In Nairobi, Mobilising Against Evictions in the Ongoing Struggle for Land

Solidarity March - Mukuru

**Cross-posted from the Muungano Support Trust Blog**

By Nysanani Mbaka, MuST Kenya 

Mukuru – we will not budge

On Wednesday 12 September hundreds of city dwellers from the Mukuru belt, including Mukuru Kwa Reuben, Mukuru Kwa Njenga and Maendeleo settlements, converged at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park I. The agenda was a simple but powerful one: mobilising those affected by rampant land grabbing, poor service delivery, insecure tenure, and inhumane evictions, which contravenes Kenya’s new constitution.

The Kenyan slum dwellers federation, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, coordinated this march of solidarity, bringing together a constituency of organised communities, pastors, legal experts, small scale traders and supporters of this quest. After more than three months of intensive mobilisation, mass general meetings, and administrative and logistical preparation, residents arrived en mass at the Uhuru Park where they would later march to the Milimani Law Courts to lay a claim on some of the lands within the Mukuru belt that are currently in the hands of corrupt business people and well-connected political figures.

Solidarity March - Mukuru

The march was catalysed by the recent forced evictions of informal dwellers living in the industrial zone of Mukuru Kwa Reuben and Mukuru Kwa Njenga. The Mukuru settlement community lodged an immediate interdict against Kenya’s Former President Daniel Arap Moi, Subsequent Commissioners of Land during Moi’s tenure, an aspiring Presidential Candidate in the upcoming 2013 General elections, just to name but a few. The slum dwellers were represented in court by a team of lawyers associated by The Katiba Institute. This case, which is serves as an example of all past evils committed against slum dwellers by the wealthy and mighty, informs a more direct agenda for holding government to account.

Communities in Nairobi City have been taking the initiatives to dialogue with local and central governments for more than a decade now. Government has not been entirely responsive to any of these initiatives.

Solidarity March - Mukuru

Kenya’s Minister of Lands, James Orengo said he was not aware of the land grabbing cartel in his Ministry, but will take time to act on some of the petitions and synthesized reports highlighting some of the culprits involved in “auctioning of the slum dwellers”, but that it will take time to investigate and report his findings to the Mukuru dwellers. He also reiterated that the community is exercising its right within the constitution to seek justice over the land issue.

Leading the memorable peaceful demonstrations were Joseph Muturi, Ben Osumba and Evans “Papa” Omondi of Mukuru settlement, all members of Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Papa said of the demonstrations, “We are here to support and protect our people from forced evictions engineered by selfish personalities who practice forced evictions without caring about the future of the urban poor.”

“We don’t want people to be homeless, in fact we demand security of tenure which we also hope the government is ready to negotiate for. Thereafter we demand housing for all, said Joseph Muturi.

The peaceful march was indeed a success and Muungano wa Wanavijiji proved their point. The matter is currently before court and the federation will respect the outcome of the court process.


Changing the Rules of the Game

Water point, Kosovo Village, Mathare, Nairobi Kenya

Water Kiosk, Kosovo Village, Mathare, Nairobi Kenya

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, so often exclude the poor from the political decision-making and financial flows that affect their lives. A meeting of slum dweller federations, local government officials, and academics in Nairobi, Kenya, explored the role of the poor in the growing cities of Africa, and the need to break down the false assumptions of government bureaucracies and professional expertise.

Pakistani architect, activist, and writer Arif Hasan had a simple reflection after a visit last week to the bustling informal neighborhoods of the Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Kenya: “Laws are as good as the rules, regulations and procedures that accompany them. They are as good as the institutions that implement them.”

Slum dwellers in cities throughout the South currently achieve very little through the laws that supposedly govern their lives. Access to water, toilets, electricity, and security of tenure is but a dream for the vast majority of the billion informal residents of cities. The current rules of this life and death “game” of urban development are not only not working, but often actively exclude the poor. So what will it take to build the constituencies with the influence and desire to change these rules?

Such was the underlying charge of a meeting of officials from local government and utility companies, academics, and city/nation-wide slum dweller community organizations, known as “federations,” from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The encounter, hosted by Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), was ostensibly about identifying “emerging trends in urban cities in Africa.” But the need for a new governing order that includes the poor emerged consistently through interactions in Nairobi’s slum neighborhoods, as well as in the air-conditioned hotel conference room appointed to bring these actors together.

Kosovo, one of 13 “villages” in Mathare, is the site of a new approach to inclusion of the urban poor in water delivery to informal areas. For years, the Kenya Water Company had complained that they were not receiving revenue from the 6,000 Kosovo residents who were using informal water connections. The SDI-affiliated federation in Kenya, known as Muungano wa wanavijiji (Muungano for short), included many of the residents. They began to organize the community to negotiate with the Water Company to achieve greater access to water, and formalize the connections, so that the Company would receive revenue. As Kosovo resident and Muungano secretary Jason Waweru described it to last year, “We said that both us have rights. So who is to say who has a more important right? So we opened a dialogue.”

Collaboration and contestation have gone hand-in-hand, as both Muungano and the Water Company negotiate the tricky terrain of partnership between “informal” and “formal” actors. At one point, community members began digging individual trenches for water pipes without approval from the Company, in order to speed along the process. Eventually, everyone agreed to something called a “delegated management model,” whereby the Company provides bulk infrastructure, while the community members build and manage street-level piping, as well as collection of fees.

 Rules for the Kosovo Water Kiosk

It is a model that went beyond the rules and regulations of a utility company that had not previously been willing to cede control of its authority to distribute water in such a way. And now it is a model that is taking hold in informal settlements not only throughout the Mathare valley and elsewhere in Nairobi, but also in the city of Kisumu.

So how do we actually change the rules of the game? Hasan argues that, in part, the professions associated with development tend to be a major impediment rather than enabler of change: “I worked as an architect and I can say that we are perhaps the most retrogressive of professions because we are so wedded to standards,” he said last week. “We need to break this passion for small ideal solutions and move to large-scale, non-ideal solutions.”

The interactions between communities, professionals, and government officials are beginning to produce the kinds of breakthroughs that can go to scale. This is precisely because they move beyond the regulations and rules that Hasan describes as rooted in “the ruins of collapsed [colonial] empires … even though those empires no longer exist.” In fact, many planning and architecture standards throughout cities in Africa are unchanged from the original codes established by colonial authorities.

One strategy popular amongst SDI federations to build relationships that break down such walls is community-led information collection, sometimes known as “enumeration.” In Stellenbosch, a small municipality outside of Cape Town, South Africa, an informal community called Langrug is home to approximately 1,800 households. After residents conducted their own enumeration, both the municipality and community found space to engage whereas previously the relationship had been full of protest, unmet expectations, and little change on the ground.

David Carolissen, municipal head of the Informal Settlements Unit, says that space made all the difference. “The data has on the one hand connected us to the slums. But it has also allowed the community to reflect themselves to us.” Now, the municipality and community are talking and planning together as they install more toilets, water points, clean up drains, build a new multi-purpose community hall, and prioritize 300 new employment opportunities for women-headed households.

Sometimes achieving this kind of change, which is often small at first, means creating “a spirit of trust among all the actors in this drama,” Hasan argues. “Trust will lead to better laws, less laws, and less bureaucracy.”

This means that both communities and professional actors need to prepare to act in new ways to move from the relationships of exclusion and conflict that characterize the urbanization of poverty in our cities. Tools for community organization such as enumeration and women-led daily savings, are working for groups like SDI federations to build political voice that can strike advantageous deals with formal actors to upgrade informal settlements. Settlements from every country represented at the Nairobi meeting could attest to real physical and social improvements that had come about through these initial steps of self-organization.

But for professionals in the “formal” sector — government officials, NGO professionals, and academics — there are few, if any, guiding principles for how they can act to achieve real change. Changing the rules of the game is anything but a technocractic exercise. A set of professional ethics for those working in development makes a lot of sense to create a sense of professional judgment that can approach challenges of urban growth. These are challenges for which no clear formula for technical action exists.

Hasan proposes one set of ethics that could, in fact, be useful for all actors, both “formal” and “informal”:

1.    Planning and projects should respect the ecology of the region in which the city/town is located.

2.    Land use should be determined on the basis of social and environmental considerations and not on the basis of land value alone.

3.    Development should cater to the needs of the majority population, which is usually low and lower-middle income.

4.    Planning and projects should respect and promote the tangible and intangible heritage of the communities that live in urban settlements.

Of course, as he notes, given the current paradigm of development, few, if any, projects would be enacted if they had to fill all four of these criteria. But a shift in professional mindset, as well as a shift in the formal strictures of bureaucracy and governance, is a prerequisite for new pathways to more equitable cities.

Thousands Left Homeless After Kyang’ombe Demolition


**Cross-posted from MuST Kenya blog**

Kyang’ombe slum which is situated around the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has been demolished. According to JKIA officials, the slum sits in the direct flight path, which poses a great risk to the safety of planes as well as endangering the lives of the slum dwellers.

Muungano Wa Wanavijiji and local residents believe that there is more that meets the eye. The residents were being evicted because private developers with powerful political connections have acquired the land illegally.

Kyang'ombe demolition

Close to 200,000 people have been left homeless after six bulldozers flattened their houses at Kyang’ombe village off Mombasa Road in Nairobi under the watchful eye and supervision of fully armed Administration Police officers.

The responsible Institution, Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) is said to have given the residents notice to vacate the area, so as to clear it and create space for aircrafts flying over before landing or taking-off from the JKIA International Airport.

On seeking information and justification from KAA corporate affairs manager Dominic Ngigi, who declined to comment claiming that the matter was now out of his jurisdiction and are now in the hands of the local Provincial Commissioner and the Provincial Police Officer respectively.

The evictions began at around 11pm on Friday night catching the resident’s off guard. What raises eyebrows is why did they have to conduct the forceful evictions at Midnight? Where did they expect the women and children to seek refuge? Several schools were also demolished, the schools which also served as examination are now facing dilemma over the candidature of their already registered candidates. More than ten schools, a number of churches, garages, bars, shops and other businesses were destroyed.

Kyang'ombe demolition

Some of the residents managed to secure their household items from the bulldozers’ path but a number of them had no time to remove their items, which were destroyed as the houses were being flattened.

By Saturday morning, about 1300 houses were already destroyed in the melee as the bulldozers advanced towards more than 4000 household units as desperate residents continued to remove their household goods away from the path of the bulldozers. More other houses beyond the scene of the current evictions have also been earmarked for further demolitions.

Most of those persons evicted work as casual labourers in the nearby factories in Nairobi’s Industrial Area and had moved there for easy access.

Permanent houses with shops, mini-supermarkets, concrete apartments and other semi-permanent house build from corrugated iron sheets were not spared either. Some of the residents that we managed to talk claimed they never saw any eviction notice but just heard rumours of the impending evictions since the residents had secured a court order against KAA not to go ahead with the secretly planned demolition in Kyang’ombe.

“I do not know where to go. I have lived here for the past four and a half years,” Kepher Otieno said adding that he and his family have never received any notice to vacate.

“They came with armed police who stood by. There is nothing we could have done. They did not tell us where to go next or where we can get our next meal,”

“There was no written notice,” he said.

He was guarding his household goods together with his wife and a two-year old son and a three months old daughter.

Secure Tenure

The prevention of evictions and the enablement of secure tenure remain central objectives of the Federations and emerging Federations linked together through SDI.

One of Muungano Support Trust’s important goals is to demonstrate to communities, professionals, city officials and politicians that alternatives to evictions can emerge from the development of negotiated consensus. In order to achieve this consensus the key development actors – organized communities and local governments need to shift perspective and think beyond an “either/or” scenario. From the perspective of communities this normally manifests as “either we win the right to stay where we are, or we do not cooperate”. From the perspective of the city it is a case of “either we relocate you, or you don’t get any development.”

This takes a lot of negotiation. In most cases communities under threat of eviction and state institutions who support these evictions, are in no mental state to negotiate anything.

Over the years the Kenyan slum dwellers federation Muungano Wa Wanavijiji with the assistance of Slum Dwellers International have developed, refined, adapted and transferred a set of tools that are used to pre-empt evictions and move cities from demolition to development. They include.

Community Enumeration. When poor people count themselves it is a great mobilization starter. And as the communities gather more information and learn how to process and use it they get to be equipped with the information and the understanding required for resettlement and upgrading. This is a crucial step in moving poor communities from being victims to becoming direct actors in change.

Settlement Mapping. An important part of this data-gathering is the drawing of settlement maps that include houses, shops, pathways, water-points, electric poles and so on. This helps people to get a visual fix on their physical situation and enables them to plan settlement improvements and to assess the development interventions that outsiders propose. Detailed, accurate, and first-hand these maps are powerful planning and mobilizing tools and also effective bargaining chips when it comes to negotiations for secure tenure.

Surveying Vacant Land. It is not uncommon for city authorities to dismiss arguments in favour of low cost housing by saying that there is no available land in suitable locations. Whilst public land is often limited and whilst market forces make private land unaffordable for the poor, Federations in many southern cities have demonstrated that these realities do not translate into a situation in which there is no suitable land for poor people in the inner city or in areas with easy access to public amenities. Federations in countries such as South Africa, Cambodia, Kenya and India have embarked on elaborate land identification exercises that have ranged from picnics on open land in Mumbai to land audits in Durban and settlement profiling in Nairobi.

Settlement Planning. It is necessary for poor communities to re-locate their participation in the housing delivery process at the level of the practical. This means a move away from the abstraction of a struggle for housing rights, backed with lobbying, demonstration and litigation to the concrete activities of planning, design and actual delivery. In order to do this, communities need to start by dreaming and visualizing the kind of settlements and houses in which they would like to live. From this point onwards it is relatively easy for community members to break the myth that planning and design are the exclusive domain of highly trained professionals, and that regulation and monitoring are the sole prerogative of officials and bureaucrats. Over the years the SDI affiliates have developed effective community based training programmes in which households in affected settlements come together to plan their settlements and design their houses. These programmes vary from country to country but share several key elements. They are dreaming or visualizing neighbourhoods and houses, moving from the abstract to the concrete by means of cloth house models and the creation of basic layout designs. This is followed by the evolution of a common community vision in terms of house type and settlement layout, which is reflected back to the communities through mass meetings and through sustained dialogue within already established savings collectives.

House Model Exhibitions. Many SDI affiliates scale up their cloth models until they become full scale models, normally constructed with timber frames, cloth walls and galvanized roofing. When politicians, officials and other communities are invited to see these physical manifestations of the people’s plans, a lot of interesting things normally transpire. Possibilities are democratised, excitement and self consciousness is generated, city authorities begin to see communities through different eyes, people begin to take ownership of their problems and their solutions, and citizenship is deepened.

Building Networks via Community Exchanges. A programme of constant exchange visits between settlements in the same city, in different cities and different countries has resulted in the transfer of these and other rituals and skills to thousands of slum settlements all over the world. The absorption of these capacities into new settlements provides them with tools that they will need in their own struggles for land, secure tenure and affordable housing. Together with the transfer of knowledge comes the growth of unity and solidarity, resulting in a stronger voice of the poor, at city, country and international level. This in itself becomes a vital tool for tenure security that SDI forges for its urban poor affiliates.

The people of Kyang’ombe have nowhere to run to. This is an unfortunate event that has cast dark clouds on their lives and those of their children. According to the Constitution and the Millennium development goals, the Government is entitled to provide its citizens with proper shelter for its people. We cannot understand why the evictions were conducted without proper planning for those who were to be affected by the demolitions.