Not yet Uhuru for Owino Uhuru residents as the Court Case drags on

By Caroline Boyani

When seeking justice in Kenyan courts, prepare to have patience. Because you will need it a lot. This is the case of Owino Uhuru residents in Mombasa.  In 2016, about 3000 residents of Owino Uhuru slum in Jomvu, presented themselves to National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Export Processing Zone Authority(EPZA), Penguin paper and Book company, and the lead smelting factory, Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd seeking 2billion as damages through Philis Omido who is the executive director for Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action.

According to an article on 17th of February, Environment and lands court judge Ann Omolo had ordered the residents to be awarded 1.3 billion as a compensation for impairments, sickness, and deaths caused by the emission of poisonous from a lead-smelting company.

The residents took the case to the court of appeal and the judgment was to be delivered on December 2, 2022 but was postponed to February 17, 2023, when the day arrived the residents were told the judgment would be made on 17th March, 2023but even then it was deferred to a later date, an action that the residents termed a dirty ploy to deny them justice  and  prolong their suffering  from the actions of the smelting company.

On March 15, 2023, the residents of Owino Uhuru marched to the court of appeal of Mombasa to demonstrate a preconceived intuition of the case being deferred again. The residents came with young children and loads of bags in a show of resilience that they were not going back until they get their due.

They were accompanied by Francis Auma,who is the Rapid Response Officer for MUHURI which is an Islamic non-government organization that fights for human rights. He greatly condemned the indolence of the judges to push for a settlement. ” From previous years we have seen poor citizens walk up and down in search of repayment such as those who were evicted from land bordering the railway line and some have been paid so there is no objective reason not to pay those of Owino Uhuru,” he said.

One of the victims Jackson Wanyama lost his wife and child and believes no amount of money can bring back his loved ones but the settlement would help ease the pain and get him moving. ” These organizations are complaining that the settlement amount is unreasonable but how much does a life cost?” he asked.  He hoped that the government and leaders would step in and hear their plea.

The residents called upon the president to intervene since orphans, widows, and widowers have been left and when God decides to compensate the people castigating the repayment will suffer. ” These people should put themselves in our shoes and only then would they understand where it pinches most “declared Anastacia who is a pastor and resident of Owino Uhuru slum.

People’s lives were ruined, and some children cannot go back to school and enjoy learning. The soil and water have not been treated yet and despite the company being shut down the residents are still at risk. Janet Angina whose daughter was affected is incapable of paying hospital bills that have accumulated and said the gases made her young girl not concentrate in class anymore.

Omido said there is no going back until everything is settled, and residents can move on smoothly. The country is a heritage to all and there should not be levels in how urgently matters are solved. ” The LGBTQ issue was addressed quickly and received a reaction from various key leaders why is it so hard for them to intervene in this too or is it not crucial?” she asked.

The Judicial system is based on fairness and service to all. It should be able to live up to its standards. Residents of Owino Uhuru and many more that have found themselves in battles with government entities are yet to find refute but are living with the hope that the law still considers the poor man.

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