Remembering Benson Osumba, Chairman of the Kenya SDI Alliance

by James Tayler

Remembering Benson Osumba

**Cross posted from the Muungano Support Trust blog**

“Benson Erick Osumba dedicated his life to work for the community as an enumerator, leader, mentor, mediator and advisor. He had the gift of singling out the potential in people, and gave them the space to do their thing for Muungano wa Wanavijiji and on international assignments on behalf of Slum Dwellers International (SDI). He believed in and encouraged the people who kept the spirit and faith to serve settlements under siege, until they had no choice but to believe in themselves.”

In handling his duties as the Chairperson of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, and the Kenyan SDI Alliance as a whole, Benson would diligently attend community and institutional meetings, the weekly Monday meeting. In appearance just a tedious reporting of the week’s progress of the federation and other official engagements with SDI, in reality it is an impeccable tool for accountability, transparency, and inclusive decision-making process. Such forums with Benson built exclusive platforms for debate, disagreement, acknowledgement of failures, and celebration of Muungano‘s breakthroughs in addressing the urban agenda. 

Remembering Benson Osumba

Remembering Benson Osumba

In executing his work as the leader of the Kenyan SDI Alliance, Benson was a hands-off kind of a guy, though his value for work ethic was really admirable. He was gentle, calm and collected but with equal demeanor he was firm and upright. Muungano’s objective was clear: advocacy for the poor. The strategy was simple — engage eviction proponents head-on, based on the principle of law and justice, conduct enumerations, mapping and engage his people and stakeholders on the next course of action.

Benson took life in his stride and appreciated what life offered him. Alongside countless people from Muungano wa Wanavijiji, civil society, global networks, and community-based organizations, Benson traversed the country and the world, trying to conceptualize and support poor peoples’ initiatives.

His calm nature was coupled by a jovial tone, many thought it was a weakness but indeed it was a gift that enabled him to negotiate with the Kenyan government on the needs of the poor to be enjoined in the participatory planning process, it was above all an opportunity to make connections and sign MOUs with various stakeholders, thus sustaining a resilient urban poor people. It is this people-building that was the real and lasting investment.

The need to consult and bring all on board was indeed strength for the federation and the support NGOs, Muungano Support Trust and Akiba Mashinani to function as a unit. His master of the principles of communication and mobilisation kept the federation on the loop, from the expansive coastal towns of Mombasa, to the waters of Kisumu, to the ranges of the Rift valley, to the cool waters of Nairobi and the echelons of the globe, Benson’s leadership was felt.

The 2004-2011 eviction spree by the lords of impunity in Kenya’s government and private interests alike, was addressed by the civil society, with Muungano wa Wanavijiji spearheading grassroots initiatives to force government to stop forced evictions and address the issue using a bottom up approach.

And now the National Eviction guidelines that help caution the poor from arbitrary eviction has been realized. Secure tenure for the urban poor is also being realized. The federation is devoted  to conducting city profiles and mapping to support shack dwellers to advocate for land title in areas such as Kilifi (Mibuyu Saba) and Thika (Kiandutu), just to name but a few.

Despite dejection in the face of the movement, Benson always remained optimistic.

In reflecting on Benson’s life and work, Jockin Arputhum shared the following: 

“I remember Benson sometime back when I came to Kenya, and he told me of how he has constituted a federation leadership structure. I was surprised to find that majority of the men had taken up leadership. That is when I beseeched him to incorporate more women in leadership, for this will help strengthen the Kenyan federation. This he did, and a number of women are now sitting on the National Executive Council.

I called Benson a number of times, to spend time with me in India; we planned on a number of issues regarding the federation and key community projects. We thank God for giving us Benson, though for a short time, he was able to do a lot for the Kenyan Federation and the SDI global network.

Benson has left behind a young family and I call upon the Kenyan Alliance to come together and set up a trust fund for his children that would help support his family. SDI will help support this initiative. I pray that we continue with the spirit and hope that Benson built over time.

We at SDI will honor Benson’s immense contribution and dedication by replicating his ideas and  work throughout the slums in our global network.” 

Remembering Benson Osumba

Remembrances from the SDI family and friends have been included below.

It is with deep sorrow that we wish to inform you the passing away of Benson Osumba, the National chairman of Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Benson left us this morning after a short illness bravely borne. As we celebrate his life today, we would like to acknowledge the role he has played in placing the urban poor agenda at the center of development in Kenya. He courageously responded to settlements faced with forced evictions with a resolve to end this kind of injustice in Kenya and other countries.

The struggle continues and his vision for a safe city for all, especially the poor, lives on!!

Irene Karanja-Muungano Support Trust, Kenya

I am so saddened by your news, but thank you for sharing it. May Benson rest in peace and his life’s dedication to the urban poor be an inspiration to us all.


Elizabeth McKeon

Benson was a uniting figure to all. He leaves at a time when Muungano and civil society need more to forge the agenda for inclusive development.

God rest him in peace

Peter Ngau, University of Nairobi

Muugano family,

I join the rest to condole with Benson’s family and friends. Indeed he has left a lot of unfinished endeavours to be completed by the rest of us.

May He rest in peace!

Stephen Gichohi- Forum Syd

I have lost a friend a brother and a great mentor, apart from teaching me how to work with the community he tought me life skills. He gave me opportunity and exposed me to the world. He fought selflessly for all, he spent all of his valuable time sacrificing to the poor in kind and cash. He was a mediator in all crises and an icon of unity in every conflict. He was a keen listener and non-judgmental even though circumstances warranted the same. This afternoon I am laying you at the mortuary in the cold cupboard believing that you might wake up and even greet us again. Truly am not in terms with your death. No Ben you are still alive.

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leader, Kenya

It’s really hard to take it. My condolence to the family, Muungano, MuST, AMT, SDI and friends. We will see you again Ben. It has been a struggle for the voiceless and poor to access the basic needs for all those years. It’s the reason why our generation is enjoying some of the fruits. Rest in peace.

Iscah Jemutai, MuST Field Officer, Kenya

My thoughts and prayers of strength to the whole SDI family, Muungano Federation and Benson’s family in particular. May his soul rest in peace as his loving memory and spirit continue to guide our activism.

Paula Assubiji, Cape Town

When I led a project to donate foodstuffs and clothes in Mukuru slums, he helped me organize the process and even sat to my right on the day of the event as Gitau sat to my left. Rest in Peace Osumba, you helped me put together a noble cause. Rest In Peace brother.

Boni Manyala, Communication Consultant, Kenya

I will remember Benson for his charisma and forethought.

Chilungamo Hunga, Malawi 


I am so heartbroken to hear of Benson’s passing. He was such a nice guy who had a smile for everyone he met. We will miss the Professor every day.

Louise Cobbett, former SDI Secretariat staff, USA

Rest in perfect peace Chairman. May the good Lord grant you a perfect rest in his bosom. My deepest condolences to the family and the Kenyan Federation at large.

Mensah Owusu, People’s Dialogue, Ghana

May his soul rest in peace.we loved chairman but God loved you more.praying for peace and strength for all Muungano Federation members during this times of mourning.

Edwin Simiyu, MuST, Kenya

What sad news…it is with heavy heart that we in Ghana received the news that Benson Eric Osumba is gone to his maker. We pray that Benson will have peaceful rest. Ben will be remembered throughout the SDI afiliates especially Ghana. Chairman, rest in peace. Our heartfelt condolence to SDI, MuST, Akiba Mashinani, Kenya federation west/east Africa hub and SDI board. Chairman, you will forever be remembered….

Kojo Anane, Ghana 

My Sincere condolencs to the family of our Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, Kenyan AllianceShack / Slum Dwellers International Kenyan chapter-National Chairman.Osumba Benson Erick..He was a strong leader with a desire to change the lives of Slum dwellers…this info greats me with shock…RIP Chair

Benard Nyadida, Muungano Youth Federation, Kenya

On behalf of the Zambian alliance , we would want to offer our  sincere  condolences to Benson ‘s family, Muungano and the entire SDI family. We pray for God’s comfort and guidance during the mourning period.

May God be with us.

Nelson Ncube, Zambian SDI Alliance 


Very sad indeed, and losing such a young, bright and indeed amazing young man is shocking but we will celebrate the life we shared with him and the inspiration and hope he gave to us as a Network.

May Your soul rest in peace Bens and may the Lord comfort your family during this sad and trying time.

Siku Nkhoma, Malawi SDI Alliance 


From Boston, I echo the sentiments of the rest of this broad family. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the rest of Muungano and the wider SDI family, some of which are gathered in Nairobi right now.

I experienced his presence in a number of meetings, and shared many conversations and an occasional after-hours game of pool with him. Benson was a man of strategy and a street philosopher. His warm personality, tactical sensibility, intellect, leadership and conviction are embedded in the strengths of Muungano, and the rest of the SDI network of federations and support professionals. For these reasons and more, may we honor his memory.

Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat 


Please accept my deepest condolences. Benson will be with us in spirit. 


Arvinn Gadgil, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway  

On behalf of SDFN/NHAG and fellow Namibians we would like to offer our sincere condolences to his family, fellow fed members, SDI family. May the almighty be with us all during this difficult moment and be consoled. We are together in prayers and may all of us be strengthened.

Heinrich, Namibian SDI Alliance


It is saddening to learn of the passing on of our dear brother Benson. Please convey my condolence to the family of the deceased. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray that may his soul rest in eternal peace.

Samuel Mabala, Ministry of Lands, Housing & Urban Development, Uganda


On behalf of the South African Alliance please convey our deepest sympathy to our Kenyan colleagues and the family of Benson.  

Hamba Kahle to a dear friend and brother of the movement!

Bunita Kohler, South African SDI Alliance

This is shocking, Benson has been a source of motivation for SL Alliance. Our condolence to his family and Muungano.  

May his soul rest in peace and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Francis Reffell, Sierra Leone SDI Alliance 


The Zimbabwean Federation and Dialogue on Shelter wishes to convey its condolences to Benson’s family, Muungano and the whole of the SDI  family on the passing  of Benson. He will be greatly missed by all of us who had the pleasure of working with him. 

Beth Chitekwe-Biti, Zimbabwe SDI Alliance


Benson Eric Osumba fare thee well…..’Damirifa due.’ The Ghana Federation wil forever miss you.

Ghana SDI Alliance

Dear Irene and Muungano family,

I am really saddened to hear about this. Please accept my condolences to Benson’s family, friends and the entire Muungano family. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you during this difficult time. I know Benson’s vision and passion will continue to fuel the urban poor and their supporters in creating better lives for all – we will miss him terribly and remember his passion and dedication to push ourselves forward.

Suman Sureshbabu, Rockefeller Foundation


Remembering Benson Osumba