Some of the landowners who have been compensated for losing their land to the new railway have already squandered their fortunes, even as some of their neighbours wait for their turn to be paid.
While some of the men who were paid millions moved to Mombasa to enjoy their windfall, leaving their families with nothing, others have turned Voi into a party town and have not shied away from demonstrating their generosity.
And the story of poor people turning into instant millionaires and merry-makers is the same from Manyani in Taita Taveta County to Kaloleni in Kilifi County, the story is the same — families left distraught after one member took off with the compensation millions.
Ms Abigail Idi Wawuda, a widow from Kaloleni, transferred the right to receive her compensation to her 30-year-old son, Mr Hamisi Kilunju Idi, with the understanding that he would hand over the money to her when it came.
However, when Mr Kilunju received the cash, he moved to Mombasa alone, only to return after he had squandered his family’s fortune. He did not even tell his destitute mother how much they had been paid.
“He drank all that money. It is hard to believe. I do not even want to think about it because it is going to make me sick,” lamented the widow who is also the bread winner for her daughter and two grandchildren.
However, even as some beneficiaries enjoyed their newfound riches, others were still waiting for their compensation.
Mr Titus Bondo, a primary school teacher in Mtito Andei, who was expecting to receive Sh3.8 million, was running out of patience, waiting for his windfall.
“I plan to use half a million of the money to fly to Seychelles,” he said, sitting on his new motorbike. “I will get a young beautiful girl to accompany me there.”
According to him, he will spend the other Sh3.3 million with his wife.
However, even as men like Mr Bondo laid out their plans, confusion, disappointment and anger reigned among those who were yet to receive their bounty.
Mr Festus Mutinda, who lives in Makindu Township, Makueni County, said that he and some of his neighbours were yet to receive their compensation even though others who lived next door had already been paid and moved out.
“The first group of people were paid as early as December 9. Those are the only ones who received a notice to demolish their house and vacate. I just hope we will not be bulldozed out of our land at the last minute,” he said.
His biggest worry was that he would be ejected from his home without compensation.
PAID FOR ONE PLOT
Mr Isaac Okumu, who also lives in Makindu, said he owned several plots of land in the area but had only been compensated for one.
His predicament was similar to that of Mr Justus Ngao, who owns two plots and signed off both at the same time but got paid for only one.
“I was awarded Sh1.9 million for my 20 by 100 metre-plot but I am yet to receive money for the larger one, which is 50 by 100 metres. This is very inconveniencing because the plots are next to each other and I cannot demolish one of them without affecting the other,” he said.
Mr Ngao, who has rental houses on his land, said tenants had already started moving out of the second plot in anticipation of the demolition.
“I am no longer earning from the remaining houses because no one wants to live here. The people who have remained are complaining about security because they have no neighbours. So I have no choice but to give them their deposit so that they move out. I am making losses right now,” he said.
His neighbour, Mr Musya Mulatya, was also worried about the security of his family.
“It is no longer safe to live here. Many of my neighbours have demolished their houses and moved out, so we are now exposed. The security that came from numbers is no longer there. Also, the dust from the demolitions going on around us is affecting the children,” he said.
Before the demolition, he owned two homes. Today, his two wives, his mother and his sister live in the same homestead, which has five houses.
Area chief Jackson Kimende said Mr Mulatya’s case brought to light some of the oversights made during the valuation of the land along the railway corridor.
“The valuation did not consider the other effects the move would have on the people. Some people are being uprooted from their heritage; from the only homes they have known and occupied for generations. A simple calculation of the cost of land is definitely not enough,” said the chief.
On why some people were being compensated while others were yet to get any money, Chief Kimende said he submitted a detailed map of all the plots to the National Lands Commission. He does not understand why the people were not all compensated at the same time.
“There doesn’t seem to be any order even. You will find two houses in this line were compensated, then the next three houses were not, followed by one that was compensated and seven more that were not. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Sixty-year-old Abiba Mwelu said some officials who claimed to be from the National Land Commission went to his house and asked him for his land documents, ostensibly to rectify some information. He has not seen them since.
“I have a wife and three children. I also have a disabled sister who is solely dependent on me. I need this money. It is not fair to lose my home and not get compensated. Many of us here feel as if we are forgettable and dispensable because we live so far and our voice cannot be heard,” he said.
Many respondents said they were given a number through which to call the National Lands Commission but few have ever gotten through.
“When you call the number, you will usually find the phone switched off and even when there is someone on the other end, they tell you your name is not on the list. But if you call the next day, you will be told your name is on the list and you have to go to Nairobi to check. Sometimes I feel like they are just playing around with us and no one is really checking,” said Mr Ngao.