on  December 11, 1980, ruled that NCC could not repossess the houses and could not terminate the landlords (head tenants).

Simpson further ruled that NCC could not directly collect rent and could not reallocate the premises to anybody else except the tenants and ordered NCC to refund all the monies they had illegally collected as rent and pay costs of the High Court Civil Case No.142 of 1980.

Court rulings

According to Ogwang’, NCC has on several occasions influenced tenants to appeal the cases it lost in the matter and even paid for their lawyers, but the appeals (Civil Appeal No. 74 of 1982, Appeal 111 of 1984, 112 of 1987 and 173 of 1995) all flopped. High Court Case 171 of 1981 brought by the aggrieved tenants was also thrown out. All the judgments have been in favour of the society.

In another victory, the head tenants, who appear to be having an uneasy relationship with the tenants occupying the houses, Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch  (she later served at the International Criminal Court at The Hague until two years ago)  had in High Court Case No. 66 of 1997 whose judgment was delivered on March 7, 2002, ruled that persons living in the houses should pay rent directly to head tenants, failure to which they would be evicted.

“This matter has been adjudicated several times by so many judges. There is no need for anyone to go to court on this matter,” Justice Aluoch ruled. 

In a letter to the chairman copied to NCC, then-Attorney  General Amos Wako asked the council to abide by the court order.

Ndung’u report

The society’s chairman, who was accompanied by vice-chairman David Simatei, secretary Joseph Ndung’u Njuguna and treasurer “Councillor” Andrew Mwangi Chui, says the prized land which was previously 68 acres belongs to them.

They said the Njonjo Report,  Ndung’u Report and the court cases confirm the land belongs to the society as per the Carter Commission of 1932-1933, whose original owners were compensated by the colonial government after their houses in Pangani area were demolished.

“When the government wants to demolish the houses, it must negotiate with us, the officials of the society,” says Ogwang’.

However, the head tenants will have to deal with tenants living in the blocks who insist they own the houses so they cannot pay rent.

Jua Kali

Kalombe wa Ngalu, who is in his 90s, says he regards Plot 77 where he lives as his permanent home. “We were told that if we lived here for 50 years, the room would become ours. I have lived here much longer than that, so this is my home,” says Ngalu, who specialised in making sufurias, jikos metal boxes and gutters during his younger days and is regarded as the founder of the Jua Kali sector that has blossomed into a vibrant industry in Shauri Moyo. 

Ownership documents

Jacqueline Olwero, whose father James also lived in the same block, is appealing to the county authorities to consider their plight, especially in the provision of services since they have documents that indicate the houses belong to them.

She recalls that the former city director of planning Tom Odongo was born and brought up in Door Six of the same Plot 77, where his father lived and retired from. Her views are echoed by David Maina who was once arrested for championing the tenants’ cause. 

Another twist to the saga was when former Cabinet minister Maina Wanjigi, and one time MP for Kamukunji, promised that they would be settled in Shauri Moyo but the move failed.

The Shauri Moyo land issue has been to the desk of successive ministers of local government, including the late Moses Mudavadi,  late William Ntimama,  former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and current President Uhuru Kenyatta. 

Regeneration

As the National and County governments grapple with housing problem and the regeneration of Nairobi with the planned demolition of houses in the Eastlands, the question of land ownership remains thorny and  clearly needs to be conclusively addressed.

Targeted estates — including Shauri Moyo, Ziwani, Bahati, Makongeni, Kaloleni, Ofafa Kunguni, Maringo, Jericho, Jerusalem, Mbotela and Makadara — lie on land, variously owned by the county, the national government, Kenya Railways and individual property owners.

These parties must all be substantively involved in any discussions regarding the city’s redevelopment to address the acute housing crisis.

Interests of the majority stakeholders (tenants) in this planned upgrading remains paramount in this complex scenario. The battle for the soul of Shauri Moyo story is far from over.

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