Kenya Railways officials have suspended plans to evict nearly 50,000 people living and working alongside railroad tracks planned for renovation. Despite the announcement, there are worries that the forced evictions could still happen in the near future.
On March 21, people living near Kenya's railway line to Uganda were given notice that they had 30 days to leave their homes to make room for upgrades to the system. The notice was presented by the Kenya Railways Corporation, a state owned company which runs Kenya's rail system, and gave no indication that those living near the tracks would be resettled.
The eviction notice was met with an outcry from local residents as well as the international community. Many residents have lived near the rails for years and threatened to fight back if forcefully evicted. London-based human rights organization Amnesty International called the planned eviction a violation of Kenyan and International law.
The 30 days given by the initial notice expired just one week ago, and this week it was announced that Kenya Railways had suspended the pending removal until further notice. The decision was reportedly made after discussions with a community organization in one of the affected areas, Ngazi ya Chini, which means bottom of the ladder in Swahili.
While the decision was celebrated by many of the reserve's residents, the director of Amnesty International in Kenya, Justus Nyang'aya said that the eviction had simply been postponed, leaving residents uncertain about their future.
"While it is welcome news, there has been a lot of psychological trauma on people," said Justus Nyang'aya. "When people are told they are going to be evicted it is not an easy matter at all. People ran everywhere scared that they were going to be evicted. Then they are told now that we have suspended it. And they are not saying that they have suspended it until another day. They just said 'we have suspended it' which is an open ended suspension."
No new relocation plan has been released, and Kenya Railways Corporation could not be reached for comment.
The majority of those affected by the decision live in Kibera, an area in western Nairobi which is famously known as Africa's largest slum. Kibera is home to an estimated one million inhabitants, and the railway due for renovation runs right through its center. The tin shanties of Kibera stand within 10 feet of the tracks in some areas, well within the 100 feet designated as railway reserve by the government.
Amnesty International has called on the Kenya Railways to respect a plan drafted by Kenyan authorities in 2005 to improve safety along the tracks. The so-called Relocation Action Plan established guidelines for the eviction process and suggested that inhabitants within the railway reserve be resettled in housing provided by the Kenyan government. The plan was never enacted and residents living in close proximity to the rails were allowed to remain.