Mukuru and Huruma: A study in contrasts

by James Tayler


pictured above: Mukuru residents examine the new eviction order from Kenya Railways Corporation.

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

As I have already discussed earlier this week, enumerations create enough anxiety due to near-unavoidable internal dynamics of communities. But in the case of the railway relocation program in Nairobi, we should be clear about the ultimate cause of such nervousness: the on-and-off eviction that the Kenya Railways Corporation has been pursuing for the better part of the past decade.

On Monday, residents of slums along the railway learned that the Kenya Railways Corporation had issued a new 30-day eviction notice to all people living within 100 meters of the railway line over the weekend. As we walked through Mukuru on Tuesday, Pamoja Trust staffers and community enumerators handed out the eviction notice to begin discussing what they could do about it. The enumeration was supposed to empower the community to negotiate with the Railways Corporation for a relocation that took their needs into account. A unilateral eviction threat totally defeats that end.

Pamoja sought to reassure residents in Mukuru, many of whom have already witnessed or experienced an eviction earlier this month due to the installation of an oil pipeline nearby the railway line. The all-too-familiar sights common to recently evicted areas of what were the former foundations and flattened ground of shack floors dot an empty space nearby the line in Mukuru. Residents were concerned about the time frame for eviction, but perhaps because there was already action on the ground in the form of mapping, numbering, and enumeration, led by community members themselves, they were not too perturbed.

In Kibera, it has been another story. After disputes between structure owners and tenants delayed the start of the process last week, the eviction notice threw a new wrench into the works this week. Mapping and numbering should have begun yesterday, but concerned residents postponed the activities because of the eviction notice. They needed reassurance that Pamoja was not conspiring with the Kenya Railways Corporation against them. To this end, Pamoja showed them a formal letter submitted to the Railways Corporation opposing the eviction notice. The railway line operator is claiming that the eviction notice did not apply to those affected by the ongoing relocation program, of which this enumeration is a part. But the notice does not make any such distinction.

Instead of helping to jump start the process in Kibera as planned, the South African exchange team visited some of the other sites in Nairobi where Muungano wa wanavijiji (the Kenyan slum dwellers federation) have developed for themselves. The multi-storey, high density dwellings in the slum of Kambimoto in Huruma provided a useful counterpoint to the Mukuru / Kibera experience and, in particular, this week’s eviction notice.

The upgrading project has 86 units that were financed by individual savings, group savings, and the Kenyan urban poor finance facility associated with Pamoja, Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT). Muungano member Susan Wanjiru moved into her home in 2004. She told me that the federation in Kambimoto is planning to build another 100 houses, but faces a particular challenge in the rise of material costs since the first houses were built. “Now we are planning to be incremental,” she said.

The project is just one of many examples of one of the most important prerequisites for incremental building: security of tenure. The federation has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the city council for the land, but “no we are fighting to get the title deed,” Wanjiru said.

In Mukuru, trash is everywhere, most structures are made of wood beams and mud, sometimes with corrugated iron. The residents have lived under constant threat of eviction for almost a decade. In the Kambimoto upgrading project, the pathways are clean, lined with plants and flowers put out by the new homeowners. They do not have full security of tenure, but the MoU has been enough to spur the residents to continue to invest in their homes.


pictured above: The clean, plant-lined pathways of Muungano’s Kambimoto (Huruma) slum upgrading project.