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Residents: We built our homes with blood and tears

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David Watene is a man of few words. This is expected of an economist mostly proficient in the language of numbers.

In his heydays, he travelled around the world to negotiate with various financial institutions on behalf of the Government, his long-time employer, and where he rose to the level of an undersecretary at the National Treasury.

Upon retirement, Watene would have happily settled in his Gatundu home were it not for the collapse of a textile industry that he and his wife had started and that would have guaranteed a smooth ride into their sunset years.

As a result, he chose to invest his pension and personal savings on a small piece of land in what is now Langata Sunvalley 1 Estate.

Here, he built a retirement home for himself and Esther, his wife of 53 years. That was in 2005. Their house is still a work in progress, but the couple is happy to have a roof over their head. Then this little world they had built around themselves was shaken to the core. One evening, they received the news that the land on which their house – and 200 others in this estate – stands was part of a 6,000-acre parcel hived off from Ngong Forest.

They were numb. Two weeks ago, Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko threatened to demolish several estates in Lang’ata that he said sat on Ngong Forest land.

They include Sunvalley Phases One, Two and Three, KMA, Royal Park, Forest View and a number of apartments in the area. The CS said the land on which some government institutions, including Police Dog Unit and Langata Women’s Prison, are built belongs to the forest as well.

Included too is the St Mary’s Mission Hospital. And in what some felt was a callous edict, Tobiko threatened to release wild animals from Nairobi National Park and into the estates while fencing in the residents.

Corruption tag

But Watene and his wife do not believe that a government they had served diligently would make it its mission to destroy their life’s work.

“We were baffled when we heard the minister say he will release the animals on people of our age. We live on pension and assistance from our grown-up children,” Esther Watene says.

“We built this home with our blood, sweat and tears. Look at us. We are now being branded as corrupt individuals who grabbed forest land. Do we look like that?” she poses.

The tag that they can be that corrupt as to grab public property pains Esther the most. She used to work in the NGO world, helping the vulnerable in society. She was their voice whenever some injustice would be meted on them, especially those in the informal sector. “I have been a fighter for the oppressed and would speak up if their homes were under threat. Little did I know that I would one day face similar fears,” she says.

Then she speaks for the husband. “He worked with government finances and could have amassed ill-gotten wealth. He didn’t. Why do that at his age now?”

The residents are quick to deny the adage that they are rich individuals who encroached on forest land.

Some, as we learnt, could not even afford to build their homes after paying for their plots. In Royal Park Estate where 730 homes stand, we meet Omar Mohamed, a former estate chairman. He used to do business in Somalia “when things worked”. As the situation in that country deteriorated, his business faltered and has been out of work since 2017.

“Things got so bad financially that I had to sell off my camels. That is the last resort for a man from my community. Fortunately, I had a place to lay my head,” he says.

Inside the estate, we come across a mabati house, ravaged by the vagaries of inclement weather. It looks out of place in the midst of the well-built maisonettes and town houses that share a fence with Lang’ata Cemetery.

A big padlock on the gate announces the absence of the owner. A flimsy wire fence that can hardly keep an intruder away is what the owner has for security.

“Look at this home. If he was a rich man as it is alleged of those who live here, he would have completed building by now,” says Omar.

“But he opted to move his family into an incomplete house and avoid paying rent. These are the sacrifices we have made.”

In the same estate lives Kullow Ibrahim Haji, a government administrative officer. He is a father of seven, five of whom were born here. He moved here in 2012 and is still servicing a loan balance of Sh3 million. He can’t comprehend how the Government he serves would evict him from a house that still has an outstanding loan.

He has a message for CS Tobiko: “I am a civil servant who is paying a loan from my salary. Let the government know that I used the proper procedures to acquire the property. Ten years later, we are told we grabbed forest land. If they decide to bring our houses down many families will be in distress,” Haji says.

The residents insist the land on which they have built was acquired legally and that all government protocols were followed. They say no deal was done under the table.

Survey maps

For instance, documents presented to The Standard show that Sunvalley Phase I estate has been in existence since 1998 after the degazettement of where it sits, following the issuance of Legal Notice No 44, the Forests Act, CAP 385 for Block of Land LR No 23256 duly signed by then Minister for Natural Resources, Francis Lotodo. Relevant survey maps were deposited at Survey of Kenya offices.

“A number of the residents acquired the plots through employee purchase programmes, borrowing from saccos, public mortgage schemes, Parliamentary Service Commission, Public Service Commission, through pension funds and others from lifetime savings,” reads a petition by the residents to the National Assembly’s Committee on Environment.

Benda Kithaka, a resident of Forest View Estate, says every resident in the earmarked estates is part of an intertwined ecosystem that supports the greater good.

Should Tobiko make true his threats to bring down the homes, the financial cost would be enormous. A typical home here is valued at Sh20 million to Sh25 million. With close to 10 estates under Tobiko’s radar, the bulldozers would be wiping off close to Sh50 billion of real estate investments.

In the meantime, residents here wait for the outcome of several legal and legislative processes they hope will resolve the impasse.

And as helicopters from the Ministry of Environment overfly their houses several times a day in aerial patrols, all they can hope for is that they will be heard. The National Assembly Committee on Environment and Natural Resources has summoned Tobiko to appear before it today to explain the Government’s stand on the demolitions.

By Standard.co.ke

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Business

Keeping our family coffee business picking

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When 41 -year-old Gitau Waweru Karanja was a boy, he recalls spending his school holidays in his grandfather’s coffee farm with his cousins. His late grandmother would push them to pick berries to earn pocket money. Though he took up his parents’ passion in interior design and studied Interior Design in Kwa Zulu Natal University in South Africa, he did he know that one day he would wake up and smell the coffee and participate in running his grandfather’s coffee farm.

Gitau is the third generation of his family to manage Karunguru Farm, which belonged to his late grandfather Geoffrey Kareithi. Kareithi had bought the 300-acre farm in Ruiru, from a white settler in 1972. Gitau is married to Wangeci Gitau who grew up in Maragwa, in Murang’a where they also had a coffee farm.

Values instilled

For Wangeci, despite growing up in the coffee fields, she was more passionate about tourism and was a travel consultant before becoming a tour manager at a local company.

In 2012, she got an ectopic pregnancy, which put her on bed rest and thus was compelled to quit her job. When she recovered, she began assisting her husband. “By that time, my husband was selling modern house doors, but the business took a while to pick. Then we began selling milk from Karunguru Farm, but the milk production went down in 2016. The management, comprising of family members, told us to address the issue by becoming dairy managers. But when we joined the management of Karunguru Farm, we saw an opportunity in coffee tours,” she says.

Taking cue from South Africa where they do wine tourism and also export wine, Gitau and his wife sought to use that knowledge in their coffee farm. “We started Karunguru Coffee and Tours after we found out that despite it being our main export, it was being underutilised when it comes to tourism. So, here we take visitors through the journey that coffee has to go through before getting to your cup,” explains Gitau. Everything is done in Karunguru Farm— including value addition such as processing coffee, drying and even roasting. “We have our very own packaged Karunguru Coffee, which is available in the market,” he adds.

Their late grandfather instilled in them a love for each other and every holiday it is the family culture to meet and bond as a family. The grandpa also ensured that the farm management is shared amongst all his seven children who meet every week to discuss the business of the farm. Once they come to an unanimous decision, it is then passed on to their children, who implements their decision.

Before one is given any role, you have _ . to be qualified for the position. “It’s not about being favoured, but your qualification. I am in tourism, so I handle the tourism aspect, my husband is in operations. In fact, one applies for the position and then you are interviewed. If you qualify, you are placed on probation until the management is satisfied that you can handle the role well,” says Wangeci.

No entitlement

What makes family business go down is the fact that people who are less qualified are employed. Other people have to cover up for their messes and this creates bitterness and conflict. Gitau sometimes watches his nephews and nieces in the farm, giving them roles to check out whether they have interest in the farm or not before beginning to mentor them. Everyone begins from the lowest level and must know how to roast, pack, as well as prepare a cup of Karunguru coffee. This is to en inculcate the spirit of appreciation and value for the workers employed to do the role.

“My uncles always tell us that we didn’t come in the business because we are their children, but because of the passion we had in the business. With that, entitlement is killed and we ensure that we do our best to take the farm to higher levels,” says Gitau

They don’t entertain gossip,  ‘‘ but if someone has an issue, I then the person is invited ‘ to a meeting where one is confronted and told in love where they have missed the mark.

by PD.co.ke

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Lifestyle

How we solved thorny issues in our not-so-rosy union

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Robert Wambugu and Lucy Wambui’s marriage has been a bitter-sweet experience. When their firstborn son was a toddler, he almost drowned in a basin full of water.

“The water had been stored on the corridor and the young boy sneaked out of the house. Within a split of a second, he had fallen head first and was in there for almost a minute before we were alerted by other children. He passed out, but was saved by quick intervention from a nearby hospital,” Lucy says.

Lucy says they faced a lot of challenges driven by their lack of marriage experience due to their young age. She was 20, Robert was 21. “We had not received proper counselling and did not know how to handle our personality differences. Let’s just say we were clueless of what was ahead of us. We used to have endless arguments, long weeks without speaking to each other and so on. It wasn’t until we got support from a neighbour who cared and counselled us,” she says.

Making it work

They worked on improving their communication and openness to each other. She offers: “We started giving each other constructive feedback that builds someone rather than hurt them emotionally. We stopped pointing fingers at faults and started addressing the issue rather than attacking the person. For instance, Robert was forgetful. At first, this used to make me think he was deliberately ignoring me and I would choose to just stay quiet and ‘payback’. But one time he told me he would start working on a “To do list” and once he started it, I saw great improvement. He also asked me to be sending him reminders on pending stuff. This way, we were able to handle that issue once and for all. On the other hand, I would prepare food that he didn’t like and he would not eat it. I would feel like he was eating elsewhere. At one time, I asked him to recommend what he prefers and how he liked it made. It took time to understand and master this, but it was worth it.”

Lucy and Robert also worked on their decision-making, as well as teamwork, and from that point things changed for the better.

Other challenges have arisen when they had to juggle between work and raising children. “Sometimes as a working parent, you realise you have to spend time with your children and establish a personal connection. For me, this is important and if I have to work from home to do this, I do not mind doing so. But it can be quite overwhelming,” she adds.

Lucy and Robert both live in Rwanda. They have been married for 11 years and have three children-two boys, Arthur aged 10, Fabrice aged seven and a girl, Ashe Wambui aged 1.5 years. Lucy runs a cake business while Robert works as a Certified Hospitality Training Manager at Marriot International, and is also an experienced digital marketer and art director. She is also a co-director at Halleria Consult, a marketing consulting agency they started together with her husband. He is the country manager in charge of overall operations of the consultancy.

They also mentor young couples on marriage and parenting.

Lucy terms her husband as her greatest support system. “He has been supportive in raising the children. He spends his free time with them. On the other hand, when we visit our parents in Nairobi, we ensure that the children spend time with their grandparents. I get tips from our parents from both sides and I ensure they communicate as often so that they build that bond. I have also taken part in a programme called ‘Mother of Sons’ that focuses on mothers who are raising boys. It gives mums the space to learn how to handle boys’ challenges as well as bringing up men who are well nurtured,” she says.

Discovering children’s potential

Their parenting approach is centred on raising children who understand between right and wrong and are able to make independent and right choices. Lucy is a disciplinarian. “I don’t shy away from using the rod where necessary. But I spend time trying to find effective non-authoritarian ways to help mentor them, especially in matters self-confidence and life skills,” she reveals.

Her husband, however, uses a different approach. He uses experiential learning techniques where through observation, he has identified some interests in them. Both boys love using 3D modelling software and have basic photography skills. He spends time training them. “We thank God that this strategy has helped them learn and be responsible. We also encourage them to go out and play and develop a social life. The first one is an extrovert. He makes friends quite easily while the second one is an introvert who prefers staying indoors. The last one is starting the ‘terrible two phase’, always throwing tantrums,” Lucy says.

Lucy’s word of advise to couples and parents is: “Love, support your spouse and walk with them. You don’t get into a relationship to attain happiness. Rather make it your role to create an environment that sustains joy. If this is done, it’s easier to get the other person to reciprocate. Before you point fingers at your spouse, first do a self-analysis and see what you would do to work on yourself and improve. That way, we shall have happier relationships.”

By PD.co.ke

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Lifestyle

Things get thick in Thika: Missing millionaire was heavily indebted

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The missing Thika businessman Julius Gitau was heavily indebted and going through a marital problem when he mysteriously disappeared, the Nation has learnt.

With creditors breathing down his neck, auctioneers knocking on his doors and a marriage on the rocks, the trader rushed to his mother on September 20 for emotional support when everything around him seemed to be falling apart.

The Covid-19 pandemic had affected his businesses as sales had dipped by over 70 per cent due to the tough restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the virus.

At home, things were also getting out of control due to bad blood between his first love Lucy Wahu and her co-wives, Rachel Muthoni and Celina Nelly.

“Gitau told me that he was having problems with his suppliers. Five firms had even started sending auctioneers to his two general merchandise shops in Thika town, an issue that had embarrassed him. My son was going through mental torture,” Ms Rosemary Wanjiru, 68, told the Nation at her Kaharati home in Murang’a yesterday.

Some of the suppliers had even repossessed their stock and pressure was mounting on him to pay up or face legal action.

“Proud and stubborn, my son hates any form of embarrassment and has a very dry sense of humour, that’s why those public tiffs with creditors were taking a toll on his mental health,” said Ms Wanjiru.

Gitau then left his mother’s home at midnight, promising to call in the morning, but her maternal instincts kept her awake throughout.

“His confessions troubled me. I thought of selling part of our family land so Gitau could settle some of his most pressing debts. I called him at around 7.30am and we spoke for a few minutes. I cannot tell whether he was in his second or first wife’s home, or elsewhere. I wish I had asked him because this would have given us a starting point in this long and anxious search for him,” she said.

Suicide note

Earlier, Gitau had taken his second wife Muthoni to Nakuru to inspect one of his farms.

“He showed Muthoni a piece of land he had bought for her. He later visited his third wife, Nelly, in Ithanga village. I tried to convince him to spend the night with us but he refused as he wanted to brief her on her properties, before heading back to Maporomoko Estate in Thika to Wahu,” said Ms Wanjiru.

“He shared briefly that Wahu was giving him problems owing to the family wealth share ratio but I told him to use dialogue and compromises to settle the matter,” she added.

The following day, Wahu and her nephew, Geoffrey Wachira, reported to police at around 4pm that the trader was missing and had left behind a suicide note that indicated he had lost hope in life. They gave Gitau’s age as 60, yet he is 44 years.

Wahu said she was with Gitau in one of the Thika shops at around 9.30am when he allegedly left for the gym in an old truck that he later abandoned near Blue Post Hotel at around 10am.

Detectives have since dismissed this narrative, with Thika Businessmen Community chairman Alfred Wanyoike terming it “a silly fabrication”.

Police claimed Gitau never authored the suicide note while business associates alleged the trader did not show up in Thika town that morning.

“Please get my son before I die of anxiety… each day that passes without knowing the whereabouts of my son drives me closer to the grave. I remain hopeful he is alive somewhere,” Ms Wanjiru told the Nation.

by nation.africa

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