Reclamation of Public Spaces is Important but the Timing of These Evictions is not Right

Posted by on 20th May 2020

Categories:   Uncategorised

The president announced the extension of the stay at home orders and dusk to dawn curfew for an additional 21 days as a way of containing the virus, last weekend. At the same time, he called on citizens to comply with the orders set. It is sad to note that in his address he did not mention the violation of human rights resulting from the ongoing demolitions and sewerage evictions right under his nose and the risk that it exposes citizens to. This being yet another national briefing by the president where the plea for inclusion of citizens for a coordinated response to Covid-19 seems to be falling on deaf ears. At the same time, the government seems to be demanding the impossible from a citizenry troubled by the uncertainties of the future.
On the 5th of May, 2020 a statement was sought from the chairperson Standing Committee on Lands and Environment by Nairobi Senator, Jonhson Sakaja who also chairs the Senate Ad hoc committee on Covid-19 situation in Kenya, regarding the demolition of houses by government agencies in Kariobangi North ward constituency that saw 5,000 families left homeless without notice. The committee was to give a report on all the land in Nairobi city county that is officially marked as public land and road reserves in case of future planned evictions. The Speaker of the Senate directed that the committee visits the residents and provide a report to the Senate on Tuesday last week. Even before the tabling of the report, another demolition occurred in Ruai at midnight displacing hundreds of families without notice. The families most of whom were squatters claim that they were relocated there 12 years ago after the post-election violence.
These evictions are happening in areas where there is unequal access to services and also a great community mistrust of the government due to historical injustices. The most affected are the urban poor, slum dwellers, persons living with disability, minorities and indigenous groups, women, children and the elderly. But our policy and regulations, crafted by the National Emergency Response Committee and National Security Council, do not address these realities mostly because the voice of Wanjiku is not welcomed in the affairs of the state. This widens the fault of inequality that was there before. For these families then, stay at home orders do not really apply and the extension of the same orders for 21 days remains ironical and very inconsiderate.
In as much as reclamation of public land is important the timing of these evictions is not right at all. The fact that we are living in tough times cannot be questioned. There has been tremendous human suffering, social lives, jobs and incomes have been disrupted. Scores of lives have been lost and continue to be lost to the virus, on the other hand floods are ravaging parts of the country displacing and killing people day in day out. These occurrences continue to create anxiety and worry among citizens especially the vulnerable.
Generally, there is still marginalization of the already marginalized in the fight against Covid-19. It is worrying to see that the government can contravene court orders and supervise as its people are left in the cold. The government seems to be taking two steps forward and two more backwards and this waters down all the efforts to keep the country’s health and social systems afloat. The result is that more lives will be lost to the virus and other diseases and there will be a disruption in the implementation of programs designed to cushion the vulnerable. Additionally, the amount of money disbursed for the vulnerable in the end becomes even less as compared to the needs and the people in need. In a homeless state, there is more to worry about other than the fact that social distancing and attainment of basic needs is unachievable in a homeless state.
Evictions, supervised by the government, affect the perception of Covid-19 risk among Kenyans. It shows that the government can contravene its own guidelines when it demands that people stay at home and destroys their houses at the same time. Therefore, what is the need for the guidelines anyway; or are the poor immune to this virus?
The government needs to put the trust back to the people it is leading. The sensitivity of the virus we are fighting is great and we should not leave anything to chance when consolidating efforts. Therefore, formulating inclusive regulations that answer the public outcry is important. This can be achieved by consulting end-users of these regulations either through their representatives such as civil society organizations, NGOs or local administrators. The focus is to ensure that the end-users benefit optimally from the policies in place.
It is the role of the government to protect its people at all times, even in evictions, this protection should be without discrimination. Within this crisis therefore lies an opportunity for the government through the legislature to dust the Resettlement and Eviction procedures Bill 2012 that sets out appropriate procedures applicable to forced evictions. The Bill seeks to provide protection, prevention and redress against forced eviction for all persons occupying land including squatters and unlawful occupiers advocates for humane evictions by the elimination of brutality during evictions. Since there is no guidance regarding evictions and resettlement the victims are left to suffer. Proper legislation will go a long way in cushioning these vulnerable members of society.