During its prime days, Upper Railways Estate provided a better definition of opulence.
Owing to its proximity to Kisumu Central Business District, the estate was a perfect residential area for the middle class, and many longed to live there. Fast forward to 1980s when Kenya Railways Corporation was hit with financial crisis and the estate lost its glory, turning into a slum. This week marks the end of pre-colonial structures sitting on a 23-acre land sandwiched between the Kisumu-Kakamega road on the east and Obote Road on the west, as the county government replaces the space with a market.
The area has 886 units and the demolitions will affect over 10,000 residents, according to the Secretary of the Estates Residents Association Chrispine Obara.
“We have 880 official units built by Kenya Railways and over 300 extensions made of iron sheets. With each household having between 5 and 10 people, approximately 10,000 people will be rendered homeless,” he said. Last Friday, KR issued a seven-day vacation notice to the tenants, in what appears to be the last of a series of evictions which have taken place in the lakeside city for the last three months.
For over a century, KR has been a major player in the country’s housing industry. Following the collapse of the corporation, many of its premises which previously hosted its workers have been turned to commercial and residential premises. In Kisumu, some of these premises include Kibos Railways, Nyalenda Railways, Milimani Railways, Lower Railways and Upper Railways. Upper Railways was built in early 1900 when the Uganda Railways reached Kisumu. After the completion of the railways, the houses which housed construction workers were issued to middle and low cadre employees while senior employees and managers were hosted at Nyalenda Railways and Milimani Railways. All was rosy until the 1980s and 1990s when KR begun to stagger and soon collapsed. And in the late 1990s, corporation employees begun to leave and rented out some of their houses to the public. But in early 2000, the corporation officially opened up the rental houses for the public and has been charging Sh1,100 per month for a unit. Following the ongoing revitalisation of Kisumu Port, KR has been repossessing and renovating many of its once abandoned premises and property in preparation for use when the lake transport is awakened. The repossessions have seen over 10,000 traders displaced as the famous Lwang’ni Beach, Akamba Business Centre and Winmat Market were brought down. And now, the shocker has fallen on Upper Railways Estate, which has about 880 housing units, but has hosted over 1,200 families following development of extensions.
“For the sake of the many lives which will be affected by the demolitions, we are working towards filing a petition in court to have the evictions stopped as we discuss our fate,” said Mr Obara. He was born and has lived in the estate all his lifetime. His father, Obara Senior, was an employee of KR until he was retrenched in 1997. “Due to no steady income, my parents moved back to the village and left for me the house as I had just completed my education and was looking for a job,” he said. He later got married and has been living with his family in the same house, until the eviction shocker fell on him last Friday. “Many of us are shocked. We are not opposed to leaving, but we needed time to get another place. Many people have lived here all their lives and will need some time to get out, probably three-month notice would do,” he said. According to Obara, the area hosts over 200 candidates who are sitting their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCPE) examinations in various day schools around the area. “Our prayers is that we are moved out when the exams are complete. Any disruptions now will be a great disservice to the candidates,” said Sarah Khainza, who has a candidate and has been a resident at the estate for the last 20 years. Milka Atieno, a single mother of eight, claims she has been residing in the estate for the last 15 years. Her agony has been how to get an alternative residence in the next few days before the deadline of their eviction notice. “We used to pay Sh1,100 here. And for the last three days, all the houses I get vacant are charged at least Sh4,000 per month and landlords have restrictions on the number of children one needs to have before being allowed in,” she said.
To her, she knows no other home and says another three months would allow her settle on her next move. Daniel Onguka, 62, and a physically challenged father of five, lives in his 10 by 10 house with his wife, a daughter and a grandchild. He has been a resident at the estate for the last 25 years. “My daughter recently delivered through a caesarean section and any movement has been difficult for her. I wish we had a way of handling this eviction,” he said. Ezra Gure, 45, is also affected. Yesterday, he did not report to his work place as he was going round the neighbouring estates looking for a house. “For some of us who are still strong, we can find our way out. But there are some old people who know no other home. And should they be evicted from here, they are likely to join the street families,” he said. County Director of Communication Aloice Ager yesterday confirmed the pending evictions, saying there was no room in delaying the project as the county government was under pressure to provide traders habitable working environment. “We will not pay any attention to any masqueraders seeking relevance with this matter. Once the notice elapses, the works will begin immediately,” said Mr Ager.