Stops and Starts in Kibera

by James Tayler

By Jack Makau, SDI Secretariat  


This paper describes the typical Slum Dwellers International enumeration. SDI works specifically in slum and shack settlements, which are very dense, unplanned and where you have several layers of formal and informal land ownership claims.  In most cases the slums are situated in hostile policy environments – in cities that do not have ways in which people in slums can acquire land rights. Indeed in instances where, if  any other claim is made on lands occupied by slums, it invariably takes precedence over the claims of the slum dwellers. This leads to forceful evictions or lengthy contestations. 

In the case of Nairobi, there are 183 slums, that accommodate approximately 40 percent of the city’s population. 63 percent of these settlements are located on lands that have been privatised while the slum was in existence. Another 24 percent of the slums are located on contested public lands. These include road, railway, and riparian reserves. The remaining 13 percent sit on uncontested public lands. These include Kibera, touted as possibly the largest slum in Africa.

Yet, the slum dwellers on uncontested lands still do not have tenure rights. And the main reason for this is that ownership patterns here slums are extremely complex – almost to a point where regularizing land tenure seems intractable.  It is likely that a single shack will be occupied by a tenant who may have lived there for 10 or more years; it will have a structure owner who may not live in the slum, and who is part of an owners association that has an ethnic leaning; and for a fee draws authority from the local authority presiding over the area.  The commercial and political interests surrounding the ownership patterns are daunting. So that the authorities mandated to resolve a land issue in these slums are faced with huge difficulties.

Within this context the enumeration is in the first place, an initiative of the slum community. It assumes that there is no government mechanism that can deliver secure tenure equitably. The enumeration therefore seeks two things: first to untangle and rationalise the complex ownership claims within the slum. Second, it seeks establish a relationship with government authorities where a mechanism that is specific to each case is developed. The SDI enumeration is hence a community led process, as opposed to a participatory process that implies that there is already a mechanism for regularization that a community gets invited to.  

The Context

 On February 1st 2004, the Kenya Railways Corporation issued 30 day notices to people living on its 60 meter railway reserve to vacate or be evicted.  As if in concert, other ministries also issued notices for people sitting on their utility reserves to move away or be forcefully removed.  These included the ministries charged with the provision of power, the development of roads and environmental protection of riparian reserves.   

It quickly dawned on civil society, the church and the affected residents themselves that the notices would greatly affect the poor.  Paralyzing fear of losing livelihoods and shelter gripped settlements across the city.  In the month that followed civil society organisations put together a huge campaign to have the notices revoked.  The actions included a rapid inventory of affected slums, mobilization of slum communities; media and street demonstrations, the lodging of a legal case against the state; and drawing international attention to the government’s plans.

On its part the state did not issue statements halting the planned evictions, instead it quietly retreated. At the end of the notice period, slum dwellers stayed home waiting for the bulldozers. None came. In subsequent discussions with technocrats it was gleaned that the withdrawal was not because government now recognised the rights of the slum dwellers on the lands they were occupying. Only that the timing of the evictions was inopportune.

In the case of the railways, the urgency to clear encroachment on its reserve was driven by a move to concession the public facility to a private operator. The concession was a window to evade total collapse of the foundering Kenya Railways Corporation. Two hot spots with high levels of encroachment were identified as the slums of Mukuru and Kibera in Nairobi. The slums stretched over 11 kilometers of track.   It was estimated that 20,000 people lived and worked on the railway reserve.

Every day traders spread out their wares on or very near the line, creating a bustling market place for thousands of pedestrians who use the track as a thoroughfare to and from their work places.  Thus creating a symbiotic relationship that enables the traders to earn a living and the pedestrians to conveniently procure goods and services.  People manage by stepping away from the trains as they pass, sometimes only inches apart and immediately reoccupying the track. As a result of the crowding, trains within these hotspots, operate at crawling speeds.

 In addition maintenance of the line is a major challenge – The thousands of feet that daily pound the track undermined its stability; there were pit latrines adjacent to the tracks that dramatically offloaded their waste to the line. This is coupled with littering and damping of garbage. The effects of this are that the maintenance crews constantly fall sick and are unmotivated. The railway noted that “while there had been no deaths or injuries in the last few years danger was imminent in every passage of a train”.  If concessioning was a lifeline then encroachment was the Railway’s bane. 

The Stage

It was apparent to Kenyan SDI affiliate, Pamoja Trust, and the slum communities that averting the evictions was not the end of the story.  There was need to re-engage with government in order to explore solutions that would not only realise its concessioning goal but also ensure that the slum dweller’s homes and livelihoods were considered. Engagement with the Railway and the Ministry of Transport, after the period of anti-government activism was not going to be easy. Visits to the Railways offices were merely tolerated. The rich tradition of railway men and women, the proud engineers now in management was injured. Meetings were hastily concluded with the retort, “we cannot have this discussion because we await a decision from the cabinet.”

With the assistance of the Indian affiliates of SDI, SPARC and the National Federation of Slum Dwellers, a visit was organised for a team of managers from the Railways. In the city of Mumbai, the Indian Railways had faced encroachment problems at a much larger scale, where every day several people, on average, were hit by trains. Where mothers tied the feet of their children to themselves at night to stop them from rolling on to the tracks in their sleep.

Working with the residents of slums lining the expansive railway network and the SDI affliates, the problem was resolved. To Mumbai, the Kenya Railways team was led by the General Manager – Administration, who was hosted by his Indian counterpart.

On the team’s return, Kenya Railways send a letter that, in part, read, “We would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your organisation for facilitating the visit by several officers from the Kenya Railways to Mumbai, India.  This visit has been an eye opener, demonstrating vividly that there are other alternatives to the “usual” solution employed where squatter settlements are involved. We at the Kenya Railways shall endeavour to follow your noble and worthy example, seeking a more social and people friendly solution to the problem of encroachments on railway land. The first steps to this end have been made with the enthusiastic response received from our management…”

These efforts coincided with an agreement between the Ministry of Transport and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to finance the concession of railway operations. Another agreement with the World Bank was signed to support the “involuntary relocation” of people sitting on the reserves. This meant that the Ministry of Transport would procure the services of a resettlement advisor to draw up a Relocation Action Plan (RAP).

The visit to Mumbai together with the agreements that government entered, made up the ingredients of a unique process that provided a solution for the slum dwellers sitting on 30 meters on either side of the rail line, for a distance of 11. 4 kilometers.  In the slums of Mukuru and Kibera.

The critical learning for Kenya Railways in Mumbai was that official space was provided to the slum dwellers to contribute to resettlement solutions. And they made splendid of this opportunity. This was achieved through an enumeration process. It was also apparent how the enumeration determined the subsequent negotiation, consensus and crafting of a suitable solution.

Another major gain from Mumbai was the positioning attained for Pamoja Trust that organised the visit to the Indian Railways. In a sense the buy-in on enumeration was accompanied by an equal acceptance of the role of communities and NGO’s in government processes. In particular, Pamoja was placed at an advantage in the process of procuring a resettlement advisor to prepare the RAP. As noted before, the RAP in Kenya was vital because it provided a government framework in which an enumeration process would be given legitimacy.   

It was however not a given, that a community enumeration, slum dwellers counting other slum dwellers,  was an acceptable form of identifying what the World Bank’s resettlement procedures manual called “Project affected Persons” (PAPs).  The RAP had to be prepared according to that manual. The negotiation to okay an enumeration was partly aided by global exposure of the World Bank staffers flown in from Washington, and partly because Kenya Railway’s badly needed to get something going – anything. The concession process had stalled and would remain so until the encroachments were sorted out. 

The Process

Nine months had gone by since the eviction notices were issued. It was not forgotten to the people in Mukuru and Kibera. A series of meetings between the residents of these slums and officers of the railways were held. The meetings were part of the strategy to build confidence in the relocation process, and as expected community anxieties run high. The meetings were all moderated by Pamoja and the Kenya slum dwellers federation, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, who had at this time been selected as the resettlement adviser. On occasion officers from the Ministries of Transport, Housing, Lands and Finance attended community meetings. The resettlement would touch on them all.  

Preparations for the enumeration included an awareness campaign, community exchange visits to resettlement projects around the world, negotiation on the process and selection and training of community enumeration teams. The activities had spectacular spin off effects in the slums. What previously were amorphous collections of shacks and stalls transformed into a community. The residents and traders were joined by what they perceived as a common threat. Community organisations formed months ago to fight off the eviction found new purpose. Both traders and residents formulated and started to articulate issues that affected them generally. The enumeration would serve to capacitate and federate these groups.

In rather contentious fashion a second pillar in the strengthening the community claim was achieved. The proposition by Pamoja that the more than 200 community enumerators would work on voluntary basis set ablaze a major fight. It was not comprehensible that the opportunity to play a key part of World Bank and government process would not attract any remuneration for the community teams. For two weeks arguments raged back and forth. At one point, lunches prepared by the local Catholic parish, for the enumerators was spilled and the dinning hall trashed. The enraged enumerators said they preferred cash payments to actual lunches.

Pamoja’s argument that the data coming out of the enumeration was the only asset the community brought to the negotiating table, found sympathy with only a tiny minority of the community. If the World Bank or the government paid for it, they would have total control of the resettlement negotiation. Those that understood were almost entirely members of Muungano who had the benefit of having participated in enumerations in other settlements. Full disclosure by Pamoja on the RAP contract at first seemed to worsen the situation when the community found that some professionals like the architects and engineers would be paid as much as 500 US dollars a day.

Then one morning, it all fell into place. In one of what had become a protracted series of daily negotiations one community team member observed that, “If government is paying a consultant 500 US dollars why would that consultant want to consider anything we have to say”. On a similar line another and then another member supported the thought. A compromise was arrived at where the community enumeration and negotiation teams would get 3 dollars as a daily lunch allowance. On the other hand the Pamoja agreed to ensure that all data collected would be entered into computers by a community team and would be released to the professionals through a community presentation. By lunch hour of the same day, a one room mud shack with streaks of sunlight coming through the tin roof, had been identified as the enumeration headquarters.

The responsibility bestowed on the community was enormous as it was prone to distortion by the numerous interests in the community. The enumeration would cover 100% of the people on the railway reserve and every name that found itself in the register would be entitled to resettlement. However accuracy was critical, not only for a slum wary Railways, but also to preserve the integrity of a process that would set a definite precedent in how the resettlement to land in the country is addressed.

To ensure accuracy a technical team, led by a railways engineer, went before the community enumeration team. This team painted a number on every structure then marked its exact location on a map. The location was the meeting point between distance from the railway line and distance from the start of the rail line 530 and thirty kilometres away. The typical structure number would read like this “537-72/26” Which would mean 537 kilometers and 72 meters from the start of the railway and 26 meters from the center line of the track.

The technical team was followed by the community enumeration team who administered questionnaires, took pictures of every affected person. The community team was beefed up with Pamoja field staff, university students, and officers of the various participating ministries.

Every enumerated  structure was issued with a railways certificate.  The certificate represented to the community, not the intended proof of being enumerated, but an acknowledgement of a right of occupation. Five years later the certificates bear the weight of a land title deed. It is typical to walk into a shack on the reserve and find the certificate in a glass front picture frame and hang on the wall.

What Happened

The relocation action plan altered the reserve that the Railways was claiming from 60 meters to 10.4 meters. This meant that much fewer people would require resettlement. The plan also identified public lands adjacent to the settlements where the residential households would be resettled. The traders on the line would move to markets to be built within the reserve. The plan also detailed a footpath to separate the settlement from the reduced reserve. The plan submitted by Pamoja was accepted by the Railways and formed the basis of an 11 million dollar loan to the Kenyan government from the World Bank.

Nothing Happened

The resettlement plan also permitted the concessioning process to proceed and be concluded. The government then entered a lengthy process of engaging a contract to undertake the resettlement works. A year after, a suitable contractor had not yet been identified. 2007 being an election year, and Kibera being politically volatile the discussion changed. The Ministry of Transport applied to the World Bank to change the usage of funds. The proposed use was to relocate the railway line instead of the slums sitting on the reserve. By the time the general election came the application had been declined.

The presidential results of the 2007 general elections were disputed between the current president Mwai Kibaki and the Member of Parliament for Kibera, Raila Odinga, (who subsequently became the Prime Minister in a power sharing deal). The dispute led to wide scale ethnic violence around the country. Kibera bore the brunt of the violence with a huge death toil as well as displacement of residents.  As part of the violence, the residents of Kibera uprooted 2 kilometers of the railway line. And right then Kibera had found a way to hurt government effectively. Every time the track was pulled out, the primary channel for fuel going to Uganda was cut off, leading to fuel shortages and straining diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Subsequently, significant stretches of the rail have been uprooted three times. Once because of an over-blown dispute between Kenya and Uganda on the ownership of a 1 acre island on Lake Victoria that sits between the two countries.  Another time because the power utility had pulled out illegal connections in Kibera and the last time because the allowances of enumerators in the national census were delayed. As a result, in 2009 the Railways re-established links with Pamoja Trust to assist in the implement the resettlement plan as a matter of urgency. This time it was considered a matter of National Security.

Pamoja however observed the following:

— The 5.2 meter right of way on both sides of the line was heavily encroached. This is in contrast to the relatively lower encroachment levels recorded during the preparation of the RAP in 2005. We noted an increase in traders on the line. We also observed the occurrence of double storey structures within the 30 meter railway reserve; consolidation of structures characterized by improved flooring, and walling.

— We observed that the level of investment in businesses has risen. This was not only in the physical forms but also in the size of businesses, amounts of stock, as well as improved infrastructure such as electricity. Notably this is an investment by  the power utility which is a State corporation and the residents.

— At the same time we noted major deterioration of the railway line. The line sits almost entirely on earth and shows no signs of maintenance over a period of time. The state of the line, we noted, poses an even greater challenge to operation of trains and safety, than was apparent in 2005.

— We also noted that all lands designated for the relocation have since been privatized and significant constructions undertaken on them.

It was then decided between the Government and the World Bank that a revision of the resettlement plan is required. And that Pamoja be requested undertake the revision. The contract to undertake the revision was signed in February 2010.