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The untouchables: How city sewer barons make their millions

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They are untouchables. Not even the daredevil matatu drivers or the suicidal boda boda operators can dare cross their path.

These are the foul-mouthed operators who haul the honey suckers. They are the masters of the road who turned kings after mastering politics of sewage, creating a niche sector from which they mint billions of shillings every year from desperate landlords and tenants.

Their operational base is Dagoretti Corner. This is a respectful distance away from their rich clients in Karen, Lavington and Lang’ata who cannot stomach the smelly trucks on the shoulders of their tree lined roads and cobbled walkways where dogs and cats have the right of way.

Contrary to common perception, these high-end residential estates do are not connected to the sewer line. Their affluent owners are supposed to have their septic tanks sucked up once they are full.

The same residences also rely on boreholes for water and have to call water bowsers to supply them with ‘clean’ water.

Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company acting Managing Director Nahashon Muguna explained that although 70 per cent of city residents are connected to sewer lines, the actual coverage was only 50 per cent.

Zones designated as low density such as Karen, Muthaiga and Lavington, Mr Muguna said, were not connected to the sewer because the owners have ample land where they are expected  to construct septic tanks.

“These areas are sparsely populated and the planners expected the residents there to have on-site septic tanks unlike in areas such as Umoja where a single plot has multiple dwelling units, necessitating a sewer line,” Mr Muguna added.

Disposal points

This explains why most exhausters and water tankers are congregated along Dagoretti area for easy access to the affluent neighbourhood to ferry clean water and empty the septic tanks.

At Dagoretti Corner, huddled in their corner on road reserve, the smelly honey suckers whose bodies are emblazoned with wisdom dripping with sarcasm compete for space and attention with their cousins, the bowsers who dispense “clean water.” At times, the water bowsers and exhausters are used interchangeably. There are an estimated 7,000 exhausters operating in Nairobi and neighbouring towns in this tightly controlled multi-billion shilling venture.

One operator, George Maina said he had different rates according to the regions.

“I charge Sh13,000 for an 18,000 litre truck in Karen. In Kileleshwa, the rate is Sh14,000. Other regions have different rates,” Maina added.

Although the treatment plant at Ruai is owned by the County Government of Nairobi, the disposal points where sewerage is emptied by exhausters have been clandestinely ‘rented’ to sewer barons who charge between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000 for every truckload emptied into the sewer line.

The cartels have zoned off the city into regions controlled by autonomous cartels and who demand a one-off membership fee of Sh100,000 for new entrants.

They have also introduced a universal fee of Sh10,000 chargeable to landlords for every truckload. This means the operator makes about Sh7,000 per trip.

It is not unusual to find some of the operators cutting corners and at times emptying raw sewerage in rivers and other public spaces at night to avoid paying disposal fee at Ruai to the cartels.

“If you are not careful, the same truck which emptied your septic tank will in a few hours bring your ‘clean water’ for cooking and drinking. Both the honey suckers and water vendors provide the same service. This is Nairobi for you,” an insider who operates from Donholm, explained.

It is a lucrative venture [Photo: Peterson Gitonga]

Kitengela slaughterhouse manager Joseph Matipei offered some insights into the kind of money the exhausters make. He said there was a time he was spending more than Sh1 million annually in emptying his septic tanks, as he is not connected to a sewer line.

“We used to exhaust two times a week because we had to get rid of 20,000 litres of waste. The exhausters would charge us Sh10,000 per trip, meaning we were spending Sh80,000 a month or Sh960,000 a year on exhausting alone,”  Matipei explained. Some apartment owners around the city who have no access to sewer lines pay about Sh430,000 per year as they have to empty their septic tanks once a week. The frequency increases when it rains owing to seepage of storm run-off water.

Against this background,some developers have devised illegal means of getting rid off their sewerage by pumping it into rivers or roads at night or illegally connecting to existing sewer lines within the city.

One insider, Kenneth Masai recounted how his friend split Sh28,000 with some supervisors after emptying four trucks of human waste from septic tanks in Jamhuri Show Ground into a corner of the same park.

“Recently, we had a three-day religious crusade at the showground. At the end of our crusade, the toilets had to be exhausted. I was shocked when a friend intimated that he had made four trips in a record two hours,” he explained.

Mr Masai’s friend, a truck driver, later confided that he had just dumped the four trucks at a corner of the park and pocketed Sh7,000 for each for the trips to Ruai disposal site that never were.

It costs Sh7,000 for a truck to evacuate 10,000 litres from a domestic septic tank in the city. This waste is supposed to be ferried to Ruai, but the honey suckers are known to cut corners.

In one of life’s ironies, the rity of the affluent and the powerful who live in posh areas of Karen and other estates such as Muthaiga are not connected to the city’s sewer line.

They are not also connected to the water pipeline and have to rely on bowsers for cooking and drinking water. Most of this water is drawn from boreholes which are sunk in the low-density estates.

Runda estate [Photo: Courtesy]

Isaac Kalua, a leading conservationist, said there are cabals who have been minting millions from the sewerage mess at the expense of people’s health.

“The exhausters are operated by cartels. They even have an organisation,” he said.

“Nairobi does not have a good working water and sewerage system. People have been allowed to sink boreholes everywhere including next to septic tanks. That is why we have so many water-borne diseases because people are consuming raw sewer in the name of water,” Mr Kalua warned.

Neglected sewerage

Water and sewerage, he said, ought to go as a package, but most policymakers had neglected sewerage because it was an unseen problem which could not earn one “political marks on a podium.”

Muguna said although his organisation was facing challenges from old and dilapidated sewerage infrastructure, this is compounded by gangs which deliberately block functional ones.

“There are some gangs who derive their livelihood from deliberately blocking sewer lines in their strongholds and preventing our technicians from repairing them,” Muguna explained.

Former Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company chairman Kabando wa Kabando said the rot is deep-rooted.

“During my time, I learnt that there were some technicians who had established a routine of deliberately blocking the sewer lines so that they could be paid once they came to repair,” he said.

“I remember there was once a members club whose sewer would start leaking every Friday, the club had to call Nairobi Water to have the leak fixed. It was strange that despite the repair the same problem would recur the next Friday,” he said.

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Entertainment

It’s season to unveil your hidden talent, thanks to Covid- 19

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The word-savvy have coined a title for it already: ‘Quarantine’s Got Talent’.

It is hidden talent season, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, that has

redefined heroism to mean being able to stay indoors.

Staying at home means everyone has a lot of time on their hands and that means talents that people had placed in the back burner for a while are now being exploited — and new ones are being explored.

Who would have imagined seeing Kieni MP Kanini Kega, often seen when there is a hot political matter, doing something as rustic as knitting? Photos of him knitting in his house have been doing the rounds on social media for the past couple of days.

He told the Sunday Nation that he had accepted a challenge from his children who had goaded him with: “Apart from playing politics, what else can you do?”

And so he decided to revisit the knitting skills he learnt as a Standard Eight boy at a primary school in Kieni. He also accepted a challenge to cook for the family.

“So, I had to cook. So far, I have cooked quite a lot: ugali and all,” said Mr Kega, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Committee on Trade and Industry.

And he has been enjoying every bit of it. “This is one of the best things. You know, politicians are the most disadvantaged people because they don’t interact so much with their families. This has given us ample time. We are interacting; we are learning a lot also from our kids,” he said.

Speaking of kids, the face of Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja in a video he posted on March 28 told the story of a man having a moment of his life with his kin.

Using a rhyming poem, Mr Sakaja and his “ensemble” members — two young sons — delivered an important message on how to steer clear of the deadly coronavirus.

Mr Sakaja’s compatriot in the Senate, George Khaniri of Vihiga, has also been trending for showcasing his dancing skills.

A photo of former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo playing house barber has also been doing the rounds. Celebrity emcee Maurice “Mdomo Baggy” Ochieng has also posted a video playing with his three- year-old son.

“It can be stressful for parents used to tight schedules to have to stare at each other the whole day,” he posted on Facebook.

“One of the positive things you could do as a parent during this quarantine period is discover the talents of your children and nurture them. I spent time with my threeyear-old son. The guy has a left foot like no other,” he added.

In Mr Kega’s opinion, the Covid- 19 pandemic might be God-sent to remind humanity about the basics.

“I think God is telling us that we were running too fast,” he said. “God has told us that the world can stop.

It is not about making money. It shouldn’t be about making money.

Because for us politicians, it is about seats and means — trying to make a cent here and there. But now we are being told: ‘Those things can stop; go back to family.’”

The cloth he was pictured knitting, he promised, will be complete by the end of this week.

“I will finish next week, and it will be a sweater. You know, I am the chair of the Trade and Industry Committee. We are promoting local industries,” he said, tongue-in-cheek.

Ordinary Kenyans are also reconnecting with their rarely-used abilities. Elizabeth Kavete has been staying home since March 26, given that her job is mostly about fieldwork, and she has used the free time to sharpen her video making skills.

Her producer told her she has impeccable acting skills and advised her to try a hand in the YouTube video business. Her first video was a simple tutorial on lighting a jiko.

“I had this idea in mind and been using any time I want to cook using a jiko,” she told the Sunday Nation.

With guidance from the producer, she went ahead to shoot the tutorial and uploaded it on her YouTube account, Kavete LizLizz.

Another young Kenyan, Benjamin Mirichi, has found a way of exercising indoors. Based in Ethiopia where he works for an international organisation, Mr Mirichi last week posted a video of him doing pushups from home, challenging others to follow suit.

By Sunday Nation

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Prof Mutua rips Itumbi to pieces, says he is barely literate

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Prof Makau Mutua, the SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC has ripped Dennis Itumbi to pieces. Here is his column;

It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the movies, or in real life. That’s why the recent public sacking — and humiliation in broad daylight — of the one-time Jubilee blue-eyed boy Dennis Itumbi was worth a champagne toast.

Mr Itumbi’s job description in the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) was Orwellian.

Straight out of 1984, the dystopian novel by English writer George Orwell, Mr Itumbi’s improbable title was Director of Digital Innovation and Diaspora Communications at the PSCU. Let that sink in.

The office of the Gang of Five “digital terrorists” was a taxpayer-funded propaganda machine in the Deep State at the apex of power.

They say you should be kind to people on your way up because you will surely meet them on your way down.

This is especially true if your ascent to the top — like Mr Itumbi’s — isn’t based on any discernible qualifications, or experience, except tweeting.

PROPAGANDA MACHINE

In any society based on meritocracy, Mr Itumbi, then barely literate and in his 20s, would’ve been lucky to get a government job as subordinate factotum in a remote, isolated, and windswept provincial outpost.

But no, the precocious fellow started right at the top, next to Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta at State House. There was Mr Itumbi, wet behind the ears, perched at the pinnacle of the state. He quickly got power-drunk.

Let’s be fair to Mr Itumbi and his fellow “keyboard terrorists”. He was baptised with fire.

His remit at first was to delegitimise the International Criminal Court and discredit those who supported the crimes against humanity investigations into Mr Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto.

There were reports that he assembled a well-oiled army dubbed “36 Bloggers”, whose mandate was to personally destroy the ICC’s proponents.

No other sector of society sought justice for the victims of the 2007 near-genocidal post-election violence than Kenya’s civil society.

CIVIL SOCIETY ONSLAUGHT

I know because the Kenya Human Rights Commission, whose board I chair, was the leading voice for the victims.

Mr Itumbi and his acolytes called civil society “evil society”, a dirty moniker. Mr Itumbi, a proto-fascist, pursued a putschist vendetta against civil society.

His cartel used every state lever to destroy us, the “evil society”. The state carried out frivolous audits against NGOs.

There were several attempts to deregister the KHRC, among other NGOs. Fazul Mahamed, the disgraced former CEO of the NGO Co-ordination Board, led the charge against human rights NGOs on non-existent regulatory violations.

Eventually, the courts turned away the vexatious suits. Mr Itumbi and other state operatives attacked us personally at every turn.

He was vicious, determined, and acted without a conscience. Power went into the young man’s head.

He was untouchable and acted with impunity knowing that he sat in the inner sanctum of power.

RUTO’S SUPPORTER

His hubris finally caught up with him. Mr Itumbi apparently never got the memo.

He backed the wrong horse in the kerfuffle between Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta. As the saying goes, even a fool would’ve told him “you dance with the one who brung ya”.

In his case, that would’ve been Kamwana. But instead, Mr Itumbi jumped all in — feet first — into Mr Ruto’s anti-Kenyatta camp.

He left no ambiguity, or nuance, on whose side he was. Often, he would attack Mr Kenyatta on Twitter.

This wasn’t tomfoolery, but pure, unadulterated foolishness. He unequivocally decided his bread was buttered on Mr Ruto’s side.

It proved to be his undoing. No wonder he has been handed his own fanny. Two recent events highlight his ignominious fall from power.

First, he was implicated in the strange Hotel La Mada saga and the purported letter on Mr Ruto’s assassination.

ITUMBI KICKED OUT

The letter sounded like a page out of the book by the boy who cried wolf. Whoever forged it seemed to have aimed at winning Mr Ruto sympathy tears.

The unforced error in Mr Ruto’s camp backfired spectacularly. Mr Itumbi was held for several days in the cooler.

He was left holding the bag because Mr Ruto was helpless to protect his hireling. I suspect, as Mr Kenyatta often says, “simu yangu imezimwa” (my phone is off) — which means old buddies like Mr Itumbi can’t reach him to beg for relief.

The last episode was caught on live TV at the unveiling of the BBI at Bomas. There, Mr Itumbi was captured being frog-marched off the VIP dais just feet away from Mr Kenyatta.

I don’t think his feet even touched the floor as he was thrown out. Mr Ruto, Mr Itumbi’s godfather, sat forlornly alone on stage as Mr Kenyatta and ODM’s Raila Odinga savoured the proceedings amid mirthful banter and uproarious laughter.

I don’t take pleasure in the misfortunes of others, but Mr Itumbi’s ignominious end is poetic justice.

Editor’s note: Mr Itumbi, arraigned in July last year over the fake Ruto assassination letter, denies the charges.

-Nation.co.ke

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Deaf teacher excels in online video making

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When you meet 31-yearold Samwel Buuri Muriithi the first thing you notice is a warm, polished demeanour and ease of manner.

Then an infectious smile and dead silence. He does not respond verbally.

The best he can do is respond in sign language.

This is the life he has lived since he was 10 years old. He was in Class Three then, in a regular school.

Despite being deaf Muriithi is now a music video producer with a stream of hits under his belt.

He uploads them under the YouTube name Deaf Media K.

“I now edit videos on my phone, I get reviews on my phone too. It has made my work easier,” says Muriithi.

But it has not always been like this.

When he woke up one morning, he says, he could not hear properly from his right ear.

What he describes as the fluttering of butterflies obstructed his hearing.

He thought those close to him were whispering. Sadly though, his sense of hearing was failing.

Muriithi later realised that he was developing a hearing problem.

Soon his left ear developed similar complications. Then he lost the sense the hearing.

He comes from a humble background and did not notice his talent early.

Solace in music

“My love for art developed later, after joining a school for the deaf and interacting with various social groups,” he says.

When his mother died in 2007, he found solace in music and art. “They calmed my emotions wherever I was overwhelmed,” he says.

His love for drama, poetry, music and art blossomed at Machakos Teachers Training College.

“Drama was my new love,” he says. In 2018 a friend asked him to help infuse sign language in a Kiswahili song.

“Since sign language is taught in English, we had to translate the song from Kiswahili to English.

It was difficult,” he recalls.

When the new version of the song was released, he says, feedback was overwhelming.

“The audience was impressed.” Uploading videos on YouTube was rife then.

But, uploading substandard quality videos on the platform was frowned upon.

This necessitated learning how to edit high quality videos.

It was a tedious process and he almost gave up. But when he uploaded the debut Kiswahili video on YouTube the feedback was gratifying. This motivated him to continue the pursuit.

Together with a friend he simulated jokes, translated songs and produced short plays.

He was entrusted with editing videos and posting them on YouTube.

To interpret musicians’ messages he either reads lips or relies on people who can hear.

“Another friend who was conversant with video editing joined the team. His appetite for success kept us on track,” he says.

He practised the art studiously until his editing skills improved. Sometimes he browsed the internet to watch tutorials on video editing. “Before I upload a video I give it to a random friend to review.
He critics and flags where I need to make adjustments.
“The reviewer checks the quality of sound, relevance of subtitles and

actions. Such reviews help me to fine-tune the final output,” he says. Supporters applaud his work.

Then there are critics, mostly from the deaf community, who tell him areas to improve in subsequent uploads.

Last year he was the lead actor in the movie The City Girl.

The “opportunity taught me how persons living with disability can use art to change society,” he says.

During production an interpreter was hired to help people with disability understand the director’s commands.

“When shooting we must have the hearing community. We cannot do it alone,” he says.

As a director, how do you know that a video is good for the audience? I ask.

“My intention is to educate the hearing community on sign language and give them a reason to watch by incorporating humour,” he says.

Muriithi is a teacher by profession.

“Teaching does not tickle my fancy. I teach to survive while I act to find fulfilment,” he says.

“Interests of the deaf are not fully represented in the mainstream media. This is the gap I envision to fill.”

Love for arts
BLOSSOMED AT COLLEGE LEVEL

When Samwel Buuri Muriithi woke up one morning he could not hear properly from his right ear.

Soon his left ear developed similar complications. Then he lost the sense of hearing altogether.

When his mother died in 2007, he found solace in music and art.

His love for drama, poetry, music and art blossomed at Machakos Teachers Training College.

By Sunday Nation

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