A Learning Centre Emerges in Mukuru, Nairobi

by James Tayler


The end of 2017 marked the end of a four-year strategic planning period for SDI and the close-out of various projects and contracts in support of implementation of that plan. To report on the successes, challenges, and impact of our work over that time, SDI produced a Basket Fund Close Out report, available in full here. In this series of blog posts, we present excerpts from this report that highlight some of the key learnings and impact of our work over the past four years and point towards areas for continued growth in the new Strategic Plan, launched this year.

While the city learning centers were identified at the outset of the last Strategic Plan, SDI made a provision to identify project-linked sites of learning as they emerged throughout the network. In the past year, the Mukuru Special Planning Area emerged as a key project-linked learning center used to anchor strategic exchanges.

In Mukuru, Nairobi, the Muungano Alliance (including Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Akiba Mashinani Trust, and SDI Kenya), have been wrestling with the threat of eviction for decades. The Mukuru slums cover almost 650 acres and are home to almost 500,000 people. The challenges facing Mukuru are among the most severe in the city. Muungano’s profiling and enumeration revealed the highest population densities in the city and a high poverty penalty exacted on residents whose access to basic services is controlled by cartels. The area faces severe flooding and — owing to its location in an industrial area — high air, water and soil pollution. Virtually all of the land in Mukuru is privately owned by around 230 different landowners. With this information in hand, Muungano and its partners were able to demonstrate that Mukuru should qualify as a Special Planning Area (SPA) owing to the acute challenges faced by residents (especially flooding).

After long negotiations, the Kenyan Government became convinced and, in August 2017, declared Mukuru to be a Special Planning Area (SPA). It was announced that a two-year window would be provided to SPA partners to develop an integrated development plan that will be included in Nairobi’s city development plan. But the SPA does more than provide a legal basis to a slum upgrade: it represents an evolved approach that goes beyond the county government’s planning department to incorporate all departments of the county, as well as a multidisciplinary consortia of non-state actors ranging from academia to non-government organizations to community based organizations such as the federation.

Thematic consortia are assigned the role of contributing to an inclusive master plan, with robust community engagement being managed by Muungano. Each thematic consortium develops a solution that encompasses the community vision, financing, legal, and spatial dimensions. This process is aimed at producing policy briefs that offer a representative vision and range of solutions to be consolidated through a series of planning studios. This innovative, large-scale, community-based planning is inspiring cities throughout the SDI network.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 11.45.04

Communities profiling, mapping, and documenting conditions in Mukuru to ground the SPA planning process. 

SDI’s Basket Fund represents a commitment from SDI’s partners to join a global network of slum dweller organizations in their long-term struggle to combat poverty and exclusion in cities. In a development sector dominated by consultants and specialists, SDI adds value as a unique organization channeling resources directly to the poor for the development and implementation of their own strategies for change. This arrangement represents an understanding by SDI’s partners that systemic change won’t be projectized or fall neatly into a funding cycle, but requires long-term multi-pronged collaboration to continuously garrison the gains and push the boundaries.

On both fronts SDI made substantial inroads during the 2013-2017 period. Download the full publication here.