A Learning Centre Emerges in Mukuru, Nairobi


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.

Revolutionary Planning: The Mukuru Special Planning Area, Nairobi

Mukuru_Kenya-Vendors_ (12)


As of 2017, the Kenya slum dwellers federation – Muungano wa Wanavijiji – has organized 1,026 groups in 21 cities and towns. In Nairobi, the Mukuru belt of slums forms one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements. A 2016 structure count by the federation established the settlement’s 100,561 units comprised of residential households, businesses, institutions, and utilities. In March 2017, these settlements were declared a Special Planning Area (SPA) by the County Government of Nairobi. This landmark declaration offers an opportunity to rethink the conventional city planning toolkit as it relates to large-scale inclusive informal settlement upgrading. It also offers a welcome commitment to the tenure security of Mukuru’s slum dwellers. The declaration allots a 2-year period for a participatory planning process to develop an innovative area-based upgrading plan for Mukuru. Cognizant of the rare and urgent opportunity this presents, the federation is undertaking intense organization of the Mukuru settlements into women-led savings groups and neighborhood associations. This should help to ensure robust community participation at every stage of the planning process and the incorporation of local businesses and enterprises in the upgrading and service delivery value chain. The federation is committed to ensuring youth are not excluded from this process and are organizing them to contribute to the visioning and execution of the redevelopment through SDI’s Know Your City TV and other Muungano youth support programs.


The Mukuru SPA declaration is the result of action-based research and interactions between the Nairobi County Government and a number of institutions that work with the Mukuru community, through support from the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and SDI. Partnering organizations include Muungano wa Wanavijiji, SDI Kenya, Akiba Mashinani Trust, Katiba Institute, Strathmore University, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Nairobi. These organizations have worked with county government to establish thematic consortia assigned the role of contributing to an inclusive master plan. 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.


The federation’s enumeration data reveals a debilitating poverty penalty that this project seeks to unlock. Redirecting funds currently spent on exploitative, informally-managed housing, services, and land, and developing strategies for channeling these funds towards upgrading, will serve as a precedent for citywide resilience-building efforts. These resources are not mere pocket change: Muungano and its partners uncovered that slum residents in Mukuru pay some 45-142% more for electricity, 172% more per cubic meter of water, and more per square meter for a shack than middle class housing residents do for formal housing. Dismantling this poverty trap and improving lives and livelihoods is the objective of the Mukuru SPA consortia whose work is scheduled for completion by March 2019.

The Kenya slum dweller federation efforts contribute to improved city resilience by setting precedents for actively engaged citizens to be part of urban planning at scale, by engaging in proactive multi-stakeholder collaboration, and coproducing appropriate land use and upgrading plans.

Read more about the Mukuru Special Planning Area here.

 This post is part of a series of case studies from our 2017 Annual Report titled ‘The Road to Resilience.’ Emerging from the field of ecology,  ‘resilience’  describes the capacity of a system to maintain or recover from disruption or disturbance. Cities are also complex systems and a resilience framework addresses the inter- connectedness of formal and informal city futures. Moreover, it enables a nuanced reflection on the nature of shocks and chronic stressors – recognising that the latter are particularly acute in slum dweller communities and that this critically undermines the entire city’s economic, social, political, and environmental resilience.As with personal resilience, city resilience demands awareness, acknowledgment of reality, and a capacity to move beyond reactivity to responses that are proactive, thoughtful, and beneficial to the whole. The most enlightened individuals and cities will be those that understand their responsibility to the most vulnerable and to the planet. Our 2017 Annual Report showcases some of SDI’s achievements over the past year on the road to resilience. Click here for the full report.