Winds of change are blowing across some villages in Coast region where impoverished peasants have been transformed into overnight millionaires with astounding results.
The millionaires are being created along the route where the Standard Gauge Railway is being constructed, and Kenya Railways has already paid out over Sh5 billion to farmers whose land will be alienated for the railway line.
The village skyline in some areas has been transformed dramatically, with mud-walled shacks being pulled down to pave the way for fashionable houses fit for the new millionaires.
However, tales abound of some recipients who have frittered away their riches by living in the lap of luxury even as their relatives wallow in poverty.
Some areas like Mariakani have become classic case studies of what happens when a person who has never operated a bank account is propelled into the millionaires’ club.
The bizarre story of a man who allegedly chewed two Sh1,000 notes with miraa recently is still on the lips of residents of Mariakani in Mombasa.
According to the grapevine, the man got extremely excited after he received a windfall from the Government that turned him into an instant millionaire and he decided to celebrate in style.
And although some say his action is indefensible, others like Hamadi Kavuu Wambua defend him.
“His was a case of mental instability and we have since spoken with him,” says Wambua.
Mr Wambua, another newly-minted millionaire, is ecstatic and full of praise for those behind the Standard Gauge Railway. Unlike majority of Kenyans who have to wait for years to reap dividends from the multi-billion shillings project, Wambua and hundreds of landowners who have ceded land for the project are already in celebration.
‘’I am a very happy man together with my family. This project has helped fulfil my life-long dream of owning a modest house,’’ says Wambua, his eyes trained on his newly built stone house.
Those relocated to pave way for the railway will share out a Sh8 billion payout. Out of this, Wambua received Sh2.8 million which he used to buy an acre and build the house.
On Friday, Kenya Railways paid out Sh475 million, bringing the total compensation paid out so far to Sh5.6 billion. Another Sh2.1 billion is yet to be disbursed, added Kenya Railways in a press advertisement on Monday.
It is not hard to see the life-changing effect of the millions of shillings dished out so far. Villages that have since the beginning of times been dominated by mud-walled houses have suddenly sprung to life with artistically designed bungalows with coloured roofs cropping up.
According to Wambua, even the “mentally unstable” man who chewed cash has not been left behind and now also boasts of a modern house.
Wambua’s three-bedroom modern house has a kitchen, toilet, bathroom, dining room, sitting room and a room for a standby electric generator.
The electrician, who has rented a two bed-room house not far from his original home to await completion of his new house has also erected a 3,000-litre water tank and connected power to his house.
He defends recipients of the SGR compensation from the rampant claims that they are spendthrifts.
“We have invested mostly in building decent houses to replace the mud-walled and makuti structures which we lived in for a long time,’’ he said.
Wambua, who is the chairman of Mkilo Welfare Group, that brings together 62 homesteads affected by the SGR project in Mariakani, however, is yet to understand how the land compensation was computed.
“Mariakani is an urban dwelling and so plots fetch much higher prices than what was put on offer to us,’’ he says. But he says he was satisfied with the compensation for physical property like structures and or buildings they had put up.
Not far away from where Wambua used to own a house lives a retail trader, Joshua Maingi Kathome, 41, who inherited his land from his late father Kithome Munuphe.
He is about to move into a modern home constructed at a cost of over Sh1 million, part of which came from the compensation he got from the SGR project.
Maingi’s new four bedroom house is a stone-throw away from the planned new Mariakani Railway Station.
Besides his rusty mabati-roofed structure, in his family compound which has served as his home for over two decades also stands a four bed-roomed home that belonged to his father.
“We are yet to get compensation for my late father’s house where my mother still lives after they asked for more clarification,’’ said Maingi who got his compensation last December.
Maingi said he is still awaiting to be compensated for three graves to enable him transfer the remains to another site. He said he had been informed that each grave will fetch Sh50,000.
“We have graves for my grandfather, father and elder brother, all of which are clearly marked,’’ he said.
But as is expected of windfalls there are those who were quick to squander their riches. Community leaders told The Standard that a man blew up his Sh1.2 million in under two months in pubs.
Most of the so-called PAPs (Project Affected Persons) received their monies in December last year and January this year.
But even as residents bask in their new-found wealth, they still have fond memories of their original homes that were close to a market, shopping centre or school, which they have now left behind.
“We now have to walk for over a kilometre to get to Mariakani trading centre for our daily purchases and there are no good access roads here,’’ Wambua said.
Apart from homes, Mariakani Roman Catholic Primary School, with a pupil population of over 1,000, stands in the way of the modern rail track and will also go.