24: The Day Huruma Slums Got Secure Land Tenure


A backstory inspired by the TV drama, “24”. 

By Jack Makau, SDI Secretariat

3:56 PM Friday 30th January 2015

Jane Weru, Director of Kenya slum dwellers financing facility, Akiba Mashinani Trust gets a call on a number she does not know. The caller says “this is Charity Ngilu”. It is Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Land, Housing and Urban Development. “With me I have the former vice president of Spain, who is in Kenya on an official visit.” “She is interested to meet with grassroots women in Kenya and I remember your Muungano women with head scarves coming to see me in my office”. “I’d like her to meet with them tomorrow.” Jane says a visit can be easily arranged and the date is set.

4:21 PM

Rashid Mutua, Chair of the Kenya slum dwellers federation, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji meets Jane Weru at the federation offices. With him are the leaders of a greenfields housing project to house 2300 slum families. They have an appointment to meet the head of the slum improvement program of the National Youth Service (NYS), a para-military division of government that undertakes development projects.  NYS want to use the land set aside for the greenfields project to put up a camp for their engineering battalion. The battalion will put in infrastructure that benefits the Mukuru slums where the greenfields project is located. On their side, the greenfields project leaders want a letter recognizing the use of their land from NYS.

4:30 PM

Kenya Airways Flight 765 from Accra is touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. On board is Joseph Muturi – national leader of Muungano and board member of Shack Dwellers International. Muungano’s driver Karanja is at the airport to meet him.

4:31 PM

With no driver at the federation offices, Jack Makau, Administrator of the professionals who support Muungano is co-opted to drive the team to the NYS headquarters. He joins Jane, Rashid, and the project leaders. On the drive there, Jane asks Rashid to call the residents of Huruma slums and let them know that she will be visiting the next day with the former vice president of Spain, who is interested to meet the women in the settlements.

6:05 PM

There is stalemate between Mr. Makokha, NYS Head of the slum improvement program and the greenfield’s project leaders. Government will not give them a letter recognizing that they have allowed use of their land for an NYS camp. The leaders are threatening to kick out NYS from their land. Jane steps out of the meeting to pick a call.

8:21 PM

The meeting with NYS has reached an amicable conclusion, where NYS will set up camp and in return will landscape the land, fill a 100 meter deep disused quarry on the land and fix the broken borehole, even as they work on other infrastructure in the Mukuru slums. Once in the car, Jane informs Rashid  that the Cabinet Secretary had called again to say she will be accompanying the Spanish delegation and she also wants to meet Muungano women.

9:05 PM

Rashid, who has not made it home to his settlement in 2 weeks checks into another bed and breakfast in the center of Nairobi. He places a call to Joseph, who has been home for less than 2 hours since arriving from the airport. Rashid wants Joseph to organize 500 head scarves for Muungano women, to be delivered in Huruma slums at 9 am. Rashid then settles down to place calls to slum settlements to get 500 women to go to Huruma by 10 am.

Saturday 31st January 2015

2:34 AM

40 kilometers away from Nairobi hotel, five women are hanging out to dry 500 white head scarves with “Muungano” written in bold green letters. They have been hand pressing the wording since Joseph called.

6:17 AM

Jack is setting off from home on his bicycle to join other bikers for a group ride. He plans detour at 1: PM to meet Jane and drive her to Huruma slums where she will meet the Cabinet Secretary.

9:20 AM

398 kilometers away from Nairobi, Erickson Sunday, National Muungano Leader in Kisumu City is sending $1000 on mobile money to Rashid to pay for the transport for Muungano women coming to Huruma. The first group of women from city slums are just arriving in Huruma. Instead of the 30 women expected in this group, 56 women have shown up. Rashid is hoping that the other slums are going to stick to the numbers he asked for. The budget to support their transport and lunch is stretched.

11:30 AM

Jane calls Jack and says that the rendezvous with the Cabinet Secretary is at the Kempisky Hotel, one of Nairobi’s newest and most luxurious hotels. Meanwhile, Rashid is relying on the women leadership to organize lunches for the now over 500 women that have arrived in Huruma.

1:30 PM

At the lobby of the Kempisky Hotel, Joseph is wearing what he describes as he’s best Italian SH*T and Jane is in a floral flowing African dress, Jack in sweat socked biking shots and tight T.Shirt. All sitting across the Cabinet Secretary, who is perfectly dressed in white slacks and Armani sunglasses. They are discussing construction cost per square foot of low cost housing and how to set up a government and community  savings national housing fund.

1:42 PM

The Spanish delegation arrive at the Kempisky Hotel.

1:51 PM

Joseph has been asked to enter the police vehicle leading the official delegation so he gives the direction to Huruma Slums. The siren lights are already whirling. Jane has gone into the forth car, a huge SUV, together with the Cabinet Secretary and the Spanish former VP. Jack has unyoked the wheels of his bike and put the whole thing in the boot of Jane’s car. He plans to chase the official convey and not get caught in traffic.

1:52 PM

Rashid calls Joseph to ask which of two Huruma slums they should the start with. Meanwhile women from 3 of the Huruma slum that will not be visited are up in arms protesting to Rashid.

1:53 PM

The convey starts to snake its way out of the hotel. Jack, at the back has pulled out too, but is speaking on phone with Rashid, who is reporting that media trucks are appearing everywhere. Jack doesn’t see the kerb at the hotel and the wheel hits it hard. The tire deflates.

1:54 PM

In Huruma, words are flying. Women from the settlements that will not be visited versus the women from slums in other parts of the city. Rashid walks away and leaves them to it. He goes to inspect the housing sites where the Cabinet Secretary will visit. In formul-one pit-stop style, Jack’s car is lifted by security and placed on a jerk and the tire changed and done before the sound of the convoy’s receding sirens completely fades. Jack has lost the convoy and is soon engulfed in traffic, inching towards Huruma. He’s lost the initiative.

2:21 PM

As the Cabinet Secretary alights from her car in Huruma, Rashid who is positioned to meet the delegation, is elbowed out of the way by the women reaching to witness the arrival. He is now 5 rows behind the women and he has lost the initiative. Jane, the Cabinet Secretary, and the former vice president are slowly making their way to a block of houses still under construction.

2:21:30 PM

Joseph has jumped out of the police car, hoping to get into the main delegation. He’s 6.4 frame can be seen above everyone else, powering he’s way through a sea of women.

2:22 PM

One of the women in the welcome party whips off her Muungano scarf from her sweating brow and lurches to the Cabinet Secretary and starts to tie it on her head. The seasoned politician, bows slightly and allows her to knot it. Jane flinches but keeps her smile. Taking cue from the action, the women are now adorning the entire delegation in wet scarves. The Spanish VP’s daughter has a look of sheer terror on her face.  Muturi, sees that the women have taken over and let’s go. He too has lost the initiative. He is quickly embroiled in an argument with the brooding ladies at the back whose settlements will not be visited.

2:23 PM

Susan, former chair of Kambi Moto, the second upgrading site in the visit –   smoothens the seat clothes in her houses and rearranges the plastic flowers on her coffee table. The Cabinet Secretary will soon be visiting her house.

2:25 PM

The Secretary has made her way up to the roof slab of one of the houses. The crowd of women and hundreds of onlookers are ecstatic. The women are singing federation songs, there is cheering. Security has totally been disabled by the crowds and Jane is looking around frantically for someone who can bring some order. Two women she doesn’t ever remember seeing are explaining how they save and how they construct incrementally. The Secretary looks pleased.

2:46 PM

The Secretary’s security detail has established a path for the delegation to leave the site. As they walk the women are waving their savings passbooks and singing. A passbook is thrust to the Secretary’s face. She stops and takes it. Jane’s heart skips a beat. The book is actually a stack of passbooks taped together and covered in clear cellophane. The Secretary opens the passbook and examines it. Jane moves closer to see what the book says. In ten years the lady has saved $2500. The Secretary starts to walk again, still holding the book. After a few quiet steps she turns to Jane and says, “We are going to do something big, very big, with your women!”

2:48 PM

It is clear the delegation doesn’t want to get into their cars. They are walking the kilometer to Kambi Moto, the next site. Cameras are being hauled along, and the media trucks with dishes on their roofs are revving but cannot move. There are women everywhere.

2:51 PM

From the doorstep, Susan knows the moment has come. She can hear singing and cheers nearing. Joseph, sees Rashid in the throng. He makes his way to him. Rashid sees Joseph and smiles resignedly and says, “I think our work here is done”.

2:56 PM

The delegation arrives in Kambi Moto. They slowdown to shake hands with a fresh group of welcoming ladies. Someone notices that the former vice president of Spain and her daughter are nowhere to be seen. The security detail scramble – tearing through the crowd in all directions.  Jane wants to scream. The Secretary looks completely at home.


3:02 PM

The Secretary is ushered and walks into Susan’s house.  Susan takes charge and replaces Jane.

3:03 PM

The Personal Assistant to the Secretary sees Joseph and calls him over. He says, “If you can get close to her, tell her the media are going to ask about the Wilson School scandal”.

3:10 PM

News of the Spanish delegation comes in. Women from one of the settlements not in the itinerary diverted her and took her to their settlement.

3:12 PM

The Secretary recognizes Joseph when he brushes his way to her side. He delivers his message. She asks, “What Wilson scandal?” He answers, “Where it is rumoured that the vice president has grabbed land belonging to a primary school”. She smiles and focuses back.

3:14 PM

Jack finally drives into Kambi Moto.

3:54 PM

The Kambi Moto visit is coming to an end. The Secretary is going to address the media and leave. She says, “The president doesn’t know about this work Muungano has done”. There are loud cheers. It’s almost inaudible when she adds, “I’m going to bring the president here!”

3:56 PM

The visiting delegation enter their cars.


7 Hours After. Chelsea FC are playing Manchester City in the English Premier League. The match is watched by less slum dwellers in Kenya than is often the case when big matches like this take place. On this day, the 9 pm news broadcast is far more important for them.

19 Hours After. Jane is making breakfast for her family. Her phone rings. The Cabinet Secretary says to her, “I am going to see the low cost housing the government has built. Will you come with me?”

168 Hours After. Jane’s phone rings. It goes unanswered. She left it by her bedside when she left for work 2 hours earlier.

177 Hours After. Jack catches a flash of the 7 pm evening news. The Cabinet Secretary was back in Huruma. She declared that the government was going to issue land tenure certificates to the residents of the Huruma slums.



Kampala Communities Collect Data to Break City’s Implementation Impasse

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Photo: On the left, the site of an eviction in Kisenyi, Kampala, contrasted with congested living conditions in Kisenyi on the right. 

By Skye Dobson, ACTogether Uganda

Images of women and children desperately splashing water on their faces to alleviate the sting of teargas in Kasokoso slum (just outside of Kampala) have been splashed on the front pages of Uganda’s newspapers this month. News broadcasts have been dominated by footage of riot police loading young men into pickups, residents setting up roadblocks of fire, and a Mayor being beaten and eventually having his car set alight by infuriated slum residents. The cause of this chaos? Land disputes: disputes that evoke a passionate and intricate set of political and cultural sentiments in Uganda and have resulted in a seemingly intractable impasse – crippling planning and development initiatives.

In Kampala, Uganda’s capital, land tenure arrangements are among the most complex in the world: intensified by one of the highest rates of urbanization (approaching 6%). Attempts by the Ugandan government to administer land have typically relied upon formal cadastral systems, which have been powerless to disentangle the webs of layered and competing land tenure arrangements. Proposed developments all over the city have stalled, completely crippled by seemingly unresolvable land wrangles.

As Kampala city moves into a new era of administration – as a result of the establishment of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in 2010 (which established the Authority to administer Kampala on behalf of the central government, replacing the former Kampala City Council), it remains to be seen how it will address the present impasse. Officials in the KCCA express unwavering commitment to developing the city in accordance with the recently formulated Kampala Master Plan, but – as is common with such city plans  – implementation strategies are about as clear as the vision of those doused in teargas.

There is an undeniable need to generate some order in Kampala, where planning dysfunction threatens the livelihoods of the rich and poor alike. And, while the author works for an organization supporting the rights of slum dwellers, this is not a paper that will simply argue the right of slum dwellers to stay and leave it at that. Such arguments cannot and should not be enough to satisfy either the government or the slum dwellers. Posturing on the part of rights groups, planners, and politicians is doing nothing to alleviate the fundamental challenges that perpetuate the acute poverty faced by the majority of Kampala’s residents. Instead, Kampala needs creative implementation strategies based on up-to-date data, authentic and informed citizen participation, and negotiation that accepts compromise will be needed from all sides.

The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) has been at the center of a collection of actors – including Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Cities Alliance, and UN-Habitat’s Global Land Tools Network (GTLN) – trying to forge such strategies in Uganda. The efforts are only just beginning, but perhaps hold promise for an approach to planning that has a greater grounding in reality and fosters a much higher likelihood of implementation. As a member of the SDI network, slum dwellers in the NSDFU utilize tools such as profiling, enumeration, and mapping to organize their communities and catalyze informed negotiation and partnership with government toward inclusive urban development. Here I focus on three potential components of the strategy being developed.

The first relates to the information required to plan. There has been no census in Uganda since 2002. The budget has not allowed it to take place for the past two years as scheduled. Thus, development plans are formulated on the basis of data that is over 11 years old. Any resident of Kampala can tell you that their city is not the same city it was a decade ago. The prevalence of multiple and overlapping land claims – particularly as it relates to Kibanda occupants (those who have rights to the land, in addition to those of the land owner) mean the majority of land tenure claims are not documented. As a result, many claims to tenure are not visible until threatened residents express these claims through protest – often violently.

The first component of the strategy, therefore, acknowledges that up-to-date data on the city and the tenure claims of its residents is required to understand actual on-the-ground realities. NSDFU has conducted citywide enumerations in 5 municipalities in partnership with the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development (MoLHUD) with support from Cities Alliance’s Land, Sites, and Citizenship program. It has also piloted the Social Tenure Domain Model tool developed by the Global Land Tools Network (GTLN) and subsequently incorporated the tool into the profiling and enumeration work being rolled out in 14 municipalities. These experiences have informed the Kampala profiling process completed in November 2013, which gathered essential planning data on all 58-slum settlements in the capital.

Currently, the NSDFU and its support NGO, ACTogether, are preparing the preliminary findings from the citywide slum profiling of Kampala conducted by the NSDFU in November 2013. The profiling covered 58 slum settlements covering each of the five divisions of Kampala. Information is gathered through focus group meetings with local leaders and the community in each slum settlement. During these meetings a detailed questionnaire is administered by slum dwellers in the NSDFU. The initial findings are unprecedented, suggesting extreme levels of inequality and exclusion across Kampala. Nearly 70% of slum settlements in the city of Kampala have faced eviction threat, with 1.5 million slum residents currently facing high threat of eviction. More detail on these findings is presented below and includes statistics on land ownership and threat of eviction.

Initial findings suggest that 55% of land in slums is privately owned (Division breakdown: Rubaga 33%, Nakawa 80%, Makindye 30%, Kampala Central 66%, Kawempe 64%); 21% is held under customary ownership (Division breakdown: Rubaga 33%, Nakawa 0%, Makindye 9%, Kampala Central 28%, Kawempe 34%); 12% is owned by the Kingdom (Division breakdown: Rubaga 26%, Nakawa 3%, Makindye 31%, Kampala Central 0%, Kawempe 1%); and 7% is owned by the municipality (Division breakdown: Rubaga 8%, Nakawa 10%, Makindye 10%, Kampala Central 6%, Kawempe less than 1%).

Sixty-nine percent of slum settlements have faced eviction threats, according to residents (Division breakdown: Rubaga 46%, Nakawa 60%, Makindye 88%, Kampala Central 57%, Kawempe 69%). Of the 58 slum settlements surveyed, 52% presently face the threat of eviction (Division breakdown: Rubaga 15%, Nakawa 60%, Makindye 88%, Kampala Central 29%, Kawempe 69%), and 25% of these are report the seriousness of the threat to be high (Division breakdown: Rubaga 15%, Nakawa 60%, Makindye 88%, Kampala Central 29%, Kawempe 69%).

The 32 settlements facing a high eviction threat contain approximately 1.5 million residents (Division breakdown: Rubaga 524,000, Nakawa 148,000, Makindye 633,000, Kampala Central 14,400, Kawempe 171,500).

Once verified, this information will be critical to NSDFU as it seeks to expand implementation of the strategy outlined above in Kampala and for developing a concrete partnership with KCCA – specifically as it relates to the impending formulation of detailed development plans for the capital.

The second component recognizes that this information, this data, should not simply inform a consultant preparing a development plan or the physical planning department of the KCCA. In matters of land, communities need to trust and understand the data available if it is to guide planning. The urban poor have a deep distrust of the information cited by government, which they perceive to have historically been used to crush their rights and demands. Conversely, when communities drive the data gathering process, it sets in motion a discussion with authorities that is based on information the community owns. When they begin the negotiation process, they are able to do more than demand a right to stay: they begin a discussion on strategies for a way forward for upgrading based on concrete information. Politicization and manipulation of urban poor communities by politicians, developers, and even fellow community members has proven an equally significant impediment to urban land management. This component recognizes that equipping a wider base of citizens with actual information can help to counter the tendency for rumor and mistruths to drive the discussion.

The third component, then, relates to negotiation and partnership. It is clear technocrats cannot implement their development plans without community buy-in – unless they plan to use force to evict all those opposed to their plans. The community, likewise, will not benefit from continued haphazard, un-guided developments, which threaten the safety and viability of their settlements. Neither party benefit from the present state of affairs, which is characterized by both sides shouting and neither listening. The technocrats will only – perhaps justifiably – listen to the community if it can answer the question: What is your alternative? The community, meanwhile, will only listen to the technocrats if they agree to listen.

We are already finding that the present requirements for planning approvals will need to be adapted to fit the local land tenure realities if development plans are to have any chance of implementation on the land occupied by the majority of Kampala’s residents. We will keep you updated as the profiling information is analyzed, verified, and utilized by the NSDFU.