To build a rural house or not? Kenyans spar online over ‘dead capital’ homes

A house under construction. FILE PHOTO | NATION
A house under construction. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Less than two weeks ago as hundreds of Kenyans trooped to the village to celebrate the festive season with their loved ones, David Ogolla also drove his family to his rural home in Siaya.

They celebrated the day roasting meat over fire, and washed it down with drinks and some hearty conservations then soon dusk crept in.

The father of three then bundled his wife and children into the family car and headed to Siaya Town, some 50 kilometres away from home, in search for accommodation.

Ogolla, a marketing executive in Nairobi, says he doesn’t see the point of sinking bank notes for a home in the village which he only visits once in a lifetime. He instead opted to construct a shelter in Nairobi where he lives and works, the move he says saves him monthly rent payment.

Nairobi home

“My parents also live in Nairobi therefore I don’t travel to the village quite often," pointed Ogolla who has put up a three bedroom house in Njiru, Nairobi.

The issue of whether to put up a shelter back in the village has attracted divergent opinions across the country’s social media sphere after Dr Bitange Ndemo opined that building in the village which you rarely visit is a misplaced investment and therefore ‘dead capital’.

While a clique of Kenyans have lived in cities for decades without even a mud-walled hut in the village, others borrow huge loans to put up ‘palaces’ that remain idle.

“I regret why I put up a house in my rural home while I suffered in the city.  The house was dead capital.  I could not rent it to anyone yet I had to pay somebody to take care of it.  In fifteen years I have used it twice,” wrote Dr Ndemo

Dr Ndemo went on to allude that such home are burial homes saying those in the city build in the village to avoid embarrassing the clan when they die.

On one hand, Dr Ndemo’s observations hold some truth because whenever a prominent figure in the country passes and happens not to have built reasonable house back in the village, social media users would never let their soul rest in peace without giving them a jibe here and a lecture there.

The late Prof Okoth Okombo, veteran journalist Ogao Patrobas were rumoured to have passed on without building a shelter in their respective ancestral villages and netizens quickly dragged them to the court of ‘public justice’ for failing to honour a ‘societal norm’.

Social norm

The late Ogao’s employer had to build two permanent houses for the former journalist’s rural home in Nyabondo before he could be buried.

There are the ranks of Kenyans who believe it is enough to build a house only where they are work and live on a daily basis, then there are those who believe in the social norm of building a house in their ancestral home.

To the later an ancestral home in not an investment, or a graveyard or an exchange of value, it is simply home.

Walter Omenya, an architecture and sustainable urban developer wrote on Facebook that a home should not only be looked at through economic lenses.

“We know that the importance of the house is beyond it's potential sale price in the market place. We know that the house is the theatre of social reproduction; it is a home.

"This is where children grow, where guests are entertained, where the family blossoms.... Many houses are our homes, where a chunk of our identity is constructed.

"These are reproductive aspects of housing linked with "use value", rather than "exchange value,” he noted.

“Nairobi is too crowded, too polluted to even raise a family. As routinely as possible, go to the village and breathe some fresh air. Also, as South African philosopher said, the rich go on vacation over Christmas, the poor visit their parents in the village.

"The better to live a decent life every once in a while” wrote Silas Nyachwani,a journalist ,on Facebook.

“If we devolved wealth to our towns and villages and stopped the overconcentration of resources and manpower in Nairobi, the misguided debate of referring to projects in the village as "Dead Capital" would be irrelevant. The West has managed to develop through dispersion of wealth to up-country,” Omugambi Naychae, a social media user said on Facebook.

David Kitundu, CEO Realtor Masters, explained that putting up a good house in a remote area raises the property value around that area.

While he advises that it is necessary to have land in the village he also notes that it is important to have some structure in the land without over indulging in the building.

“When you put a building in the village it increases the overall land value and under developed land.

"Infact, your neighbours stand to benefit more from that investment because you bring electricity and water closer to them," Mr Kitundu said.