The Huruma Tragedy and The Sad Story of Nairobi’s Rental Housing

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Picture Courtesy of Standard Media Group

As we go on with our daily lives, 42 human beings lie lifeless; never to see the sun rise again. Their families are struck with grief; the only traces left of their once beloved mothers/fathers/spouses/children are now but the memories they hold and photographs for the lucky few who managed to salvage some. Lives of hundreds of people have been altered forever. They’ll now need to think about relocating; starting their lives a fresh; forever haunted by the fear of having the very roof they sleep under and the floors they walk on tumbling down; crushing their flesh and bones alongside the concrete and steel. All this thanks to the GREED of a few individuals.

Don’t come at me with that “it’s God’s will” nonsense. Man must learn to take responsibility for his actions; God and the Devil have for eons been the scapegoats of man’s vile greed and corrupt nature. I am bitter, bitter because these are deaths that could have been avoided.

The Huruma Tragedy is not new in the Kenyan urban tale of structural failure. We have seen so many buildings mushroom especially in the “ghetto” parts of Nairobi that defy all rules of structural design. The people financing these concrete jungles are plump individuals chilling in the leafy side of town, whiling time away as they sip some cognac; or whatever it is that rich people drink. They do not give a rat’s ass about the safety of the individuals who will occupy the death traps that they call apartments. All they care about is amassing more wealth to their already overflowing bank accounts. If they can get away with reaping maximum benefits from little investment, then why not? Only a foolish businessman wouldn’t.

And because the residents in these areas can barely make enough cash to sustain themselves in this concrete jungle; they will occupy these buildings. They convince themselves that it would only be for a while; in no time they would get a pay rise and they would move to a better house. Sadly; this dream ends up dying with each passing year and each added responsibility.

When the building collapsed last Saturday, a lot of finger-pointing happened as is the Kenyan norm. Who was the Structural Engineer involved? Who was the Architect ? What do you mean there was none? How the hell did such a building get approved in the first place? There were no approvals? Why the taters do we pay taxes to these authorities then? Where was the Governor as all this was happening? Someone needs to slap some sense into those City Hall Folks, surely? Where was NCA?  What do you mean the building had been marked for demolition yet nothing had been done after that? Where was the landlord ? The tenants are to blame, why would you live in such a house?
So many questions;  opinions flying  left right and centre.

Again, in the usual Kenyan fashion ; the leaders, with the president himself heading the pack; thronged the site, condoned with the residents and gave a lot of stern warnings and promises of a commission of inquiry to probe the issue. This is Kenya, we all know how this narrative will go. A lot of flowery words with no actions. People will continue dying, their lives the expensive price of corruption.

We all know someone somewhere pocketed some stash to allow the building to be put up without proper design. We all know just how rogue those folks at the city council are. Yes, we all knew the landlord would be arrested, charged and released on bond as his tenants wailed for their dead. All government authorities will be on a rampage the next few weeks or so, inspecting and demolishing buildings deemed unfit. Then after the commotion dies down; they will all go back to their wolves-in-sheep’s-skin selves and pick up their corrupt tendencies where they left them. The cycle will begin again. This is Kenya! We forget things as soon as the media leave the scene.

The culture of greed and corruption is so ingrown in this country they should be in the national anthem or something.  We like shortcuts. We all want to get wealthy as quickly as possible. No one gives a hoot about values such as hard work and integrity.

How then do you explain someone putting up a 7 storied flat worth millions yet they cannot part with a few hundred thousands to seek professional advice from an Architect, QS and Engineer? Greed! Shortcuts!  

Rental housing in Nairobi is ridiculously expensive forcing people to live in these concrete shanties because those are the only ones they can afford. The have-nots literally do not have a space in this City.

Just walk into the lower-middle income estates around Nairobi and you will be shocked at the deplorable conditions that residents have become accustomed to in the name of “rental houses” or flats.  These houses are not anywhere near “habitable”.  The flats have been designed to fit as many units as possible. Plaster hardly dries before paint is applied; the result; an eternal smell of dampness in the rooms. This coupled with closely sited flat blocks and tiny windows make ventilation a nightmare. I will not even start with the fact that day-lighting is a vague rumour in these flats. You’d have to keep your lights on 24/7.  The water closets and showers should squeezed into one tiny room  are just for decorum as the taps are always dry.Residents are proud owners of several hundred litre tanks for storing water.

The houses are so tiny, stuffy and musty. Floors are extremely cold because some dumb idiot somewhere decided that “fully tiled floors” are a selling point for rental houses and hence every landlord in Nairobi now places ceramic tiles all over.   These flats, some going upto 8 to 9 floors (without lifts of course) do not even have balconies; stairs are as steep as mountain peaks,  neither are there playing areas for kids. 

It does not come as a shock therefore that people are plagued with breathing and chest conditions, constant headaches, fatigue, miscarriages et al and they end up spending thousands on health bills. Why? Because these “cheap” houses are killing them slowly.

This is the cost of corruption, greed and short cuts.  And sadly, it’s the poor and middle class who more often than not, pay for this dearly as they rich bask in their wealth.

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