Odinga family fear curse over demolition of ‘ancestral’ Jerusalem estate in Nairobi
A long Jogoo Road, a few metres from the bus stage dubbed Kwa Odinga by residents of Jerusalem Estate in Nairobi’s Eastlands area stands a house whose neighbours share memories of one of the country’s prominent families.
Children play in an open space overlooking the house in the neighbourhood of Dr Livingstone Primary School that the doyen of opposition politics in Kenya and former vice president, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga used lived in decades ago.
At hand to receive us is one of Oginga’s granddaughters, Evelyne Awino Ogola.
Wearing a smile on her face and in the typical sheng language spoken by residents of the populous area aka Eastlando, ushers us into a squeezed room, adjacent to an bright-orange painted one storey house that used to belong to her grandfather.
The iron sheet makeshift room has been built to accommodate the large number of family members in the home.
“Karibu ushago kwetu (loosely translated as welcome to our ‘rural’ home),” Evelyne says with a light chuckle, as we find ourselves spaces to sit in the tiny room.
She explains to us that the family house is like their rural home, such that when people travel to the village during festive seasons or other occassions, her family congregates there.
The mother of four explains the comfort she derives from staying in the estate, which she and her family have always mantained fond memories and sentimental value for.
On the inside, the room is covered with a wall paper, perhaps to prevent excessive heat from entering the room during hot weather.
It has a huge sofa set and two small ones occupying most of the room, as three plastic stools and a 12-inch television set taking up the rest of the space.
The main house has three rooms, one bedroom, a spacious living room and a big kitchen with a washing area.
In the days gone by, the space on which the iron sheet house is built was a spacious compound where, as children, they would play in and have a good time
Evelyne, who is the daughter of Ngire Agola Odinga, a junior brother (third born) to Dr Oburu Odinga and former Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga responds when asked about her preference to reside in the estate.
“My grandfather was a humble personality who preferred to live a simple life. His humility inspires the family, the leafy suburbs have their owners.”
Whenever her uncle, former Raila Odinga is on the campaign trail, Evelyne says he always stops by to receive supporters and treat them to a cup of tea.
She says the family has not changed the name on the card of the grandfather the defunct Nairobi City Council allocated Oginga Odinga in his honour and dreads plans by Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) to demolish the estate.
Evelyne poses momentarily holding her chin with her left hand at the prospect of the return of the owner from the grave: “He will drop dead immediately if he wakes up and finds the spot his three-roomed house the Israel government built in the 60s stood on is replaced by a skyscraper.”
She says her family is fearful of any curses that may befall them when what they term as their roots is destroyed.
Destroying the ecosystem
She insists that in honour of her grandfather, the site on which the house stands should be retained as a historical structure and as a special tribute to Odinga senior, who she says, contributed immensely to the country’s’ liberation struggle.
Few years back the City Hall-owned estates housed who is who in the country, including civil servants, political elites, corporation employees and other well-paid Kenyans, and not everybody would afford to live there.
A community leader and resident, Kenneth Adagala says the intention to bring down the old estates amounts to destroying the ecosystem.
“All big names in Kenyan politics, including former President Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki, among others, lived here. We really don’t want to lose all that history,” he quips.
Most tenants in 10 estates that NMS plans to demolish are opposed to the programme, and those in support insist on a human process that will see true owners allocated houses.
Already calls to have Jerusalem Estate, which has 660 houses and Lumumba Estate with 1,388 houses be retained as monuments of historical importance have attracted the attention of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). NMK dispatched a technical team led by researcher Josephine Gitau to establish if both meet the criteria residents have demanded.
NMS plans to construct 62,000 highrise apartments to replace the old estates under the NMS Improvement Programme Eastland Urban Renewal Plan.
The vice chairlady of Jericho Lumumba Residents Association, Jane Achieng Oloo likens destruction of the Jaramogi house and those of Bildad Kagia who was Odinga’s vice president under the Kenya Peoples Union (KPU) opposition party to destruction of a piece of history.
“Historical properties that are restored can be used as museums or local attractions, which appeals to tourists and locals,” says Achieng.
The estates are almost as old as Nairobi city, with some of them having been built in the 1920s, when Kenya was still a British colony.
While most were built by the colonialists to house government workers near their workplaces in the Central Business District (CBD), there are others, such as Kaloleni was known as a centre for Kings African Rifle (KAR), built to house World War II veterans.
What’s interesting to note is that through ‘inheritance,’ most of the families living in these neighbourhoods currently, such as Evelyne have been here for the last three generations.