“Demolition: Goodbye to the Taru We Have Known” by Rinda Hayes
The rural community of Taru was told to gather at the Chief’s office. The whole community. This was unexpected. What was going on? The government had called the meeting. They came. The whole community came. They were told, in no uncertain terms, that all shops within 30 meters of the highway must be demolished by the owners. They had 30 days to comply. If demolition was not complete, there would be a fine of 80,000 shillings ($800), an unimaginable amount, to the owner of the shop. The government was reclaiming the land to eventually expand the highway. There would be no compensation for the owners of the shops. Yellow “X’s” would be placed on the shops that had to be destroyed.
The shock of this announcement reverberated through the whole community. Taru town, as they had known it, was to be destroyed. It’s true that many of these shops were kiosks made of tin and timber, but some were concrete, solid structures. One was even a three- story building, the first in town, that had been built by an Indian investor four years ago. It housed a cyber café and the cell tower that connected the community to the outside world adorned its roof. How could this be? True, only the front 15 feet of the building had to be destroyed, but what building can survive with its face cut off?
Over the 13 years we’ve worked in Kenya, we’ve watched Taru go from a village to a town. The “town center” as they called it, was a strip of small kiosks. In 2005 it was dark, dark walking through the town center at night, as electricity had not yet come and the only light you saw was that coming from the burning coals in the small geikos (charcoal stoves). We used to walk down at night, the darkness so foreign, to buy kerosene for our small lamps. But over the years, traffic on the highway increased, as more and more shipping containers were being moved from the port of Mombasa, the biggest port on the east coast of Africa, to Nairobi and on to Uganda and Tanzania. Electricity came to Taru in 2013, and within a year the village seemed to become a town, teeming with life. You could stop on the veranda of the Motherland Hotel and have a soda, or buy a kanga (gorgeous African cloth) and have it made into a dress by one of the local tailors, find a piece of hardware, or have a bike repaired.
Now all of it was to be demolished.
The day the yellow “X’s” were placed on the buildings, the town watched in hushed silence. Policemen were everywhere, brought in to keep order. It must have felt like the Biblical night of the Passover, as the X’s were placed – not in blood this time, but still drawing horror. “No one dared say a word,” said Mwaka, our host. “They knew if they objected they would be beaten.”
So they watched in silence. Mwaka’s shop, just inside the safety boundary, was spared, but that was little comfort, as she saw the X’s on all the other shops owned by friends and neighbors. This is a community where what affects one affects all.
“There was one man who had retired. His only security was in his shop. When he got the news he fell down in shock. The left side of his body has not worked since. People don’t know what they are going to do!” said Mwaka. “They cannot rebuild shops. They cannot buy land. Many of their shops were also their homes. Now they are homeless as well.”
Yet despite the townspeople’s shock, what we saw was grim resignation. The people knew they had no choice. This is not a land of options or objections. You must harness your energy, not fight futile battles. The government is the government. What they want, happens.
And after all, this is their land. It’s just that most people hadn’t known that, or rather had not ever really thought about it, as land appropriation often just evolves with necessity here.
The D-day for demolition was June 30th. Over the month we were in Taru, we watched the dismantling begin to happen, and then become a frenzied mess as the 30th drew near. People were salvaging windows and doors, hardware and building blocks. Sledgehammers, wheelbarrows, blowing dust; the place was alive with destruction and sorrow. But also hope – the eternal Kenyan belief that there is meaning in suffering. The demolition of what they have built and loved will surely lead to a better tomorrow.
Good-bye to the Taru we have known. The past lies in the rubble. We’ll see what the future holds.
Click on this link to go on a video drive through Taru town as people demolish their businesses and homes: Taru Demolition
Rinda Hayes is the co-founder and director of Kenya Keys. She has dedicated the last 13 years of her life to wn as the people demolish their businesses and homes: developing and growing this amazing organization, changing the lives of hundreds of young Kenyan students, their families, and their communities.
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