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A day in the vibrant shanty village that feeds State House

State House Nairobi

State House Nairobi

As the glittering limos rev and finally grind to a stop, their immaculately dressed occupants alight, careful not to blot their shiny boots and impeccable suits with dust, which is all over the place.

With measured gait, they stroll into the tin shacks where steaming platefuls of mouth-watering goat meat, sizzling chapatis and matoke (banana) are on offer.

There are no hand towels or platters and menus are committed to memory or pinned on the walls with crooked nails to be shouted out by harried waiters who yell orders to the ‘chef” as they weave through makeshift tables, desperately trying to balance their plates.

The food is hastily tucked in amidst banter and laughter occasionally interrupted by wails of police sirens. In any informal settlement in Nairobi, the sound of a siren signifies danger or trouble and is enough to occasion closure of all business, for most are run illegally. Here, such sounds are met with the nonchalance reserved for the appearance of a mean looking police officer, especially of the dreariest category, the General Service Unit’s Recce Company.

Welcome to one of Nairobi’s safest shanty in Milimani village where during the day senior security agents and government officers drive and saunter for snacks and freely mingle with hustlers instead of demolishing the ramshackle buildings or chase brewers of illicit liquor. Popular artistes of the variety that graces the screens of leading television stations also patronise the humble neighbourhood in their free time. Although the tin shacks are situated a shouting distance from State House, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s official residence and work station, the two places are very dissimilar.

Perhaps the only common denominator between occupants of the two places is the purified air, and the serene environment brought about by the rich flora and fauna. Despite the differences, this unassuming hamlet has been the stomping ground of security officers stationed at the house on the hill to serve President Kenyatta and other high-ranking government officials.

Possible to govern

Owing to its proximity to the seat of power, loud music or drunken songs are strictly forbidden as one of the “owners’ of the tin-shack village explained to The Counties. Loud-mouthed touts canvassing for passengers in public service vehicles with blaring music are not welcome to the shanty where residents prefer to walk to town.

Besides security men, other cadres of workers stationed at State House also dash to the informal settlement for a quick lunch before returning to their demanding work of making it possible for Kenyatta to govern.

Unlike other informal settlements, food is relatively expensive, for a quarter kilo of goat meat is sold at Sh450 compared to a similar portion in City Market where it goes for about Sh180. Given the affluence of their clients it is understandable.

Other foods on offer include chicken where a portion goes for Sh200, while a plate of matoke is sold at Sh150 and fish at Sh200. Chapati goes for Sh20 and one can get a cup of tea for Sh20.

Eating near State House has other benefits. Alcohol, whatever brand you might fancy, can be consumed here at any time — before and after the legislated hours. Mututho Law is suspended here as is the use of alcohol blow. The least one can part with for a bottle of beer is Sh150.

When The Counties visited the area, Johnson Home, 77, who is the chairman of ‘Milimani Estate’ was busy taking his favourite drink in one of the pubs as he perused through some documents on his table.

Home explained: “I do not allow loud music here since I don’t want to disturb people sleeping in the posh neighbouring hotels.”

Soccer fanatics watching English Premier League games, Home added, are also advised to bottle up their frustrations or excitement. Shouting or wild cheering or jeering is frowned upon in the neighbourhood and can lead to one’s banishment.

He explained that the land belonged to his late sister, Margaret Wanjiru, who invested in real estate and bought the land in 1968, but since she did not have children, left it to her brothers.  He says some individuals wanted to grab the land but his six brothers and their families who reside in the estate took them to court.

Here rooms are relatively expensive for a single room is being rented out at a Sh5,000  per month while a business premises is charged Sh10,000 per month.

Well connected

Home, a former Director of City Inspectorate, said State House personnel prefer eating at the place since they can get fresh and cheap food. The estate’s proximity to State House has seen people congregating there at all times to feast on goat meat.

“This area is well secured since security officers visit here on regular basis and eating here is a full day activity. The eateries are always full with diners,” he adds.

To demonstrate how well connected the place is, Home, who at one time worked with the Administration Police (AP) unit and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) before his retirement explains he has hobnobbed with the high and the mighty in the past.

Sarah Nyambura, 40, came here in 2002, and narrates how it feels, living just next to State House.

 “I have interacted with senior security officers from State House. I have had encounters with actors who most Kenyans just watch on television sets,” expounds Nyambura.

Nyambura,  whose husband, Felix Macharia, alias Mali Ngumu is one of the owners of the three acre land hosting the estate says they interact freely with the security officers and the actors.

 “These people dine and wine here always and we interact freely with them. Some even approach me and request for the latrine keys,” Sarah says with a smile.

 The children too have grown accustomed to seeing the presidential motorcade and the sirens, which to them is almost a daily occurrence.

 Other residents The Counties talked to describe the atmosphere as cool, as they are always serenaded with calm music unlike other parts of the city where ear-shattering noise disguised as music for entertainment can make one deaf.

The Counties

 “The former President Mwai Kibaki is my great friend. I used to interact freely with him when he was still in State House. I occasionally visited him there,” he adds.

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