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Demolition of Utilities, Catholic Church in Kenyan Slum “heartbreaking”: Parish Priest

St Mary's Catholic Church Mukuru kwa Njenga after demolition. Credit: Fr. John Munjuri

The demolition of public utilities of a slum in Kenya including a section of St. Mary’s Mukuru kwa Njenga church of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi earlier this week “is heartbreaking,” the Priest in-charge of the Parish in the East of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, has bemoaned. 

Part of the Catholic church building was bulldozed Monday, October 11 by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), an action that saw public utilities such as a toilet and a water tank among facilities that were destroyed

“The demolition is heartbreaking. The manner in which it was done is sad and affects the poorest of the poor,” Fr. John Munjuri told ACI Africa in an interview, and explained in reference to the slum demolition, “It was done as if the people who live there have no rights.”

The demolition was even more upsetting because NMS leadership did not respond to queries raised by the Catholic Parish administration after a section of the church premises had been marked “as a road reserve.”

Credit: Courtesy Photo

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Fr. Munjuri explained during the Wednesday, October 13 interview, “Some days before the demolition, some people from the NMS came here and marked part of the church compound as a road reserve. Immediately, we took action and wrote to the Director General of the NMS telling him we were wondering why we have been marked as a road reserve yet the map that we have from the National Planning shows we are not on a road reserve.”

He ascertained that NMS leadership received the letter to which a copy of the Church's map was attached but “never replied.” 

“They received our letter but they never replied. What followed next was, on Monday, the bulldozers came to demolish the Church,” the member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (CSSp - Spiritans) said. 

Part of the church building, a public toilet used by the faithful and community members, and a water tank that served the people of God in the Eastern Nairobi slum were destroyed, Fr. Munjuri said. 

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri

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A dwelling for the physically challenged children that St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish runs, a dispensary managed by the Medical Missionary Sisters (MMS), and a technical college under the auspices of the Marianists were among the facilities that were affected by the October 11 demolition, he said.

The Kenyan-born Priest relieved that some Christians present during the demolition blocked the bulldozers from pulling down the altar of the church building. 

“My bitterness is because of the way they handled everything. Even the social amenities of these people have been destroyed. The Church, the water tower which was actually constructed by the NMS,” were all destroyed, Fr. Munjuri lamented, and posed, “Where do these people get water?”. 

NMS officials who ordered the demolition, he said, “are destroying the social facilities for the poorest of the poor, the vulnerable people.”

"If they responded to us and told us we are on the road, we would have moved voluntarily, swiftly and without delays to pave way for the road. The people could have also moved, if they were given enough time to relocate,” said the Father-in-charge of the Spiritan-run Parish. 

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Credit: Courtesy Photo

The government’s action to carry out the October demolitions has left the Parish leadership “in a very awkward situation,” Fr. Munjuri said, and explained, “This puts us in a very risky situation because we don’t know if we should rebuild what has been destroyed or even what next because they have not come to tell us you can build outside this point. They have not put beacons for us to know where the road reserve is.”

“There are many people who have been affected. Livelihoods have been destroyed,” he said, and added, “We really need support with food and housing facilities so they can have somewhere to sleep.”

The slum dwellers’ challenging situation amid COVID-19 restrictions has been aggravated by the destruction of their homes and sources of livelihood, Fr. Munjuri told ACI Africa October 13, adding that the timing was ill-informed.

Credit: Courtesy Photo

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He explained, “The demolitions happened when people were preparing their children to resume school and some of the children cannot go to school now because the businesses of their parents, the source of their livelihoods, have been affected.”

Fr. Munjuri went on to call upon well-wishers to contribute toward Parish’s weekly feeding program for some of the poor people in the Mukuru kwa Njenga slum, saying the food demand has increased with the demolitions. 

"We will continue feeding the poor but the numbers have now grown big especially with these demolitions, so we need help," the member of the Spiritans said, adding that the regular contributions will be “hugely affected because some of the well-wishers who donated are habitants of Mukuru and their houses have been destroyed.” 

He further called upon Christians and inhabitants of Mukuru kwa Njenga “to remain calm as we find ways towards addressing this issue.”

The Catholic priest has urged the leadership of the East African nation to be responsible and mindful of the vulnerable people saying, “The Government of Kenya should be a responsible government. It shouldn’t appear that it is a government for certain people and not all Kenyans."

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri

The government of the East African nation "should recognize that even the slum dwellers are Kenyans and they have rights which should be respected," Fr. Munjuri said.

"If where they stay is not a legal area, the government should find ways of relocating these people before destroying their houses because as it is, destruction is being done without thinking about the people," he further said. 

Credit: Courtesy Photo

If government agencies plan to conduct demolitions, the Catholic Priest said, "they should reach out to the local people and provide enough time. They should help them and not leave the people out in the cold with nobody to care for them."

St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish leadership is exploring ways to put up a temporary structure for the Eucharistic celebration, Fr. Munjuri said, and expressed the hope that the cry of the poor people of the slum Parish will be heard.