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A publication by C40 Cities, ICLEI, IIED, SDI, and UN Habitat, with support from Cities Alliance. 


Climate change will worsen many existing shocks and stresses, in addition to creating new challenges in informal settlements (‘slums’) 1 . Climate and disaster-related risks in cities cannot be addressed without upgrading informal settlements; likewise, upgrading will be futile unless the impacts of climate change are taken into account and incorporated. Due to low incomes, fewer assets, and limited voice in governance, residents of informal settlements often lack the capacity to cope with climate risks. Additionally, recognising that informal settlements are not a homogenous group and individuals can be characterised by age, gender, occupation and disability etc, is crucial for policy interventions. Oftentimes, these individuals are likely to be more vulnerable than others and therefore should be considered in upgrading, to ensure an equitable distribution of benefits across an informal community.

This report explores how upgrading informal settlements can simultaneously help in achieving climate resilient, inclusive and low carbon development leading to multiple benefits. Upgrading is a process of improving living conditions in informal settlements, often by providing shelter and services while supporting economic development via stronger links with the ‘formal’ city. Interventions can range in scale and levels of community participation, and they may vary in scope from single-sector projects (e.g. water-taps, electrification) to multi-sectoral programmes. Along with analysing the benefits of key upgrading actions, the report offers a case study of a holistic intervention currently planned in Nairobi’s informal settlement of Mukuru.

This report identifies ten particularly promising upgrading actions with potential to foster multiple benefits and advance several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These interventions are specific to the context of Mukuru and are:

  1. Increasing the efficiency of solid-waste management
  2. Increasing the diversion of food waste, organics, and recycling with benefits for livelihoods
  3. Cooler housing design
  4. Provision of green space
  5. Maintaining high-density neighbourhoods
  6. Mixed-use development
  7. Pedestrianisation
  8. Increase cycling
  9. Solar power for street lighting
  10. Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) stoves for cooking

The above initiatives have significant potential to yield multiple benefits, as highlighted in Section 2 and Appendices 1 and 4, such as:

  • Social benefits; such as including the promotion of gender equity, community pride and social cohesion between local actors.
  • Health benefits; such as from improved air quality, increased physical activity and reduced vector diseases.
  • Climate benefits; such as through reducing CO2 emissions (e.g. a potential of 218 metric tonnes & 808 metric tonnes CO2 reduction from residents cycling and walking to work in Mukuru respectively) and adapting to local climate risks.
  • Economic benefits; such as through protecting assets such as houses and enhancing livelihoods through potential costs savings of up to 80% from switching to LPG from charcoal as cooking fuel.
  • Environmental benefits; such as through lower emissions and improved air quality.

The study of Mukuru also provides several key considerations and recommendations for international, national, local policymakers and NGOs as outlined in Section 4. The key lessons learned from Mukuru are:

  • Integrated Upgrading; Mukuru’s integrated plans and governance structure helped the government understand how a neighbourhood can be transformed using multi-sectoral strategies to foster resilience, rather than a single housing solution.
  • Federated grassroots organisations; Linking grassroots organisations with residents to support each other and share a multiplicity of experiences can make residents feel empowered to undertake improvements in their own settlements.
  • Devolved local government; A democratic and adequately resourced local government can secure national interventions in informal settlements and bridge the gap between national government and grassroots organisations in need of support.

Click here for the full report. 

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.

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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.

Report for Youth Exchange to Nairobi, Kenya


This report was written by Moho Mofokeng, a youth leader from Orange Farm, South Africa. 

The purpose for this exchange between the South Africans, Kenyans and the Paraysam youth was for sharing ideas and helping each other as they have a similar project they youth is working on. Kenyans are doing numbering while the South Africans are doing the street naming project and the two projects are almost similar and both a necessity for every community to have.

Day 1.  28-08-18

South African youth met with the youth from Kenya and the Kenyan KYCTV youth. Everyone introduced themselves and the South African’s were the first to be given a platform the share their work, ideas and everything that they do how and how far are they as well as plans for future projects etc.

Joseph Muturi who is the Muungano (federation) coordinator explained his position in the organisation and what they do as well as their plans, and on how the South African team was different from other youth who was present on the day regarding saving because it was what he had picked on the South African youth that they emprise and practice daily saving.  Later on we got to learn and hear the Mukuru (Nairobi) side of doing things, they shared and explained their ways of collecting data, mapping, enumeration and also the way in which they mobilise.

Kate from the KYCTV and who is also a member of the federation shared how she got engaged with saving with the organisation, she further explained the challenges they had faced by not having toilets eg; the dirtiness and smell their area had which lead to many people getting sick they call it the “fly toilets”, and it made them come up with the idea of coming up with the toilet project which was a success after they’ve presented the idea to the city and the Marubi water, and it brought change and job creation to the unemployment federation youth Nairobi. She later talked about the evictions happening around Nairobi and on how the community have been affected by it. They have seeked help from the government by informing area chief and by also sending a petition to government.


Day 2. 29-08-18

The South African met with the members of Muungano and the community to see how they number their address and what we have realised was that their house numbers are way different from ours like for example their address goes like: RVS/A/202B hence we only have 4-5 numbers and the map which they have done themselves for doing the project.

  • RVS-cluster
  • A-cluster code
  • 202-house number
  • B-door number

We then shared the reason why we do street naming and the challenges we had faced for not having our streets named. People have been dying on our watch while we wait for the emergency service and lots of incidents happening and the emergency services can not reach the community, also mails getting mixed up because they will be delivered to wrong address so the youth took upon themselves to name their streets and how we did it.

Day 3. 30-08-18

We were taken Kibera to view the demolished houses, schools and churches and this area is where the recent eviction and demolishing took place as its said it’s a government land the area is supposed to be a road joining the other big road on the other side. And now most of the people were homeless, kids are now not going to school, most of the community members moved to railway houses that led people working as housekeepers in order to pay for rent and the other side that we saw is the side for people who can afford and it is called “Langata”

Later on that day we went to Kambi Moto to see the houses built by the federation members.  On our way there we were able to see the eviction taking place, shops and other business were evicted and demolished.

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At Kambi Moto members had planned the houses and the size themselves which were first side 4 scale meters and it took them several years to take place reason why they wanted to do things by themselves it is simply because government will want to build big houses and not all people will be able to get a house,34 houses were built at first phase and second phase has 28 get a house one must be a member of saving because the houses are from loan from saving

To be part in the construction you must have the following:

  • Saving book
  • Active member of federation

Houses were not enough for every member so some who could not get houses made withdrawals so they can rent to reduce labour. Fed-up mamas were part of the construction. We even went to see their community centre where they have their meetings,the youth also opened a business of washing cars from their savings in order to get a little income since they are not working.

Kambi Moto members aim was to construct houses in 2003 they started with the housing with the money from the federation (AMT) is the term they use for (UPF) the group they have formed, they would get loan from the AMT to build so AMT gives them 80% and 10% will come from each member another 10% will be from the saving this is only for members who save and attend meeting.


DAY 4 31-08-18

We met with the area chief and the people from the slums to share how they do their savings and mobilization, the south African team shared and made the people who were part of the meeting how important and how our challenge is similar to theirs.

On the last day of exchange, the participants visited Riara village in Mukuru where the federation met with a number of community mobilisers. The exchange participants gained a broader understanding of the community planning process anchored under the following:

  1. Mapping
  2. Formation of clusters
  3. Numbering and data collection
  4. Creation of occupancy registers
  5. Formation of cells(nyumba kumi)
  6. Formation of subclusters (baraza ndogo)






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. 

In a Risky Place: Women & Sanitation in Nairobi’s Slums

Women & Sanitation

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

“As women we are in a very, very risky place.”  – Doris Museti, Mukuru Kwa Reuben, Nairobi

I arrive in Nairobi on Friday and head straight to Muungano House. The building is home to the offices of the Kenyan SDI Alliance, made up of Muungano wa Wanavijiji (the Kenyan federation), Muungano Support Trust (MuST; support NGO to Muungano) and Akiba Mashinani Trust (the finance facility for Muungano). Muungano House is nestled in a cluster of green just off the busy main road, which bustles with the constant rumbles and hoots of Nairobi’s traffic.

I am here to meet with a group of women living in Mukuru kwa Reuben, one of the many villages in the Mukuru belt of slums that stretches across the eastern section of Nairobi. These women have come together to address challenges they face in gaining access to safe, adequate water and sanitation services in their village.

Before making my way to Mukuru Kwa Reuben, I meet with Jane Weru and Edith Kalela of Akiba Mashinani Trust, and Joseph Kimani of MuST. Both organizations have a key part to play in the women’s campaign for improved water and sanitation services. Jane and Edith have been working on a legal case that addresses land ownership issues for the whole of Mukuru. Since the Mukuru slums are located on privately owned land, the government is not able to make any interventions to improve infrastructure or basic services. In addition the threat of eviction is steadily increasing along with the value of land.       

Women & Sanitation

Jane Weru, Executive Director of AMT, begins by describing the unique circumstances of Mukuru. “It’s a contiguous belt of slums that the SDI team guesses is larger than Kibera[*],” she begins. “These slums have a special need because they are settled on privately owned land, unlike Kibera and Korogocho.”

Jane then takes me through something of a timeline of events in Mukuru. In 2008 the need to engage became clear, and by the end of 2011 – when slum dwellers from Mukuru came to Muungano House with threats of eviction in hand – it was clear that the time had come to take action in Mukuru.

When a fire erupted in Mukuru Sinai in September 2011, the door was opened once again for landowners to begin sending eviction threats to Mukuru residents. According to Jane, the fire was very bad press for slum dwellers, and landowners took the opportunity to attempt to take back their land.  

She tells me that no one really knows who owns the land in Mukuru. AMT realized that they would need to understand the ownership patterns before they could move forward. They started investigating but were met with countless roadblocks. Eventually they were able to put together a good bit of information for cases against those landowners threatening eviction. By working with the community to mobilize and build awareness, AMT and Muungano got orders preventing any more dealings from taking place on the land while the case(s) are being sorted out, staving off evictions in Mukuru for the time being.

Women & Sanitation

The connection was made between land issues and women and sanitation a few months ago when a woman from Mukuru mentioned in a community meeting at Muungano House that water and sanitation services are very poor in Mukuru because of the fact that the settlement sits on private land, outside the orbit of government’s jurisdiction for infrastructure improvements. Despite the fact that Kenya’s constitution (passed by Parliament in 2010) calls for the right to adequate sanitation, the state cannot take action on this unless the settlement is on state-owned land. Because of this, the women are asking that the state take back the land so that improvements to infrastructure and basic services can be made. The slum dwellers, alongside AMT, claim that the land is not being put to use by the landowners who gained ownership nearly 20 years ago, and that the state should take back ownership in order to put the land to use for the good of the city.

The women are busy collecting 10,000 signatures from other women across Nairobi to support their campaign, with between six and seven thousand collected to date. In addition, AMT has begun to broadcast the campaign to media outlets in Kenya and beyond. Already, local and international journalists have begun to pick up the story, a tack that AMT and the women of Mukuru hope will put added pressure on the government to do something about the conditions in the Mukuru slums.

In the afternoon, Edith Kalela and I drive across town to meet with the women of Mukuru Kwa Reuben. In Kwa Reuben and neighboring Kwa Njenga alone AMT estimates that there are about 800,000 households – all of which would be affected by evictions were they to take place. But today, free from evictions, these 800,000 households have other challenges to contend with: poor drainage, totally inadequate sanitation services, and little access to clean, potable water, to name a few.

Women & Sanitation

We bump down a rough, dirt road, between factories shielded by tall cement walls from crowded streets lined with stalls selling everything from fruit to cell phones to sneakers. People mill about in the afternoon sun as we enter Kwa Reuben. The street narrows and becomes bumpier. I could probably reach out my window for a fresh mango. Soon we pull up across the road from a small patch of grass where Doris Museti stands waiting for us. Doris is one of twenty women from Kwa Reuben who has been mobilizing the community to advocate for improved sanitation and collecting the 10,000 signatures to present to government.

Doris leads us into the heart of Kwa Reuben. We come upon a large field. Children are playing football and chasing after tires in the dusty heat. As we walk, Doris and Phyllis Mulewa, another community leader from Kwa Reuben, inform me that this is the only play area in the whole of Mukuru.

Women & Sanitation

Continuing further into Kwa Reuben the road narrows again and the ground becomes muddy with run-off and storm water that has nowhere to go. Doris turns off the main road and into a narrow walkway, barely wide enough for two people to pass each other.  Here I get a better understanding of what it means to have inadequate sanitation facilities. Doris and Phyllis point out that the run-off between the shacks, flowing into the walkway where we stand. Women and children use these narrow, exposed spaces behind their shacks (about 60 cm wide) as a space for bathing and relieving themselves at night, when walking the distance to the bush means running the risk of violent attack and rape.

Women & Sanitation

“Getting to the toilet at night is very difficult,” says Doris, “They are closed, so you have to get an alternative. So we come to the bush, and it is very risky. You have to get two or three women to escort you. If you do not come with two or three people, it is a rape case and it will never be reported. Some women fear to escort you… As women we are in a very, very risky place.”

It’s not much better during the day. Paying for multiple trips to the public toilet facilities is out of the question for most families, leaving no choice but for children to relieve themselves in these alleyways. Later on Doris refers back to  “those houses where you can see drainage coming out like a bathroom,” explaining that, “…they are not bathrooms, they are corridors. So most people are bathing in the corridors because they don’t have bathrooms. You can tell people, ‘Don’t come out! I’m taking a bath!’”

Doris continues describing the conditions that force women and children into these corridors, “You don’t have a bathroom, you have to take a bath, the house is 10 ft. by 10 ft., you are four or three people [in the house], other people have other business in the house, so you take a bath outside… the house just smells of dampness if you take a bath in there. The water goes on the carpet, and the house is always damp. Mosquitoes are full throughout.”

Women & Sanitation

So there is no option, really, but to use these alleyways. Because of the run-off, the walkways are flooded and filthy. When it rains, it is much worse. Sewerage mixes with rainwater and floods people’s homes. Disease runs rampant during these times. “Having cholera, typhoid, is very easy,” Doris says, “We had an outbreak of cholera – it was very bad. You would hear someone is sick today, and dies tomorrow.”

Women & Sanitation

Even the few toilet facilities that exist are problematic. Doris and Helen Nyaboke, another resident of Kwa Reuben, describe the process of emptying the pit latrines in the settlement, “There are two or three men who come and empty your pit latrine. After emptying, they go around pushing the cart. It will spill everywhere. When they [find] a drain, they pour [it] there and then go back and drain again. What impact does that bring? They have emptied this toilet, they have spilled everything on the road, and then they have poured it in that drainage.” The drainage they are referring to is a shallow gulley that runs alongside the walkways. When they flood or clog, they spill over into the roads and walkways. I can understand their frustration with the system.

Doris relates this back to the diseases she spoke of earlier, “It has an effect on us and on our kids.” Referring to sewerage water and human waste contaminating walkways, Doris says, “Children don’t differentiate [between] that and cleanliness.” Another woman pipes up, saying, “And STI (sexually transmitted infection) is very, very high because we are sharing one toilet between more than 150 people.”

Sharing one toilet between more than 150 people. I ask the women about this, about sharing facilities with so many people, about bathing in their small homes with children and husbands running around. Phyllis Mulewa describes it to me, “About the privacy, you never know if someone is looking in the door or in the iron sheets [walls], because most of them have holes… For us as women, we feel this is not for us. Maybe it is for animals, but not for us. But what can we do?”

Women & Sanitation

Evelyn Apondi, a young woman in her mid-twenties, tells me that she lives in a 10 ft. x 10 ft. “cube” with eleven other family members. “It is very difficult for us,” she says, “especially when there are fathers, brothers, sisters and mothers in the same cube and you can’t bathe, because bathing is a basic need. And apart from that, there are no toilets. It has been very hard.”

Women & Sanitation

Doris and Evelyn describe what it’s like for women who are menstruating. They have to hide their sanitary towels, throwing them on top of their shacks or in the road so that they are out of the way. There is nowhere to dispose of them inside the house. Family members complain about the smell. Women are made to feel ashamed of this natural, monthly occurrence, and are forced to dispose of sanitary towels in a manner that leaves the settlement dirty, and its inhabitants at greater risk of disease.

It is the same story when a woman gives birth. There is nowhere to dispose of the afterbirth, so it is kept in a tin can in the house; “The container will remain in the house until very late in the evening,” Doris says, “What is she to do with it? She will have to wait until very late to dispose of it, maybe mix it with dirty water and then throw it out…. Nowadays, blood carries everything.”

Evelyn tells me she wants to get a job so that she can rent her own cube, have some privacy and maybe even start a family of her own, but like so many of these women, she has not been able to find steady work. “We have just been surviving,” she says.

Most of the women I speak to rely on casual work for their incomes. “You wake up in the morning and try to find a job,” says Doris. “You can sometimes find something for the day, for the week, but it is very insecure. Some women do washing. There are [lots of] small-scale traders… But it is very hard.”

Women & Sanitation

I am interested to know what these women see as a potential solution to the sanitation issues they face in Mukuru. I ask them what would make the most difference in their lives with regard to sanitation. Both Doris and Phyllis suggest the same thing: “The government coming in and planning with us. Then we will have sewers and everything… Then the structure owners will be forced to do something. If the government plans for us – if they plan for residential rather than factories, and if people build their houses in order, then we can have proper drainage and proper roads.” =

I recognize this proposal from my discussions with Jane Weru earlier in the day. They want the government to claim back the land from the current landowners and re-plan the whole of Mukuru as a mixed-use area, serviced by bulk infrastructure connected to the rest of the city. This would mean widespread access to basic services and increased security of tenure for Mukuru’s residents. Doris comments on the threats of eviction that she and other Mukuru residents have faced in recent years as land values in Nairobi continue to rise:

 “We are here, and then that person – after 40 or 30 or 50 years – they are claiming back the land. Where do we go? We are not trees. Imagine you have a place, your home – how can a person come to build in your home? You have grandchildren here, they have children, and then you want to chase them out. Where do we go?”  

Women & Sanitation

These women have lived in Mukuru for at least fifteen years. Most of them were born here. This is their home and they want to improve it – to work with the government to make Mukuru a safe, secure place for them and their families to live. But because of the landownership issues, Muungano, AMT and MuST cannot move forward with sanitiation improvements in Mukuru. So instead they have proposed a precedent-setting pilot project in Mathare, another settlement north of Mukuru that is settled on government land. The hope is that this project will set an example for the kind of upgrading that could take place in Mukuru once the land ownership issues are sorted out.

According to Irene Karanja, director of Muungano Support Trust (MuST), the first phase of the project will assist 800 households residing in three clusters of Mathare settlement. The total population of these three clusters is equal to roughly 2620 households. At present, the residents of Mathare have two sanitation options: they can either pay a large fee to private businessmen to connect to the informal sewer system, or they can pay to use the few community toilets, many of which are unsafe and unsanitary.

Because local businessmen own the informal sewer system, the costs for connecting to the main pipe are unaffordable for most Mathare residents. It costs USD $46 for households within 30 meters of the river to connect to the informal sewer line, and up to USD $170 for the families furthest from the river. Because of this, families elect not to pay the high connection fees and instead dump sewerage into the river.

To combat this, MuST has proposed a solution that seeks a low-cost, sustainable and scalable model for sanitation in informal settlements. Specifically, the project seeks to find:

a)    An environmentally sustainable model which seeks to demonstrate to the State how to manage human waste without contaminating natural resources

b)   A model that is able to leverage resources from the State while at the same time utilizing community contributions for the development of a permanent sewer solution. The main innovation here is finding low-cost financing for sanitation upgrades. 

c)    A model that demonstrates that state investments for any trunk infrastructure targeted at the poor increases the integration of poor communities into the formal systems of the city.

More information about the proposed project is forthcoming. Please watch this space for more information.

[*] Kibera is generally regarded as Nairobi’s largest slum.



“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.

Contestations along the Nairobi railway lines


pictured above: Muli Munguti sells his wares in an area dominated by business stalls along the railway lines in Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi.

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

The railway relocation project in Nairobi is proceeding with all the fits, starts, complications, and inevitable contestations that come with such a high stakes endeavor. I arrived with the exchange team from South Africa on Sunday night and for the past two days we have been learning about — and assisting with — the mapping and numbering of structures to be relocated in the slum of Mukuru. Along with Kibera, Mukuru is one of the slums that is affected by this program, which has been negotiated with the Kenya Railways Authority.

This morning, we were met by the whistle and bright lights of a train that goes through Mukuru on its way to Mombasa. Pamoja Trust, Mungano wa wanavijiji (the Kenyan slum dwellers federation), and other community members are using satellite images of structures to then number each one on the ground once they match it with the satellite picture. Sometimes, one structure as photographed from above is actually two separate stalls, as was the case for many of the self-owned businesses that lie within a couple meters of the railway track. So then a given structure could be numbered as follows: RMS / 465 A/B (Railway Mukuru Sinai — the name of one of the three sections of Mukuru — the structure number, and then A/B indicates that it is actually two separate businesses).

The numbering, and even the use of satellite mapping were key points of conflict today. Mobile traders, either those who walk along the railway line selling their wares, or those who have been in the same place — some for close to a decade — nearby, were afraid of not being counted. This fear arises from the perception that there will be compensation attached to being counted, when people are eventually relocated.

I spoke to Muli Munguti (pictured above), age 38, who has been selling his wares for the past six years by laying them across the railway line in the same spot. Whenever a train goes by he folds up his goods inside the track and lets the train roll over them. “You count that one, but you don’t count this one. It’s not good,” he said.

It is the kind of conflict that arises in any large scale enumeration. Every community has different components, all of which want to be heard. Especially in a case like the railway relocation in Nairobi, where there is a clear issue of compensation or relocation tied to being counted — the process is part of a relocation in partnership with Kenya Railways and funded by the World Bank — the enumeration is of particular relevance to every party within the community.

Today, the community enumerators managed to mediate most of these concerns. In a meeting at the end of the day, they spent much of the time reflecting on how to improve the way they handle these issues as they move from mapping and numbering to house-to-house individual surveys. It was hard to avoid the fact that the community was managing the information collection process in order to deal with such contestations.


pictured above: A community enumerator in Mukuru (right) talks to an owner of a business stall along the railway line about whether his structure should be counted as one or two stalls.