Coach House Geography

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When the Promised land isn’t all promising By Silvano Ateka

Posted by Lindy on May 30, 2010

It was a journey reminiscent of the Israelites leaving Egypt for the Promised Land – if fact some people are beginning to call the flats Canaan.

On that dusty September afternoon, last year, residents like Ruth Njeri left their mud hovels in the sprawling Kibera slum, and took a 20-minute ride to their ‘paradise’, where more than 300 little palaces awaited them.

The relocation was the first in the slum, and part of a series of slum upgrading projects in the country that are hoped to phase out informal settlements.

Although months have passed since that exciting afternoon for Njeri and dozens others who left their shacks for high-rise flats, an aura of nostalgia still hangs thickly over the new estate. Njeri misses the camaraderie she once shared with her neighbours in the slum, that she misses most. “I miss my old friends,” she says.


1. For Njeri, life in the new flats has been smooth but coupled with the challenges of adjusting to an ‘unfriendly’ environment. She says she is yet to get used to sharing a house with people she can hardly get along with. Njeri isn’t alone in the predicament. Many residents have  to live with what they describe as ‘unfriendly housemates’, with whom they have to share facilities like kitchen and bathrooms.

2. More than six months down the line, some flats are yet to be supplied with electricity.

3. Ben Nyongesa admits to finding life in the new estate ‘a bit harder’ compared to that of the slums, where his small business thrived, thanks to the droves of people trekking in and out of the vast slum. Here the population is relatively smaller. “I now rely on luck to put food on the table. But it is a better home, nonetheless. More secure and comfortable,” he says.

4. Although glad to have benefited from the programme, Wanjala is disturbed by what he sees as ‘outsiders’ bribing their way into the new houses. A quick look around the houses lends some credence to his claims. An array of expensive vehicles line the parking lot, a sign there may be more than just former slum dwellers who now occupy the flats.


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