Youth: The centrepiece of urban renewal

A recent Youth Engagement Forum in Machakos.

Cross posted from the Muungano blog

By Shadrack Mbaka and Eva Muchiri

Slum dwellers share a whole lot in common with citizens of war torn countries. There is civil strife, and the most basic infrastructure is non-existent, interrupted or destroyed. As a result, most slum dwellers are forced to adapt to the existing situation or improvise just to have access to food and shelter. Unlike people affected by war, who can look up to the future to rebuild their country, slum dwellers are often forgotten and left without any means to address issues like lack of access to services and infrastructure.

Many innovative urban planning ideas have been tested in Kenyan cities and towns. But these ideas fail to be implemented at scale. It is obvious that slum dweller communities are often ignored in the planning and implementation of slum-upgrading projects. In Muungano’s experience, better results come about when slum dweller communities are empowered to develop their own ideas and shape them into realistic and measurable plans. The key to these solutions rests with the young people of these informal settlements.









Over the last couple of months, young people from informal settlements in Nairobi, Thika and Machakos have had the opportunity to be trained in various skills such as data collection and management, mapping, advocacy, and documentation. These are skills necessary to build powerful sources of information used to engage local governments on service and infrastructure delivery in slums. Trainings revolved around youth and community media, includes research, advocacy, and development initiatives around youth and digital technology. Through these combined approaches, federation youth have begun creating outlets for the voices and experiences of youth, to cultivate revolutionary possibilities of youth activities in the digital space, while also addressing the genuine concerns that come with living in the slums.

Kevin Kinuthia, Engaging some of the young people from Mukuru Slums during the Muungano Youth Engagement Forum


In a recent campaign organized by the youth within Muungano wa Wanavijiji to mobilise youths in Nairobi, Machakos and Thika, we got an opportunity to speak to one of the federation youth members, Kevin Kinuthia, who hails from Mukuru Kwa Reuben settlement. Kevin gladly shared his perspectives with us.

“Having been raised by a single mother in the slums has really taught me a whole bunch of things and critical lessons in life. My mother always took it upon herself and reminded me how hard I need to work to avoid living in the urban sprawl all my life. She would also often challenge me to strive to be selfless and conscious of the power I have to change the lives of others.

Urban renewal depends on reformation of institutions, especially the county governments mandated by the Kenyan constitution to provide services to the people, especially the poor. It is essential for governments to involve affected communities in upgrading or development projects. Once people living in informal settlements are provided with the opportunities and informed of the importance and benefits of formulating ideas to combat their challenges, they can create the change they want to see in their communities.

As a federation, the advocacy approach is to encourage members and the larger constituency of slum dwellers to promote a change in mindset by encouraging critical thinking, creativity and innovation. If disenfranchised people can transform their beliefs and attitudes, I believe they can be powerful agents of change for their communities,” concludes Kevin.

Empowering the youth is vital. Giving them the time to develop their own ideas and providing a platform for them to showcase those very ideas is not only beneficial to their communities, but can promote social innovation, offering local solutions to local problems.


Federation Youth Explore Urban Farming in Kenya’s Slums

 By Kevin Kinuthia

My mother, Jane Nyokabi, loves growing her own food. The problem was that we lived in Nairobi, the LandiMawe (Place of Hard Rocks), as many Nairobians call it, where growing food produce was almost impossible. Urban areas have become increasingly dense and land—a scarce resource in African cities. Many Kenyans moving to cities looking for employment had no other possibility than take residence in shanties and shacks.

The inability for the majority of people—especially youth—to claim land for growing food, the high unemployment levels and the low earnings, left residents in informal settlement food insecure. Despite the high number of food vendors and kiosks in the informal settlements it is impossible for the majority to maintain a healthy diet.

The questions that beg answers are then how can slum upgrading efforts like the Kenyan Informal Settlement Improvement Project or the Kenya Slum Upgrading Program, support economic development and job creation to guarantee a stable access to nutritious food for the urban poor? Or would it be better to upgrade water and sanitation within informal settlements?

Waiting for the answers to these questions, the youth, organized into groups ought to take matters into their own hands. Youth need to shelve the need of a white collar job and engage in urban farming, but due to the continuing increase in population density of these areas, vertical gardens are the most popular choice. So when walking in Mathare, Mukuru and Kibera you may easily spot big black sacks sprouting green leafy vegetables. These are the gardens, disposed in unoccupied land, that are providing vegetables to low-income communities.

But this idyllic dream of urban agriculture does not come without complications—mainly food safety. News bulletins reported that the soil and water quality in which vegetables are grown can be contaminated with heavy metals or with raw sewage bringing short and long term health risks to the population.These reports can scare off local buyers and dwarf the possibility of expanding the reach of these produce to markets outside the informal settlement.

As urban farming increases its importance in Nairobi’s slums, there is need to mitigate environmental hazards and eliminate contaminations to ensure the produce is fit for consumption, hence making this form of trade viable. If this were to become reality, and the vegetable quality was to become stable and controlled, numerous income opportunities could open up opportunities for urban poor communities. For example, urban farmers in slums would have the possibility to link up with organic food outlets outside the settlements to market their produce. Or perhaps the Nairobi County government would decide to continue engaging urban farmers and street food vendors to shape regulation on the use of the city’s public spaces and rooftops for urban agriculture.

After so many years, I find myself in my mother’s shoes. Fearing poverty and the lack of a steady source of income I fully understand the uphill task of providing food for our city.

Breakthrough and Struggle: Land, Housing and Backyarders in Tiryville, Eastern Cape

By Dolly Cedras (on behalf of FEDUP)*

When you look down the hill, there’s a flat piece of land called Lapland. That’s where we used to live before we moved to Tiryville. At the time Tiryville already had bank financed houses and some open land where we built our shacks..

Dolly Cedras (left) and Leana Ceasar (right)

I lived in my shack for 16 years, and in 2002, after I managed to buy the plot next to my shack I thought about building a house. I went to the municipality to ask for help but they said I needed to get other people to join me. I then found out that the area was zoned for bank-financed houses and not for low-cost housing. So I wrote a letter to the then Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu, and asked if the area could be rezoned from private ownership into an RDP project area.

One day I met Mama Chawe who was part of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP). She said to me: “I can see that you are struggling to get a house. Come over and listen.” She told me about the rituals of FEDUP and the agreement with uTshani Fund [as a financial bridging institution for government subsidised housing]. So I listened and she said I should join FEDUP. I got my green savings boekie [little book] from Mama Chawe for R8. And that is how in 2003 I joined the movement now called FEDUP and began saving.

View onto Tiryville

On their next visit from Port Elizabeth, FEDUP national leaders called a meeting and told us more about the movement and the People’s Housing Process (PHP). We were introduced to the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and together we soon met with the municipality to begin negotiating for our subsidy to build FEDUP-led PHP houses. We convinced them by first building my house [a show house]. The inspector was happy with the quality and so we had many more meetings with the municipality, CORC and uTshani. Eventually we managed to get a contract of 48 PHP houses for the FEDUP members in Tiryville.

We started construction in December 2014. At the moment [July 2015] we have already completed 17 houses and 7 further houses are half-way built. When the foundations were built there was a delay in the construction process because the engineers changed the floor plans. So far the construction process has been quite smooth and we haven’t had many problems with the municipality.

FEDUP built PHP house


Dolly and FEDUP Coordinators inspect a near-complete FEDUP house

Most of the challenges we experienced were in the community. Many were upset that our houses looked so nice. But they did not know that our houses were FEDUP and not municipality built. [Due to FEDUP’s 2006 pledge agreement with the national and provincial department of human settlements, eligible FEDUP members are able to gain direct access to their housing subsidy through the PHP instrument. This enables FEDUP members to build bigger houses (50m2) than the municipality (35-40m2)]. Some neighbours still come to ask about the houses. Others decided to join FEDUP savings scheme too.

Bank-financed house in Tiryville

Although some of us have houses many of our FEDUP members in Tiryville are backyarders because they weren’t able to buy plots. Leana Caesar coordinates the FEDUP backyarder group in Tiryville.

“As the backyarders in Tiryville we identified some land which the municipality identified too. But up to this moment we have not yet received any response to our land submissions. The challenge is that the municipality does not know the real number of FEDUP backyarders. There are 970 people in Tiryville that do not have houses. 212 are FEDUP backyarders. But the municipality thinks that the number is only 170 people. The actual problem is that we are waiting for land so that FEDUP can help us.

In the meantime the other backyarders are saving. They believe in the principles of the Federation. Others have not joined FEDUP because they’ve given up hope. It’s been years that we’ve been trying to push this process. For example, my first application for a house was in 2001 (14 years earlier)”

(Liana Caesar, Tiryville backyarder coordinator)

I know the frustrations that Liana speaks about. There was a time where we needed to each pay R 40 for housing subsidy forms. Do you know how much money I’ve spent on driving to and fro from the municipality in Port Elizabeth? When the municipality did not have forms for us we went and printed them ourselves at the Internet café. I needed to keep hope. I’m telling you, this breakthrough with the municipality is a praying matter.

Dolly's blue FEDUP house

Almost all of us in Tiryville receive grants and pensions. In fact all 48 beneficiaries are unemployed. Many of us try and make a little bit of income. Some sell cookies and tea; I am a seamstress. I can’t tell you if each of the 48 households will remain FEDUP members. But I can say that I like FEDUP. You know, the municipality was often not very responsive to our requests. But FEDUP had an ear to listen to me. No one else could have given me my beautiful blue house!

* Documented and compiled by Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)