The Protest, The Representatives and The Petition: Kenya Evictions Diary


By Jack Makau, SDI Kenya

It’s Day 8: Demo Day. The procession of 300 to 400 slum dwellers gets moving at 10 am. There is a small smartphone army of NGOs who are continuously dashing ahead of the procession to snap away. Some idiot runs forward and takes a selfie. To the dismay of the federation, one of the partner NGOs has hired a marching band to lead the procession.

From Freedom Corner – a memorial to the struggle for Kenya’s Independence –the orderly musical procession makes its way to the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry houses the ‘Multi-Sectoral Committee on Unsafe Structures’, who are behind the Nairobi evictions.

As the procession approaches the Ministry of Transport, the gates are quickly closed and padlocked. First, the lead team asks to speak to the Minister’s office, informing them that their only interest is to deliver a petition. There’s frantic activity behind the gates; a Mercedes car parked near the gate is driven away. Faces are peering from the Ministry offices. Two armed police officers come to the gate. After a couple of protest songs, there still is no response from the Ministry. The perfect cue that the slum dwellers are waiting for. Time to breach the awkward, but for me rather comfortable, civility. Free at last!!!

A cry rises above the marching band: to retreat from the Ministry’s gate and back to the street. The strategy is to block the road. Someone says in Swahili, “A little tear gas is good for the soul.” The road is quickly occupied. A new energy is starting to take over. The script goes out the window, and is replaced by an anger that has seemed to be sadly absent in the last week. Another voice demands, “Demolish our homes, we are coming to take your fancy houses.” The blocked traffic starts to turn back. Pedestrians hesitate to walk past. Some in the NGO crowd start to drift to the edges of the crowd – distancing themselves and pretending to be documenting on their phones.

“Kumekujwa,” someone says. The nearest English equivalent is, “There is an arrival.” An unmarked Land Cruiser with darkened windows parks a few meters away – no one comes out. On the other side, a police truck stops and half a dozen police jump out. No one misses the teargas canisters in their hands, no one stops singing and jiggling. To show defiance some people sit and lie on the road. I suddenly have a deep need to find an outer position to take a panoramic picture on my iPhone. The KYC TV camera guy has the camera strung behind his back and has his right hand raised in the symbol for struggle. I’m certain his KYC TV teacher/mentor in Cape Town would be horrified. I force myself to jump up and down instead.

Battle-hardened federation mama Emily engages the lead officer: “All we want is to give them our petition. Why are they wasting our time? Tell them to come take it, I need to go home before the kids come from school.”

“You,” the officer barks back, “are causing a traffic problem – you need to get off the road.” Emily’s response is lost.  The crowd is suddenly wailing. I look both ways — damn! nowhere to run. We are bang at the centre of the roadblock.

Now Emily has the officer’s arm and is marching to the Ministry gate. Then the officer is talking to someone behind the gate. Then a voice from the federation team near the gate commands, “Give them one lane!” The crowd is upset. Someone starts a countdown, the crowd has turned to the gate and is counting down – we are going to storm the gate. I turn around and some onlookers have their hands inside of their blazers – pistols are being pulled out.  All the four doors of the unmarked car are now open. The marching band are across the road, opposite the Ministry’s gate. The band are hurriedly packing their instruments.

Within the crowd, the federation leaders know there is a deal being done at the gate. They start herding the crowd, “Let’s give them one lane for five minutes. They don’t open, we take the road again,” they shout.  Reluctantly, the crowd is marshalled to one lane. The tensed police stand down too. The moment passes, I breathe out.

The gate is partially opened and a few people are let in.

In 1997 Papa, now 67 years, was part of the first Kenyan slum dweller exchange to South Africa. He is first through the gate. Ezekiel, federation president and the man with the script and petition, is next. Emily, with the lead policeman still in hand, goes in next. A mostly troublesome “senior youth and suspected police informant” muscles in. Next, petite and clad in a hijab, a new but passionate leader from Mukuru slums. They want to shut the gate, then a mama squeezes in – no one is sure which settlement she’s from and she’s holding the arm of another mama. The negotiating team is in and the gate is shut. Someone says, “That last one is a real stupid,” everyone laughs. Someone starts singing, everyone joins in. Symbols sound and the marching band is back.

45 minutes later, the team emerges with the Housing Secretary. He mounts a chair behind the gate and is handed the protest mega phone. He lyrics all lovely things, “We need a national database of slum dwellers”, “Government will build 200,000 social houses…”

The crowd listens a little and then someone shouts, “And the demolitions?” He calms the crowd and announces, “We will do the demolitions with you.” The crowd starts wailing. He calms the crowd again and corrects himself, “We will work with you to resettle people living in dangerous places.”

Ezekiel then addresses the crowd. He reports the deal they’ve made and is heckled. “We want blood, we want justice, we sent you to drag them out here by the ears and you bring us an agreement instead?” they shout. And it truly seems all too easy.

Everyone is exhausted, plans to deliver other petitions are abandoned and the crowd melts easily into the street. Soon, we cannot see the other civil society organisations. We get Ezekiel and Emily to debrief us over lunch, overlooking the Ministry.

To start, they narrate the proceedings of the meeting. By any standard applicable it sounds like a totally shambolic affair:

First, the woman from an unknown settlement jumps right in and accuses the housing ministry of interfering with the selection of representatives to a slum upgrading committee in her settlement. And as her tone rises, the stupid one breaks down and starts crying about the pain she feels about how government has treated her family. Emily tries to establish some sanity, but the ‘senior youth’ jumps up, whips a Kenyan flag from his waist and says he’ll hang himself right there with the flag. “Better I kill myself right here than you come at night to kill me and my children in my shack,” he shouts. It’s going terribly.

Emily asks them to calm down and asks senior leader Papa to speak. Papa in turn and with complete gravitas, begins by informing the group that he went to New York in October last year: “…And even though I missed my flight, they got me to the next flight and when I got there… ” Again Emily has to jump in. Finally, Ezekiel comes in and does the proper representation and also asks to read the petition in summary. The Housing Secretary takes notes and, just as he prepares to respond, the passionate new leader in a hijab, says she would like to share. And share she does. She talks about the federation’s Special Planning Area project in Mukuru slums, probably all she knows about Muungano.  Emily is concerned that the Secretary now looks totally dumbfounded.

When he finally gets the chance to speak the Secretary says the following: first, he has listened with complete attention because he can see that this cannot be an NGO organised protest, “You people, I can see, are genuinely from the slums.” He also observes that there is a lot of pain and third, the petition. The petition, he says, carries everything that the government aims to achieve. He further says that what government would like is a database of all slum dwellers, nationally, that are sitting in dangerous and unsuitable places and an engagement with them and Muungano to discuss their resettlement. Emily let’s him know: “All you needed to do was ask.”

Day 9: The Housing Secretary calls the federation chair early to ask for the other petitions with people’s signatures. He will deliver them himself to the Governor.

At the end, it was all about the protest, the representatives, and the petition. All three could only be delivered so elegantly and successfully by the people who live through the trauma of demolition – by the federation.

Read Muungano’s petition delivered to Kenya government here and follow Muungano on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates from the ground. 

Kenya Federation mobilises to prevent & negotiate alternatives to evictions in Nairobi



We, the Kenya SDI Alliance, appreciate the solidarity and support from everyone on the fight against forced evictions. The Kibera demolition caught most of us flat footed despite ongoing efforts and negotiations between the Kenya Urban Roads Authority, residents of Kibera, members of Muungano wa Wanavijiji living in in Kibera, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, the National Land Commission and other rights based NGOs.  As of today, these organizations have gone to court to seek justice for the affected persons.

As soon as Kibera was demolished, other eviction notices were issued to settlements located under power lines, within riparian reserves, and along railway lines. Yesterday, the Kenyan federation held an urgent meeting  and resolved to do the following;

  • Identify all settlements under threat on maps. This began yesterday and established that the following areas are under eviction threats: Makongeni, Kaloleni, Mbotela, Dandora, Deep Sea, Mukuru, Mathare and Kamae, with 4 areas having been marked for evictions tomorrow.
  • Mobilize and conduct rapid enumerations. A federation team is working to establish contacts with residents, create awareness on the need to resist the forced evictions, and train community members to conduct rapid enumerations.  The team is also mobilizing residents of the affected areas and federation members from all settlements for a protest march on 8th August 2018. Slum dwellers will use this peaceful march to deliver a petition to the Cabinet Executive Secretary in charge of Roads, Infrastructure and Housing as well as the County Government.
  • Campaign Slogan. The team has developed a campaign slogan #StopForcedEvictionsNow and is asking people to use this to bring awareness to these events. The Kenya Know Your City TV team will spearhead a week-long social media campaign, raising awareness and calling on government to engage the community to seek alternatives . This will be supported by a media campaign on both mainstream and community media.
  • Upward engagement and networking. The Kenya SDI Alliance is working with Katiba Institute, Kituo Cha Sheria, Haki Jamii and Amnesty International. The organizations are meeting frequently and hopes to meet with government officials in the next week in order to negotiate alternatives. This work will be largely supported Muungano wa Wanavijiji with support from Amnesty International.


We seek the support of everyone on this matter.

According to Ezekiel Rema, the founding Muungano Chairman, “…let us now bring back our advocacy tools from where they are gathering dust to STOP FORCED EVICTIONS NOW!”


Homeless but not Hopeless: Working together for eviction alternatives in Kibera

[caption id="attachment_12580" align="alignnone" width="600"]IMG_1295 Photo by Nicera Wanjiru Kimani of Know Your City TV Kenya.[/caption]


Last week SDI received news of demolitions and evictions in Kibera, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, that have left 30,000 families homeless, their homes, businesses, and belongings destroyed. SDI knows that there is another way. Successful alternatives to evictions have been demonstrated across the SDI network. In fact, Kibera itself is home to a successful large-scale relocation programme, in which the Kenya federation, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, used community-driven data collection and organizing processes to facilitate the successful relocation of slum dwellers living along Kibera’s railway line to a nearby housing scheme. This co-produced solution resulted in all families being housed on a smaller footprint of land, allowing for both the clearing of the railway reserve and upgrading of families’ living conditions. Not a single family was moved more than 100 metres from their original home, minimizing disruption to the local community by safeguarding social networks, employment and livelihoods opportunities, kids’ place in their schools, and the overall fabric of the community.

These violent evictions are particularly disturbing in light of this nearby example of another way. SDI invites local and national government to join hands with Muungano to put an end to these evictions and instead pursue a negotiated alternative that maintains the dignity, homes, and livelihoods of Kibera’s residents.

A brief summary of the Kenya railways RAP project is below, followed by links to additional articles about the Kenya Railway Relocation Plan, a project implemented by Muungano in partnership with Kenya Railway Corporation and funded by the World Bank:

This project involves the upgrading and resettlement of 9,000 families and businesses along an eleven kilometre stretch of rail line through two of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements, Mukuru and Kibera. It is a US$30 million Kenya government and World Bank funded programme to remove families and business sitting on the thirty-metre wide buffer on either side of the railway track and re-house them on its outer ten metres – effectively creating a 20-metre buffer for use by the railways, and improved housing and trading space for the residents. Construction began in Kibera in 2013 and is ongoing, with the first families moving in 2015.

There were notices to evict all people living along the railway buffer in 2004. Following large scale protest by civil society, including Muungano, the federation offered to design a win-win solution. This involved organising an exchange visit to India for the top brass of the Railways Corporation to see how the Indian railways and the SDI alliance had dealt with similar encroachment. Later, Muungano was contracted to develop a Relocation Action Plan (RAP) (Government of Kenya, 2005).

The railways RAP’s impact on how the Kenyan state deals with large-scale resettlement of informal communities faced with the threat of eviction has been to enforce the global position that government must bear the cost of displacements of communities on public projects, irrespective of the legality of tenure of those affected. These principles have now been adopted into state policy. Muungano’s other key success has been that community participation was positioned at the centre of this large informal settlement upgrading.[1]

Additional resources:

[1] “Muungano nguvu yetu (unity is strength): 20 years of the Kenyan federation of slum dwellers” by Kate Lines and Jack Makau, IIED Working Paper, January 2017, pp. 47-48,


“Crafting a suit that fits”


pictured above: A crowded market area in Mukuru, Nairobi.

Editor’s note: The following text is the foreword to a community-led profile, or inventory, of all informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, published in 2009.

By Irene Karanja, Muungano Support Team (MUST) and Jack Makau, SDI secretariat

As we were writing this inventory, residents of Mukuru Sinai came to Pamoja Trust for help in fighting off an eviction threat. Sinai is part of a belt of slums collectively called Mukuru that run along the length of Nairobi’s industrial area. Sinai is built on both sides of the petroleum pipeline. A dangerous place to live. The state owned corporation, Kenya Pipeline Company had issued an eviction notice to the residents. The corporation had plans to expand the line. Sinai’s residents have no legal title to the land and so the company did not feel compelled provide compensation or alternative relocation options. The residents said they would go with a relocation plan. 

This story is not unique for Kenyan slum dwellers. Theirs is a-wrong-way-round world. Conventionally, security of tenure is the quiet enjoyment of personal space bestowed on citizens by their Government. It is different for slum residents. Since no one will bestow any space to them, they have little choice but to squat on any parcel that is unutilized. And by virtue of numbers, because they outnumber those legally bestowed citizens, their claim carries truth – not all the truth but certainly some truth.

So the Mukuru story epitomizes a battle of truths for urban space. Losing the battle for the slums would mean the residents of Sinai, and a hundred other slums, become entirely destitute. It is not a battle they can afford to lose. Yet, to yield to their existence would be to accept a breakdown of social order and the rule of law. Then, only a negotiated position that appreciates the values, believes and needs of the state, and those of its dislocated poor, is a workable way forward.

In Kenya today, there is a process of negotiation between the slums and the state. Rather unfortunately this process is characterized by aggression. The state declares its commitment to solving the slum problem and sets up a program within a Ministry to coordinate slum upgrading. The state then finds that the slums are very inconveniently located. There are slums on riparian, road, power, railway and other utility reserves and on private poverty. It follows that whenever any organ of the state, except the slum upgrading program, is confronted with a slum, that organ seeks to evict the people. And on the slum dweller’s end, every eviction is resisted. If and when resistance fails the next step is inevitably the invasion of some other contestable land.

Our purpose in putting together this Inventory is to change the nature of the negotiation. To provide an appreciation of the scale and depth of the slum problem. To provide a starting point for positive action. To impress, hopefully that evicting slums is in the long run futile. To encourage the development of a plan to ‘sort out’ the slums. We realize that policies, as opposed to a plan, assume that slums are part of the human condition. They are not. They are quantifiable and the challenge surmountable.

In order to do this, we found it necessary to collect and present the story of each slum in the city. After many years of working with slums, we know that no slum is exactly the same as any other. The ratio of structure owners (the informal equivalent of landlords) to tenants may vary anywhere from 1 structure owner to 100 tenants or adversely 100 to 1 tenant. The physical locations and layouts; demographics; histories and economies, fit only the broadest of ranges.

This was important because we are persuaded that no upgrading model or plan, by the fact of its existence, will change the urban landscape. For there to be a change, there must be an intervention in each and every slum. An intervention that appreciates each slum’s unique set of circumstances and therefore negotiates and crafts a suit that fits. It was important to present information in this manner because, today in Kenya, the process of negotiation will be shaped by the amount of information that replaces perception as its basis.

Everything else we threw into the Inventory – maps, pictures and case studies are there to give form and life to what may otherwise be a faceless, colourless monologue of discontentment. In describing the slums we did not derive variables from professional, academic or technical strains. That pallet does not have all the colours you need to paint the informal reality. Yet even the Inventory is not the complete picture. The full motion picture is only available for those inspired to wander down twisted, slippery, narrow aisles, jump over open sewers, take in the smells of one-year old garbage, taste stewed chicken beaks or roasted fish gills, and share in the fear of being bulldozed in the middle of the night.

Counting Kibera: the challenge of engagement

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

The Kenyan federation, Mungano wa wanavijiji, kicked off an enumeration of the railway line slum of Kibera in Nairobi this week. The survey process there is an example of how politically complicated collecting information can get, as well as just how valuable the data actually is.

My colleague Jack Makau has a great in-depth piece on the history of enumerations in Kibera. This is the second large-scale enumeration undertaken by the federation there in the past six years. It is all tied to planned evictions along the line that have never been carried out, as the Kenyan government’s move to privatize the railway line has proceeded in very slow fits and starts. The twists of this process, which was originally envisioned to have finished years ago, shine a light on the combustible combination of resources, government processes, the role of multinational institutions (in this case, the World Bank), and a community’s attempt to organize itself around its own resources and capacities.

Slums in Nairobi face acute tension between structure owners and tenants. An enumeration can highlight such divisions, especially when it is so closely tied to an eviction. Everyone wants to be counted so they can get their hands on the resources associated with the relocation. An exchange team from the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) was supposed to leave a week ago to support the enumeration process, but postponed the trip when conflict between structure owners and tenants delayed the start of the survey. I will be joining the team when it leaves for Nairobi on Sunday, and will be keeping this blog updated with how the process plays out over the next week or so.

The Kibera case complicates what is often seen as a simple binary between evicting and not evicting when some kind of business project threatens people’s homes. In this case, the relocation is allowing slum dwellers to assert themselves in their relationship with government and multinational organizations. It was a big accomplishment for the federation to get the government to agree to let the community count itself, and to have that information be the basis for their relocation.

When the World Bank — a major funding partner of the railway rehabilitation and relocation of the nearby slum dwellers — accepts a methodology like community-led enumeration to serve as the basis for its programs, it is an important first step towards putting organized communities of the urban poor at the center of their own development. At the end of the day, resources — money — are the name of the game. And it is an important development that resources for relocation are directly tied to the results of information that comes out of a community’s own organizational capacity and practice. Land and money will be allocated to those who are counted.

It can be hard to see the full impact of these kinds of activities in the short term. What looks like collusion today can appear to be a major contestation tomorrow. What looks like incremental change today could spark a revolution in five years time.

The process of engagement with government and other key actors like the World Bank is a messy one. But when slum dwellers can get hold of this process and use it to direct resources towards the organized poor, new, people-centered kinds of development can begin to take place. Getting these kinds of institutions to rely on one of the most valuable resources poor people have — information — is an important first step to changing the overall relationship that they have with the poor.

Perhaps even more importantly, it is a step towards changing the relationships that the poor have with each other. As Jack writes about the first enumeration of Kibera in 2004,

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 organizations formed months ago to fight off 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.