In a welcome U-turn, Kenya’s highway authority (KENHA) has admitted that it was wrong to forcibly evict more than 100 people from an informal settlement and promised full redress to all those affected, said Amnesty International on the eve of World Habitat Day.
The authority acknowledged the wrongdoing in the run up to the publication of Amnesty International’s highly critical report published today.
Driven Out for Development: Forced Evictions in Mombasa details the impact of a road expansion development on the informal settlements of Jomvu and Bangladesh. It also exposes the failure by three of the project’s funders – the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank and the German Development Bank (KfW) – to comply with their responsibilities.
“This admission by the authorities that the demolitions in Jomvu were forced evictions is a significant victory for the community, but it will only be meaningful if KENHA provides swift and effective remedy to those who lost their homes and livelihoods,” said Justus Nyangaya, country director for Amnesty International Kenya.
“As the highway project progresses, there are crucial lessons to be learned. Communities affected must not be subject to further violations. KENHA cannot ignore safeguards to prevent forced evictions and international funders have to ensure adequate human rights due diligence is carried out.”
In particular, Amnesty International’s report focuses on a forced eviction carried out by KENHA on May 17, 2015.
“They have finished us – destroyed everything we had”
At around 11 p.m. on the night of May 17, bulldozers and police moved into Jomvu while most residents slept and began demolishing scores of homes and business structures. Residents had not been meaningfully consulted or given adequate notice and few had time to salvage belongings from their homes before the demolitions began.
Saidi Juma a 38-year-old described how the bulldozer destroyed his home and grocery store. “Around 30 houses were demolished. It took around three or four hours. We did manage to save school uniforms, books etcetera but my six-year-old daughter got hurt in the commotion – her leg was cut by the tin sheets that had been taken down.”
Isaac Masungo a 23-year-old man with physical disabilities awoke to the sound of the demolition. Unable to run to safety, he was still indoors as the bulldozer demolished the front rooms of the building in which he lived. Whilst he managed to get out with the help of neighbors, he was unable to salvage his belongings.
The demolition stopped at 4 a.m. As the bulldozer left, residents were told to demolish their own homes and shops as the demolition would resume the following night. Desperate to preserve valuable building material for reuse, many people tore down their homes and shops themselves.
The forced eviction in Jomvu created a climate of fear and uncertainty in the adjacent Bangladesh informal settlement. Residents there were told by KENHA that they will be evicted but they do not know where, or even if, they will be relocated.
Even though Amnesty International brought the forced evictions to the notice of the European Investment Bank, at a time when KENHA had not taken any steps to provide the victims with effective remedies, the bank’s board approved funding for the project.
Admission of wrongdoing and commitment to make amends
Despite their initial determined refusal to take responsibility for the demolitions, KENHA admitted to carrying out the forced evictions almost three months after the incident in a public meeting in Mombasa.
At a consultation meeting with the project’s funders on September 17, KENHA agreed to compensate those forcibly evicted in Jomvu and also promised to refrain from carrying out forced evictions anywhere in the project area. The authority has also committed to making amends for the forced eviction in a letter to Amnesty International sent on September 28.
The project’s funders told Amnesty International that funding would only be released after KENHA provided effective remedies to residents of Jomvu and updated the resettlement action plan for the entire project area in compliance with the safeguards policies of the banks.
“It is crucial that KENHA keeps its promise and compensates all victims of the forced eviction, including those who dismantled their own homes in fear that they would be bulldozed,” said Nyangaya.
“Forced evictions are illegal and we hope that this incident will set an important precedent. Kenyan authorities must learn from this and ensure that forced evictions, so common in Kenya, become a thing of the past. This case demonstrates how communities that organize and act collectively can challenge injustices and claim their rights.”
The report is based on research conducted by Amnesty International in Mombasa in June, July and August 2015. Researchers visited two informal settlements and interviewed 110 women and men affected by the highway expansion project.
The highway expansion – the Mombasa-Mariakani Road Dualling Project (MMRDP) – involves expanding the width of the existing highway by 60 meters and will impact homes, businesses and farms along the 41.7 kilometer stretch. The project will be implemented over five years – from 2015 to 2020.
KENHA had issued eviction notices to Jomvu residents in January and painted large yellow crosses marking their homes and businesses for demolition. However, the authority had not taken any steps to consult with the affected people, tell them about the timeline for the eviction, its process or any compensation or resettlement measures available to them.
In a meeting with Amnesty International on September 23, KENHA representatives expressed regret for the forced evictions in Jomvu and as a part of the remedial measures, explained that they intended to conduct a census of all those forcibly evicted, including those who demolished their own properties, and involve the National Lands Commission in preparing a specific resettlement action plan to remedy the forced eviction.