Contestations along the Nairobi railway lines

by James Tayler


pictured above: Muli Munguti sells his wares in an area dominated by business stalls along the railway lines in Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi.

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

The railway relocation project in Nairobi is proceeding with all the fits, starts, complications, and inevitable contestations that come with such a high stakes endeavor. I arrived with the exchange team from South Africa on Sunday night and for the past two days we have been learning about — and assisting with — the mapping and numbering of structures to be relocated in the slum of Mukuru. Along with Kibera, Mukuru is one of the slums that is affected by this program, which has been negotiated with the Kenya Railways Authority.

This morning, we were met by the whistle and bright lights of a train that goes through Mukuru on its way to Mombasa. Pamoja Trust, Mungano wa wanavijiji (the Kenyan slum dwellers federation), and other community members are using satellite images of structures to then number each one on the ground once they match it with the satellite picture. Sometimes, one structure as photographed from above is actually two separate stalls, as was the case for many of the self-owned businesses that lie within a couple meters of the railway track. So then a given structure could be numbered as follows: RMS / 465 A/B (Railway Mukuru Sinai — the name of one of the three sections of Mukuru — the structure number, and then A/B indicates that it is actually two separate businesses).

The numbering, and even the use of satellite mapping were key points of conflict today. Mobile traders, either those who walk along the railway line selling their wares, or those who have been in the same place — some for close to a decade — nearby, were afraid of not being counted. This fear arises from the perception that there will be compensation attached to being counted, when people are eventually relocated.

I spoke to Muli Munguti (pictured above), age 38, who has been selling his wares for the past six years by laying them across the railway line in the same spot. Whenever a train goes by he folds up his goods inside the track and lets the train roll over them. “You count that one, but you don’t count this one. It’s not good,” he said.

It is the kind of conflict that arises in any large scale enumeration. Every community has different components, all of which want to be heard. Especially in a case like the railway relocation in Nairobi, where there is a clear issue of compensation or relocation tied to being counted — the process is part of a relocation in partnership with Kenya Railways and funded by the World Bank — the enumeration is of particular relevance to every party within the community.

Today, the community enumerators managed to mediate most of these concerns. In a meeting at the end of the day, they spent much of the time reflecting on how to improve the way they handle these issues as they move from mapping and numbering to house-to-house individual surveys. It was hard to avoid the fact that the community was managing the information collection process in order to deal with such contestations.


pictured above: A community enumerator in Mukuru (right) talks to an owner of a business stall along the railway line about whether his structure should be counted as one or two stalls.