Omonja didn’t wake up that early because he had somewhere to go or something to do. He did because he couldn’t sleep any more. How could he when his intestines were rambling with hunger having gone to bed on an empty stomach? How could he when his poor, sick mother had no one to take care of her? How could he when, as the first born, he felt responsible of his six younger siblings after their deadbeat dad had never returned from “buying cigarettes” three years earlier? How could he when he couldn’t afford his and his siblings’ basic needs, leave alone an education for them? How could he…!?
He sat up at the edge of the thin old mat that served as the family bed. He looked at his mother who was snoring at the other end. His siblings squinched in between him and their mother. He wondered how they could sleep so soundly but thanked goodness they did.
The previous night he had come home with some leftover food that a good Samaritan had offered him on his way home from the city. He had used his meagre day’s wages to buy medicine for his mother. He had given the family the food to share, smiling as they relished the delicacies. He lied that he had eaten before he came home. There would be less for each if he ate so he sacrificed to let each have a little more. Their small shanty was the sitting room then. It was before they unfolded the rags they were using for seats and spread them on the mat that was their bed. It was folded and kept along the shaky shanty wall each morning and unfolded every night. The rags were their mattress when they were not serving as seats. When they were lucky to have something they could cook, this same room served as the kitchen.
Now he planned and re-planned as the day broke. His siblings started waking up one after the other yawning and stretching. He had a cup of cold water and headed out to try his luck for one of those menial, tiresome, dirty, peanut-paying jobs. After walking around the posh Lavington estate for hours, he got lucky. A businessman who had been contracted to do some yard work on one of the lawns in the estate was looking for an extra hand.
It was a hot afternoon. As Omonja weeded on the lawn, he noticed that he left numerous millipedes, centipedes, bugs and other creatures homeless. He watched as some of them wiggled and scampered for safety while others unsuccessfully labored to fight him off for the invasion. As necessary as this activity was, he couldn’t help pitying the now displaced and some demised creatures.
Little did he know that that very evening he and his poor family, like the millipedes, would be homeless. That the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) would demolish the multipurpose shanty in Kibera that he had called home for 18 years, to construct a road, and fail to compensate them, is something he would never have imagined. He couldn’t have thought that a government agency would lead thousands of other residents in the area to the same fate.
What he knew was the Kiswahili saying: Mnyonge hana haki. The saying made even more sense when he later learned that it had been impossible to expand Mombasa road and other roads in Nairobi because it would mean demolishing rich people’s property. Yet KURA and the GOK hadn’t thought twice in the Kibera case where he and other “wanyonge” resided. It was so easy to send them wherever fate found fit, in order to pave way for the wenye nguvu who owned vehicles! So easy to demolish their shanties, their schools, their clinics, to destroy their hit-or-miss livelihoods! He couldn’t agree with Dr. King’ori of The Wicked Edition more when he commented that wanyonge could be kicked out any time. Other wanyonge were facing a similar fate in Mau forest in the Rift Valley. He wondered with Dr. King’ori why the government was behaving as if it just woke up and realized there was an encroachment problem! And politicians were agreeing or disagreeing with the eviction decisions seemingly to just benefit politically rather than to solve any problem.
Are the lives of the poor worth nothing to the rich? He wondered. Are they worth what lives of bugs and other such creatures are? Are the wanyonge to wenye nguvu what flies are to little children?