An old man has nothing to look forward to

Case study: Nairobi Urban Poverty Partnership project

"You are asking me about the land demarcation? Will they even think, let alone consider me? Although I am one of the earliest settlers here I know that they will not consider me. I am waiting for God, after all life has nothing to offer me. Nobody will miss me when I am gone since I am poor and all alone". These are Mzee Mwaniki's words, echoing the pathetic situation facing the elderly in this expansive informal settlement.

Mzee Mwaniki was born in Nairobi and is one of the earliest settlers in the area. He recalls the days before independence when the white settlers used to occupy the area. Maili Saba was then a sisal plantation.

He is not able to tell his age since he did not go to school. However, from his looks, I estimated his age to be about 80 years. His mother was a single woman who earned her living as a commercial sex worker. He does not remember his father. In the 1950s Mwaniki joined the armed struggle for independence against British colonial rule. He was detained for many years as a result. When he was finally released, he found that his mother, who was the only relative, had passed away.

Fighting poverty and living in several informal settlements in Nairobi characterized his subsequent life. Although there were very few people in Maili Saba then, he found himself living here because he was able to get casual jobs in the adjoining farms. After independence, a few people began moving into Maili Saba although the progress was slow due to the distance to the city center. The informal settlement is about 7 kilometers from the city center.

The octogenarian is single and has no dependants. He describes the house he lives in as a "toilet" due to its size and the lack of proper sanitary facilities. He depends on the kindness of the landlord because he is not able to raise the Ksh 200 monthly rent. Mzee Mwaniki is not bothered about lack of social services. According to him, they are less important compared to getting food. For a toilet, he goes to the bush and cannot recall when he last had a bath. The landlord gives him food once in a while. There are times when he can go without food for many days. Other times he goes scavenging in the garbage heaps in the affluent neighboring estate of Dandora Phase 5.

"An old man like me has nothing to look forward to. Life for me is the same everyday" was his reply when asked about his aspirations. "I have nowhere to go since I cannot even afford a meal, leave alone a ticket to go anywhere." was his snap response as he limped away. It was not clear whether his limp was due to hunger or pain.

by Rebecca Kabura
Community organizer,
Nairobi urban poverty partnership project

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