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Remnants of Nairobi ‘City Carton’

Traders use iron sheets to barricade Kirinyaga Road in Nairobi. Photo/JAMES NJUGUNA
Traders use iron sheets to barricade Kirinyaga Road in Nairobi. Photo/JAMES NJUGUNA 

Ever since the British dumped some World War II mechanics on the stretch of land near Nairobi River, then known as Grogan Road East, the area has witnessed various skirmishes as contest for space continues.

Attempts to remove the mechanics, and their second and third-generation successors, has always led to death and anarchy and no amount of force cows them. They still come back.

Last week, the Kirinyaga Road area remained a no-go zone for a good part of the day as mechanics resisted attempts to evict them from part of the land they allege has been grabbed.

Of course the mechanics don’t own the land either. But this is one problem that Nairobi should deal with.

The first generation of these mechanics, who brought up families in a shanty village nicknamed “City Carton,” for it was built with cartons and cardboards, were removed in 1970s and settled in a bare land, far away from the city.

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The City Council called the housing project Huruma, for it was as a result of sympathy to the struggles of these “City Carton” pioneers and their families.

But even after they received titles for the Huruma plots (others were settled in Mathare) - they still returned to do business in Grogan, by reassembling junk and written-off vehicles that operated as pirate taxis.

This kept the spare parts business along the stretch running.

The third generation of these mechanics continue to do the same.

The pirate taxis flourished by evading the police and city askaris.

They openly flouted the by-law and monopoly license which only allowed Kenya Bus Service to run passenger service within Nairobi.

Today, the pirate taxis have become matatus and officially recognised as a mode of transport, not only in Nairobi but all over Kenya.

But the fate of these mechanics, who kept the industry running remains in limbo and they have to constantly fight to remain in business.

Like forgotten souls they have to fight the final removal from these grounds.

Nairobi did not aspire to have such open yard garages.

With the main garage businesses ran in the Industrial Area by established dealers, the presence of these World War II mechanics changed the equation.

The first owner of this stretch of land, Col. Ewart Grogan (he built Getrudes Children’s Hospital too!) managed to rehabilitate the swampy land by digging canals and allowing Asian housewives to grow cabbages.

The arrival of the mechanics, came after Grogan had lost interest in the land and the City Council was trying to force him to sell it.

The emergence of “City Carton” was as a result of failure by the British to reward the Kings African Rifles mechanics (and soldiers) after the World War victory.

While the white soldiers were rewarded with land in the Kenya Highlands, these were left near the recruitment grounds of Kariakor (Carrier Corps) to look for their way home.

They decided to stay nearby. It was a policy failure.

More than 40 years after Independence, police are still being sent to seek a armed solution to the struggles of these mechanics.

This might not work. It was easy to flatten “City Carton” will bulldozers but it will not be easy to uproot the mechanics without an alternative. For “City Carton” lives in their souls.

Mr Kamau is associate editor, Business Daily. [email protected]

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