Rusty gates. Deserted homes. Hollowness. The elite residential neighbourhood of Langau in Ongata Rongai that beamed with life just five years ago is a pale shadow of its former self.
Palatial homes that dotted the area now lie in sordid rubble and gloom.
The fortunes of the area have dramatically changed, thanks to the standard gauge railway.
If Mr Joseph Alukwe had his way, the SGR would never have passed through his land.
Mr Alukwe, 50, from Olooltepes, says his life was destabilised four years ago by one of the Jubilee government’s signature projects.
When the area was marked for the line in 2014, Kenya Railways informed the blind man that the government would only compensate him for the structures on his piece of land.
Any future projects would not be considered for the payout.
Since then, his one-acre piece of land has been lying idle, save for his three-bedroom house.
China Road and Bridge Corporation workers pulled down several structures on his plot while erecting pillars for a bridge meant for the railway line.
Not even his wife’s grave will be spared when the line is finally laid.
To Mr Alukwe and his family, the railway project has brought untold misery.
Mr Alukwe’s grievances mirror the misery of hundreds of other families in Ongata Rongai and Ngong, whose land was taken by the government for the grand project.
From poor compensation terms, delayed payouts and unreliable information from the government, landowners now believe Kenya Railways is deliberately short-changing them.
A month after the National Land Commission said the government had released more than Sh10 billion for compensation, many families are yet to get a cent.
To make matters grave, Kenya Railways remains guarded on the subject.
Of the Sh10.2 billion received, only Sh4 billion has been released for payment so far, according to the NLC.
“A special team has been formed to speed up compensation in order to enable the contractor [to] access the land and complete the project on time,” the commission said in a statement.
Landowners — particularly in the Ngong station, Mai Mahiu and Suswa sections of the SGR — have not submitted their title deeds and other necessary documents, arguing that the rates offered by the government are too low and unfair.
“The government promised fair compensation when the valuation of land was done last year. We would be compensated according to the market value of the land,” a dejected Mr Alukwe told the Nation.
“In circumstances that are not clear, the award was halved. We were told it was a directive from the President.”
The development means families cannot buy land in neighbouring areas.
A quarter of an acre of land in Ongata Rongai, Ngong and neighbouring areas goes for slightly more than Sh4 million, but the government insists on paying Sh2 million, residents say.
“Where will I get land and build a house with that amount? I have developed this place for 10 years. If I don’t get the value for my property, it will take me years back,” Mr Alukwe said.
Residents say they wrote a “genuine” complaint to the government two months ago but have not receive feedback from State officials or Kenya Railways.
Curiously, the landowners were not involved in the valuation.
Even owners of residential and commercial buildings say they feel cheated.
A property owner saw half of his two-storey apartment complex demolished to pave the way for the project.
Despite his demands for full compensation, Kenya Railways said it would only pay for the demolished section. No explanation was given for the decision.
Tenants moved out when multiple structural assessments showed that the remaining rooms were not habitable.
The dispute has prompted some landowners to block the implementation of the project until Kenya Railways listens to their grievances and acts accordingly.
China Road and Bridge Corporation has, in the meantime, skipped the disputed sections and proceeded with other areas in a race to meet the 54-month deadline.
“If the government had paid me, I would be long gone. I would have bought land elsewhere and constructed a house. The longer the government takes to compensate us, the higher the value of the land gets,” Mr Alukwe added.
In some areas, the contractor had to give money to families to move.
However, the families are back on their lands due to the delayed compensation by the government. And they insist on remaining.
Because of the protracted dispute, CRBC has laid off many casual employees.
Machines have also been grounded.
Already, the Chinese company has signalled that the project may not be completed within the set timelines.
Initially, the government gave the families three months to leave after being compensated.
The period was later reduced to 45 days, and further down to a month.
“It is unrealistic for the government to ask us to leave when we have not been compensated. Where are we expected to go? Does this government really care?” Mr Alukwe asked.
While admitting that some property owners have refused to leave, Ongata Rongai and Ngong residents fault the State for using the same “brutal” tactics on those who have co-operated with the authorities.
“The government should deal with those blocking the project and be fair to the rest of us. Why should everybody suffer because of the mistakes of a few?” asked Mr Anthony Ngugi, a resident.
He added that many residents have inflated the value of their land.
Residents of Kajiado County say it is not their business if the money meant for compensation has been stolen by government functionaries.
“The government should sort out the mess and compensate us since that is what the law says,” said an Ongata Rongai local who did not wish to be named.