For Online E-newspaper
Daily Nation : February 18th 2014
2 DN coverstory DAILY NATION Tuesday February 18, 2014 ALL PHOTOS | EVANS HABIL Alan Donovan, fresh from hospital, was at pains to even think of a life without his cherished house when we visited him last Thursday. To him, and indeed to many others who know the history of the house, that it may be no more in a few weeks’ time is just sad. And catastrophic. But to the engineers plotting the route of the new line, African Heritage House’s fate is just unfortunate. Plain and simple. Will they make Alan Donovan A When three men walked into Donovan’s compound last month and told him that the corridor of his worldfamous house stood on the way of the proposed standard-gauge railway line, the bombshell sent him straight to a hospital bed, where he spent a couple of days. Now out, he is fighting to save not just his life, but his house as well. But what if his efforts come a cropper? What if he loses the fight? “I have been asked to consider the possibility of reconstructing it in California,” he says BY RUPI MANGAT email@example.com lan Donovan was having a quiet lunch one day last month by the pool side of his house when three men walked into the compound. One, a guard, was holding an AK47 rifle while the other two, both Chinese, seemed anxious to get over what had brought them here. The clumsy pleasantries exchanged, the man with the rifle went straight to the point: “This house stands on the way of the new railway line. It will have to be demolished.” Donovan thought he had heard wrong, so he asked the man to clarify what he had just said. But the three visitors were in a hurry — they had a whole neighbourhood to shock out of its gated splendour, after all — and so they told him to please go to the Ministry of Lands if he needed further information about the bombshell. His lunch ruined — and, presumably, that of the two guests he was hosting as well — Donovan started aimlessly walking around the imposing structure he has called home for years now. To many art lovers, the castle that stands majestically on the edges of the Nairobi National Park is not just a house, but a national heritage. From its vantage position, it provides one of the grandest views of this iconic park and the Ngong Hills, but soon it may GROUP EDITORIAL DIRECTOR: Joseph Odindo GROUP MANAGING EDITOR: Mutuma Mathiu FEATURES EDITOR: Bernard Mwinzi REVISE EDITOR: Mary Wasike SUB-EDITOR: Naliaka Wafula PHOTO EDITOR: Joan Pereruan CHIEF GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Roger Mogusu DESIGNERS: Hassan Ibrahim, Benjamin Situma, Joy Abisagi, Virginia Borura, Teddy Murimi, Linus Ombette COVER PHOTO: Evans Habil be no more. Built between 1989 and 1994, the architectural masterpiece is fashioned along the lines the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali, the mud mosque that so put Africa on the world architectural map that it was designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1988. Timbuktu, just 20 kilometres away, boasts its own mud mosques as well and during its golden age, between the 12th and 14th centuries, was the centre of Islamic learning, boasting a 1897 The year the railway tracks that pass near Donovan’s house were laid, during construction of ‘The Lunatic Express’. Because of the envisaged speeds of the modern trains that will use the new line, engineers need to find ways of avoiding sharp corners. To straighten what is already crooked, their instruments plotted right through Donovan’s sitting room. university and a flourishing book trade along the trade routes. But none of those can rival the offer at Djenné, from where the builders of the house in Nairobi borrowed a leaf or two. And so, as Donovan strolled around his little paradise, the wind blown off his sails, he stumbled upon something that proved that the three gentlemen he had just shown out meant business: a peg with a red ribbon by the entrance of the house. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where the new standard-gauge railway line between Mombasa and Nairobi will pass, bang through the main corridor in Donovan’s African Heritage House. To him, and indeed to many others who know the history of the house, that is just sad. And catastrophic. To the engineers plotting the route of the new line, however, African Heritage House’s fate is just unfortunate. The structure may be iconic, a showcase of irreplaceable African culture — by both design and furnishing — but what is that when pitted against a modern train hurtling through the plains at 200 kilometres per hour? Donovan may have been a tiger in his heyday, but the news was just too much for him. The thought of this masterpiece being reduced to rubble soon knocked him flat, the stress too much to bear. Doctors advised a hospital stay, and so he spent a couple of days staring at the bland ceiling of a hospital room and contemplating a life without African Heritage House. Out of hospital now, he is actively seeking dialogue with the authorities over the fate of his house, which incorporates inspirations from the emir palaces of Northern Nigeria, the painted houses of Kasina in Ghana, and the Swahili architecture of the East African coast, from Zanzibar through is published every week by Nation Media Group Limited. It is distributed free with every Daily Nation. Unsolicited manuscripts, artwork, transparencies are submitted at the sender’s risk. While every care will be taken on receipt of such material, the Nation Media Group Limited cannot accept responsibility for accidental loss or damage. ©Nation Media Group Limited, 2014. All rights reserved.
February 17th 2014
February 19th 2014