A Tale of Injustice in Nairobi’s Flood Demolitions

By Treezer Michelle Atieno

In recent weeks, Kenya’s government initiated a series of demolitions targeting homes built in flood-prone areas. This move, ordered by President William Ruto, aimed to curb the devastating impact of ongoing heavy rains, which have already claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands.

The demolitions primarily affected informal settlements in Nairobi, such as Mathare and Mukuru, where many of the city’s poorest residents live. These actions sparked controversy and raised critical questions about justice and equity.

Residents faced not only the destruction of their homes but also inadequate government support. Despite promises of a $75 aid package to help evicted families relocate, many found this assistance insufficient. Human Rights Watch and other organizations criticized the government’s response, highlighting the lack of proper resettlement plans and the dire conditions faced by displaced families.

The demolitions underscored a clear difference in how flood mitigation efforts were applied across socio-economic groups. While informal settlements were aggressively cleared, wealthier areas like Runda Estate, also facing flood risks, saw little to no similar action. In affluent areas, residents and businesses employed their resources to manage floodwaters, such as using diesel generators to pump water out of their compounds.

The government defended its actions, stating evacuating people from flood-prone areas was essential for safety. Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki reiterated evacuation orders, emphasizing preventing further loss of life. However, the chaotic nature of the demolitions, marked by violent clashes between residents and police, led to tragic incidents, including the deaths of several individuals.

Opposition leaders and civil society groups called for a more humane and structured approach. They argued demolitions should not proceed without comprehensive resettlement plans to ensure affected families have safe and secure places to move. Opposition leader Raila Odinga urged halting further demolitions until proper measures support displaced residents.

The situation highlighted broader urban planning, environmental management, and social justice issues in Kenya. As the country grapples with increasingly severe weather patterns due to climate change, the need for equitable and effective disaster response mechanisms becomes critical. Ensuring all citizens receive fair treatment and support during such crises, regardless of economic status, is essential for maintaining social cohesion and justice.

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