#DignifiedUrbanLife Youth Summit: Intergenerational Dialogue and Music Unite to Fight Inequality

As the world marks the third anniversary of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to come together and make sense of what happened and what we can learn from the experience.

SDI and Know Your City TV’s Youth Summit is bringing together youth and elders from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa to create a federation song for the #DignifiedUrbanLife campaign, which is set to launch this Friday the 31st of March.

This campaign aims to be a powerful platform for change and progress, providing a unique opportunity for different generations to share knowledge, ideas and experiences.

SDI and Know Your City TV’s Youth Summit

The SDI and Know Your City TV‘s Youth Summit seeks to bring together youth and elders to create a federation song for the #DignifiedUrbanLife campaign. This campaign is a response to the immense challenges exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly for youth living in informal settlements. Through the summit, the aim is to mobilise groups of women and young people to create a federation song, utilising the age-old medium of song to transmit knowledge and values.

#DignifiedUrbanLife Campaign

The federation song is a unique opportunity to bring together different generations to share knowledge, ideas and experiences. Through intergenerational dialogue, young people can learn from the wisdom and experience of the older generation, while the older generation can learn from the creativity and enthusiasm of youth. By combining the two perspectives, we aim to create a powerful platform for change and progress. The federation song is a unique opportunity for bringing together different generations to share knowledge, ideas and experiences. By coming together and collaborating, we can create a song that is both inspirational and motivating. It can be used to raise awareness of the challenges faced by people living in slums, while also providing a platform to inspire and empower them to come together and find sustainable solutions to the problems they face.

Our Workplan

The #DignifiedUrbanLife campaign includes a step-by-step guide for community mobilisation and communications strategy. Our Zimbabwe, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa affiliates appointed youth groups with experience in music production to lead the campaign. The steps include intergenerational dialogue, choir recording, youth remix, international collaboration and coordination, distribution, and monitoring, evaluation and outreach.

International Collaboration and Coordination

A small team from each country join us in Cape Town at the SDI Secretariat, bringing audio stems and demo along with behind-the-scenes videos, archive video, images, and documentation for a one-week hack-a-thon. At the hack-a-Thon, they will develop a targeted audience campaign strategy, coordinated media products, a policy shift strategy and plan of action, and a monitoring and evaluation framework.


Once the song, media products, and policy strategy have been developed, the next step is to promote and distribute them. This includes launching social media campaigns, creating music videos or other visuals to accompany the song, and distributing materials to the target groups.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Outreach

The final step is to monitor and evaluate the success of the campaign. This wil include tracking the reach of the campaign, as well as measuring the impact it has had on the target groups. We aim to do this through surveys, interviews, or other methods.

The #DignifiedUrbanLife campaign is an inspiring example of the power of intergenerational dialogue and music production to fight inequality. It provides a platform for different generations to come together and share knowledge, ideas and experiences, while also creating a powerful platform for change and progress.

This Friday the 31st of March marks the launch of this exciting campaign, and it is sure to be an inspiring event.

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


By Jack Makau, SDI Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profiling and Mapping for Alternative Slum Upgrading Solutions in Kiandutu, Kenya

[caption id="attachment_1378" align="alignnone" width="480"] Mtatu B, one of the clusters in Kiandutu Informal settlement.[/caption]

**This post was originally featured on the Muungano blog** 

By Muungano wa Wanavijiji documentation Team

In 2011, the Kenyan SDI Alliance began scaling up its strategy to support community-led upgrading in anticipation of engaging the Kiambu county government to deliver on a new national and city slump improvement initiative and housing programmes. Subsequently in 2015, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, with the support of Slum Dwellers International (SDI) has successfully negotiated a partnership strategy, that would see all informal settlements in Kiambu County identified, profiled, mapped and documented for future slum upgrading and resettlement plans.

Kenya for example follows many previous government programmes and slum upgrading models such as the; Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement programme and the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme that set out to address slum improvement and upgrading, but has particular importance in that, the support it offers city governments to achieve “slum-free” cities focuses far more than its predecessors on in situ upgrading and tenure security for those living in informal settlements.

Despite the priority given to participation and empowerment by development agencies, there have been few opportunities for the poor to develop their own alternatives. However, Muungano and other SDI affiliates are using community-led data collection, upgrading initiatives, and partnerships to advance change across informal settlements and even at the city-wide scale. The power of communities and their ability to gather data that can influence policy is immense: The urban poor have demonstrated that cities have to work with urban poor communities to collect data and maps of all informal settlements in the city, as the basis for inclusive partnerships between communities of the urban poor and local governments. This has proven to be a critical starting point for meaningful development interventions to address the issues facing our cities, particularly in the informal sector, including human settlements and economy, which constitutes the majority of our cities’ people.

[caption id="attachment_1380" align="alignleft" width="570"] Community participation in the structure numbering training session.[/caption]




[caption id="attachment_1381" align="alignleft" width="570"] Structure Coding[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_1382" align="alignleft" width="570"] One of the federation members Eva Muchiri numbers a household.[/caption]





[caption id="attachment_1383" align="alignnone" width="570"] Henry Otunge ‘veteran’ takes one of the teams through the basics of cognitive mapping of their settlement.[/caption]


Kiandutu community participation and engagement with the Kiambu county government is one classical example as to why partners and stakeholders need to build strong foundations in offering joint solutions for informal settlements.The Kenyan federation for example has utilized its space to deliver on local solutions such as improving sanitation standards, conserving the environment and house improvements for the poor at the grassroots. The partnership between Muungano wa Wanavijiji and the Kiambu County Government, who’s MOU will soon be formalised, is one key example of how local advocacy can change the slum landscape in Thika.

[caption id="attachment_1379" align="alignleft" width="570"] A recent joint technical meeting between Kiandutu community representatives, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, SDI and Kiambu County Government Officials.[/caption]












Securing changes in urban policy and practice through precedent-setting requires the development of alternatives that are supported by grassroots organizations. Once the need for pro-poor alternatives has been demonstrated by precedent, residents will tirelessly lobby their state institutions to ensure that the necessary reforms are introduced. As noted above, a key mechanism for influencing policies is the use of community-gathered settlement data in local advocacy (for upgrading, improved service provision, etc.). Precedent-setting is a strategy for influencing policy by building upon residents’ resilience and creativity to transform their settlements from the inside out.

With the continuous evolution of technology, Muungano wa Wanavijiji through the support of Slum dwellers International have continued to perfect its community data collection tools that if correctly used, continues to build upon the urban space, where slum dwellers would remain visible to any planning agenda held in trust by their city governments.

In the belief and spirit of the Know your City campaigns, currently running in 33 SDI country affiliates around the globe, data collection practices will soon evolve, where complex requirements for technology-laden data collection and analysis would put every single informal settlement- house hold and settlements on the map making every settlement visible.

This therefore is likely to positively influence local plans and urban policy frameworks at the local level. In response to the advancement in technology, the Alliance has been testing the use of digital tools for its own data collection and analysis in Kiandutu informal settlement. The Kiandutu’ Participatory Settlement Profile and Mapping Project has two central goals: to set a precedent for a community-based implementation of comprehensive data collection; and to empower the urban poor with new knowledge and tools to help them articulate their needs and demands using digital media.

There can be no social change that can truly benefit low-income communities if the poor have not participated in designing, managing and realising that process of change.

Quotes from the Kiandutu settlement profile and mapping

“As we embark on this journey, I would like to acknowledge the partnership that exists between the people of Kiandutu, Muungano, SDI and the Kiambu County government. It is also important for policy makers in each and every county, which are still in dilemma of, address the challenges of informal settlements to first focus on the people, organizations and processes rather than advocate on consultancies to address a people problem.”

Gabriel Kibui, Chairman Muungano Kiandutu.

“My wish is to see this process generously deliver on my security of tenure, quality housing and improvement in the delivery of services such as water, sanitation and drainage infrastructure and services.”

Florence Wanjiru, Resident Kiandutu

“The Kiambu County government is making considerable attempts to encourage communities and stakeholders to find long-term solutions to address issues of informal settlements, especially by regularizing and redeveloping such settlements as Kiandutu by subsidizing programmes to provide formal housing for the urban poor.”

Lucy Kiarie, Kiambu County officer

The Kenya SDI Alliance Ramps Up Activities


India, Kenya and South Africa are arguably the most frequently referenced Federations in the SDI network – both internally and externally. This is the result of a combination of factors, including the geopolitical space occupied by these three countries. Equally important is the scale of the 3 Federations in terms of the number of settlements, number of members and the experience and capacity of the leadership at settlement, city and national level. Kenya is especially important, since unlike South Africa and India, the slum dwellers in Kenya work in an environment in which urban development policy is still fluid and where opportunities for grassroots impact seem relatively positive for now.

All SDI affiliates share a number of common features – such as the central participation of women, the mobilisation through savings, the use of community based information management as advocacy tools, and so on. This sometimes leads to the misconception that all Federations are replicas of one another. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This week we focus on SDI’s Kenya alliance as it proceeds with pre-project planning for a number of highly relevant upgrading projects in Nairobi, Thika and Kisumu. This concentration of the spotlight on our Kenya partners simultaneously provides interesting information about these important activities and demonstrates how SDI affiliates are both similar and different. Savings schemes and networks in Kenya share a great deal with those in other countries but are by no means identical. Context has moulded and shaped them, creating modifications of a theoretical prototype into significant differentiations. The Kenya alliance is especially important in this respect because it has celebrated diversity without discarding the central purposes of its various organisational forms. Its structure bends and reshapes itself in order to respond creatively to external realities, but its purpose remains the same.

An Introspect of the late Benson Osumba, Chair of Muungano wa Wanavijiji

Benson Erick Osumba**

Ben’s life Story as Contributed by Henry Otunge (Savings Scheme member, Korogocho) and Aggrey Willis Otieno (Brother)

Benson Erick Osumba lived a short but fulfilling life. Though we are deeply hurt and in inconsolable grief and disbelief, hidden in all the pain and sorrow that we feel, we celebrate him for having touched our lives in a million ways.

Benson Erick Osumba was born in Nairobi on 28th February 1980 to the late Richard Odhiambo Osumba and Peninah Awino Osumba, and so begun the life of the man that people gathered here today were proud of to call their husband, their father, their son, their brother, their friend and leader.

In his early childhood days, Benson grew up in the sprawling slums of Korogocho without beating his siblings. He was very playful and humorous that his mum would quickly forget punishing him when he was in the wrong.

Benson Osumba joined Scouting at a tender age while in primary school and was an active member of Tegemeo Scouts Center, he was appointed a patrol member and a stave master of their unit / troop. He was among those of his troop who represented Nairobi Province in the National Inter Patrol Competitions. He underwent various Leadership Trainings; in the words of the founder of Scouting, Osumba did his best in leaving the world a better place than he found it.

As early as he was 9 years old, Benson started exhibiting a sense for indulging in community service by becoming a Cub Scout member in Ngunyumu Primary school. He moved up the rank and file of the scout system and eventually not only became a cub scout but also an admired troop commander. He was also a talented stave commander. This talent made him to be called upon on several occasions to lead the passing over parade by Boy Scouts during public holidays in front of the second President of Kenya, H.E Daniel Arap Moi.

As Senior Wang’ombe recalls, “the most memorable moment was when President Moi put some cash inside Benson’s pocket at State House during one of the public holidays”.


Benson started his schooling life in 1986 when he joined St. John’s Nursery school. He joined standard one class, at Ngunyumu Primary school in 1987 and left in 1992 to join Jina Primary School where he continued with his studies for Standard 7 and 8. Having excelled in his KCPE exams in 1994, Benson got admitted to St. Theresa Boys High school, Nairobi in 1995 and sat for his KCSE exams in 1998 in the same school.

Benson had a checkered illustrious career; Benson was a well liked and respected young man. He dedicated his entire life in serving the urban poor where he sharpened his leadership and problem solving skills. He has served in the boards of various Non- Governmental Organizations notably being Pambazuko Mashinani and Muungano Support Trust.

Though many within the civil society remember him as an urban poor advocate. Benson Osumba was also an entrepreneur in his own right. He registered Bencastro Engineering firm in 2008. Through the firm, Benson has left behind a number of buildings that he drew their architectural designs the latest being the telemedicine centre that belongs to his elder brother – Aggrey Willis.

Benson was a bit of a perfectionist in everything he did, he liked things to be just so. While not engaged in community service, Benson dedicated his time to perfecting his architectural drawing skills. To quench his thirst for more knowledge in the same field, he enrolled for a distance learning course.

Osumba joined Muungano wa Wanavijiji in April 2000 through his local savings scheme, Korogocho Needy; in Gitathuru Village, Korogocho Network, Nairobi Eastern region. He joined the group after an enumeration exercise conducted in Korogocho settlement under the supervision of Muungano federation and the Korogocho people settlement.

His enthusiasm to learn the Enumeration tool unveiled by Slum Dwellers International, Osumba was selected as an Enumerator representing the Gitathuru Enumerations team. His hard work during the enumeration exercise was noted by the Gitathuru community leaders; he was approached by the settlement leader; Martin Okumu to join their group, Korogocho Needy, who were in need of a group secretary.

Benson agreed to be the group’s secretary; he was deputized by the Late Tobias Ndege. Osumba embraced SDI’s concept of savings for a better life out of poverty and a developed well knit Korogocho settlement. Despite the fact that he lacked a job and a steady source of income, Osumba set aside every penny he could afford, so that he could save and be a good example with his savings group.

Benson managed his duties very well as the group’s secretary until 2005, when he joined the Federation to help out on Data Entry Training and Enumerations team, in Nairobi’s Eastern region by then. His brilliance and his ability to analyze perspectives on a broader perspective, gave his the opportunity to take part in numerous enumerations exercise in various towns and settlements in Kenya and abroad.

In his capacity as Secretary of Korogocho Needy; he together with the members set up systems and structures that would ensure all members get access to loans, ensured proper documentation and filing, transparency in running the group’s affairs and more importantly he ensured the role of women in the management of the group was achieved.

That very year, 2005; Benson opened himself up to attend the federation’s workshops, trainings on savings, community organising and lobbying and advocacy. His confidence and passion for community processes and participation matured.

In August 2005, Benson left Korogocho Needy group and formed a new group, called Cup Kenya, of which he was able to maintain his membership until his untimely death.  Osumba managed to organize many groups in Korogocho and outside and within Kasarani District; such as Kariadudu United, Bsucola Youth SHG, Laundy Youth and Hunters in Korogocho. Kariadudu United and Hunters picked up momentum and are performing well.

Benson took life in his stride and appreciated what life offered him. Alongside countless people from Muungano wa Wanavijiji, civil society, global networks, and community-based organizations, Benson traversed the country and the world, trying to conceptualize and support poor peoples’ initiatives.

In 2007, the Nairobi Regional Council members of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, from both Eastern and Southern regions held an election to elect the Nairobi Regional Chairperson. Benson was then elected as the Nairobi Region Chairperson, where he was given the mandate to address the plight of the urban poor in the city.

In May 2008, the federation (Muungano wa Wanavijiji), decided to restructure its organizational structure, that would see a more vibrant and all inclusive and people centered movement. After the reorganization of the federation’s structure, and election was called for.  Benson was elected the National Chairman of the Kenya’s Slum Dwellers Federation (Muungano wa Wanavijiji) for a renewable term of five years.

His experience garnered at national and international SDI processes, Benson implemented the operationalisation of the new look federation. Benson also transformed himself to a critical thinker, strategist, activist and a brilliant community organizer, a unique trait indeed.

It is out of these special character traits that; in May 2008 Benson was nominated by the Kenyan Federation to sit on the board of Shack/Slum Dwellers International, representing Kenya.  Benson served with dedication as Chairperson of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, and SDI Board Member till his untimely demise.

Martin Nyawina Okumu a grassroot community leader; Korogocho describes Benson as a best friend. “He was born a leader and a listener. He went out of his way to help the poor regardless of their status or affiliation to the federation, we will dearly miss him”. “Henry Otunge, a member of Muungano Korogocho network and advocacy team, remembers Benson, as a brave community organizer and coordinator, when he had money he called himself, “Osumba will pay”, when he had no money he called himself,” Osumba will organize”, we went to the extent of nicknaming him; OKEW GI YESU!

The late Benson Osumba was in perfect health until March 2013, when he started ailing and immediately started the prescribed treatment for his illness. Benson began getting better and returned to his normal duties.

On 15th April 2013, his health deteriorated and was admitted in Hospital where he was getting specialized treatment. His health deteriorated on 17th April, 2013 and he succumbed to his ill health. Benson went to be with the Lord.

Despite his ill health, Benson was never at any one given time discouraged; he was ever jovial, vibrant, energetic and charismatic. Benson was full of life and valued every moment he spent with his family, regardless of his busy schedule to serve the Federation of Kenya’s Urban poor as their national Chairman.

He has left behind a wife and four children, namely Cynthia Awino, Marion Atieno, Fidel Odhiambo and Victor Ryan.

Benson will be laid to rest on 4th May 2013, at his Yala home, Gem. 


Benson Osumba on Mindset Change Amongst Youth in Africa

This great short film explores the mindset change underway amongst Africa’s youth that mirrors SDI’s longstanding advocacy of self consciousness, self reliance and co-production. It includes an interview with Benson Osumba, President of the Kenya Federation who passed away on 17th April 2013.

Remembering Benson Osumba, Chairman of the Kenya SDI Alliance

Remembering Benson Osumba

**Cross posted from the Muungano Support Trust blog**

“Benson Erick Osumba dedicated his life to work for the community as an enumerator, leader, mentor, mediator and advisor. He had the gift of singling out the potential in people, and gave them the space to do their thing for Muungano wa Wanavijiji and on international assignments on behalf of Slum Dwellers International (SDI). He believed in and encouraged the people who kept the spirit and faith to serve settlements under siege, until they had no choice but to believe in themselves.”

In handling his duties as the Chairperson of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, and the Kenyan SDI Alliance as a whole, Benson would diligently attend community and institutional meetings, the weekly Monday meeting. In appearance just a tedious reporting of the week’s progress of the federation and other official engagements with SDI, in reality it is an impeccable tool for accountability, transparency, and inclusive decision-making process. Such forums with Benson built exclusive platforms for debate, disagreement, acknowledgement of failures, and celebration of Muungano‘s breakthroughs in addressing the urban agenda. 

Remembering Benson Osumba

Remembering Benson Osumba

In executing his work as the leader of the Kenyan SDI Alliance, Benson was a hands-off kind of a guy, though his value for work ethic was really admirable. He was gentle, calm and collected but with equal demeanor he was firm and upright. Muungano’s objective was clear: advocacy for the poor. The strategy was simple — engage eviction proponents head-on, based on the principle of law and justice, conduct enumerations, mapping and engage his people and stakeholders on the next course of action.

Benson took life in his stride and appreciated what life offered him. Alongside countless people from Muungano wa Wanavijiji, civil society, global networks, and community-based organizations, Benson traversed the country and the world, trying to conceptualize and support poor peoples’ initiatives.

His calm nature was coupled by a jovial tone, many thought it was a weakness but indeed it was a gift that enabled him to negotiate with the Kenyan government on the needs of the poor to be enjoined in the participatory planning process, it was above all an opportunity to make connections and sign MOUs with various stakeholders, thus sustaining a resilient urban poor people. It is this people-building that was the real and lasting investment.

The need to consult and bring all on board was indeed strength for the federation and the support NGOs, Muungano Support Trust and Akiba Mashinani to function as a unit. His master of the principles of communication and mobilisation kept the federation on the loop, from the expansive coastal towns of Mombasa, to the waters of Kisumu, to the ranges of the Rift valley, to the cool waters of Nairobi and the echelons of the globe, Benson’s leadership was felt.

The 2004-2011 eviction spree by the lords of impunity in Kenya’s government and private interests alike, was addressed by the civil society, with Muungano wa Wanavijiji spearheading grassroots initiatives to force government to stop forced evictions and address the issue using a bottom up approach.

And now the National Eviction guidelines that help caution the poor from arbitrary eviction has been realized. Secure tenure for the urban poor is also being realized. The federation is devoted  to conducting city profiles and mapping to support shack dwellers to advocate for land title in areas such as Kilifi (Mibuyu Saba) and Thika (Kiandutu), just to name but a few.

Despite dejection in the face of the movement, Benson always remained optimistic.

In reflecting on Benson’s life and work, Jockin Arputhum shared the following: 

“I remember Benson sometime back when I came to Kenya, and he told me of how he has constituted a federation leadership structure. I was surprised to find that majority of the men had taken up leadership. That is when I beseeched him to incorporate more women in leadership, for this will help strengthen the Kenyan federation. This he did, and a number of women are now sitting on the National Executive Council.

I called Benson a number of times, to spend time with me in India; we planned on a number of issues regarding the federation and key community projects. We thank God for giving us Benson, though for a short time, he was able to do a lot for the Kenyan Federation and the SDI global network.

Benson has left behind a young family and I call upon the Kenyan Alliance to come together and set up a trust fund for his children that would help support his family. SDI will help support this initiative. I pray that we continue with the spirit and hope that Benson built over time.

We at SDI will honor Benson’s immense contribution and dedication by replicating his ideas and  work throughout the slums in our global network.” 

Remembering Benson Osumba

Remembrances from the SDI family and friends have been included below.

It is with deep sorrow that we wish to inform you the passing away of Benson Osumba, the National chairman of Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Benson left us this morning after a short illness bravely borne. As we celebrate his life today, we would like to acknowledge the role he has played in placing the urban poor agenda at the center of development in Kenya. He courageously responded to settlements faced with forced evictions with a resolve to end this kind of injustice in Kenya and other countries.

The struggle continues and his vision for a safe city for all, especially the poor, lives on!!

Irene Karanja-Muungano Support Trust, Kenya

I am so saddened by your news, but thank you for sharing it. May Benson rest in peace and his life’s dedication to the urban poor be an inspiration to us all.


Elizabeth McKeon

Benson was a uniting figure to all. He leaves at a time when Muungano and civil society need more to forge the agenda for inclusive development.

God rest him in peace

Peter Ngau, University of Nairobi

Muugano family,

I join the rest to condole with Benson’s family and friends. Indeed he has left a lot of unfinished endeavours to be completed by the rest of us.

May He rest in peace!

Stephen Gichohi- Forum Syd

I have lost a friend a brother and a great mentor, apart from teaching me how to work with the community he tought me life skills. He gave me opportunity and exposed me to the world. He fought selflessly for all, he spent all of his valuable time sacrificing to the poor in kind and cash. He was a mediator in all crises and an icon of unity in every conflict. He was a keen listener and non-judgmental even though circumstances warranted the same. This afternoon I am laying you at the mortuary in the cold cupboard believing that you might wake up and even greet us again. Truly am not in terms with your death. No Ben you are still alive.

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leader, Kenya

It’s really hard to take it. My condolence to the family, Muungano, MuST, AMT, SDI and friends. We will see you again Ben. It has been a struggle for the voiceless and poor to access the basic needs for all those years. It’s the reason why our generation is enjoying some of the fruits. Rest in peace.

Iscah Jemutai, MuST Field Officer, Kenya

My thoughts and prayers of strength to the whole SDI family, Muungano Federation and Benson’s family in particular. May his soul rest in peace as his loving memory and spirit continue to guide our activism.

Paula Assubiji, Cape Town

When I led a project to donate foodstuffs and clothes in Mukuru slums, he helped me organize the process and even sat to my right on the day of the event as Gitau sat to my left. Rest in Peace Osumba, you helped me put together a noble cause. Rest In Peace brother.

Boni Manyala, Communication Consultant, Kenya

I will remember Benson for his charisma and forethought.

Chilungamo Hunga, Malawi 


I am so heartbroken to hear of Benson’s passing. He was such a nice guy who had a smile for everyone he met. We will miss the Professor every day.

Louise Cobbett, former SDI Secretariat staff, USA

Rest in perfect peace Chairman. May the good Lord grant you a perfect rest in his bosom. My deepest condolences to the family and the Kenyan Federation at large.

Mensah Owusu, People’s Dialogue, Ghana

May his soul rest in peace.we loved chairman but God loved you more.praying for peace and strength for all Muungano Federation members during this times of mourning.

Edwin Simiyu, MuST, Kenya

What sad news…it is with heavy heart that we in Ghana received the news that Benson Eric Osumba is gone to his maker. We pray that Benson will have peaceful rest. Ben will be remembered throughout the SDI afiliates especially Ghana. Chairman, rest in peace. Our heartfelt condolence to SDI, MuST, Akiba Mashinani, Kenya federation west/east Africa hub and SDI board. Chairman, you will forever be remembered….

Kojo Anane, Ghana 

My Sincere condolencs to the family of our Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, Kenyan AllianceShack / Slum Dwellers International Kenyan chapter-National Chairman.Osumba Benson Erick..He was a strong leader with a desire to change the lives of Slum dwellers…this info greats me with shock…RIP Chair

Benard Nyadida, Muungano Youth Federation, Kenya

On behalf of the Zambian alliance , we would want to offer our  sincere  condolences to Benson ‘s family, Muungano and the entire SDI family. We pray for God’s comfort and guidance during the mourning period.

May God be with us.

Nelson Ncube, Zambian SDI Alliance 


Very sad indeed, and losing such a young, bright and indeed amazing young man is shocking but we will celebrate the life we shared with him and the inspiration and hope he gave to us as a Network.

May Your soul rest in peace Bens and may the Lord comfort your family during this sad and trying time.

Siku Nkhoma, Malawi SDI Alliance 


From Boston, I echo the sentiments of the rest of this broad family. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the rest of Muungano and the wider SDI family, some of which are gathered in Nairobi right now.

I experienced his presence in a number of meetings, and shared many conversations and an occasional after-hours game of pool with him. Benson was a man of strategy and a street philosopher. His warm personality, tactical sensibility, intellect, leadership and conviction are embedded in the strengths of Muungano, and the rest of the SDI network of federations and support professionals. For these reasons and more, may we honor his memory.

Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat 


Please accept my deepest condolences. Benson will be with us in spirit. 


Arvinn Gadgil, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway  

On behalf of SDFN/NHAG and fellow Namibians we would like to offer our sincere condolences to his family, fellow fed members, SDI family. May the almighty be with us all during this difficult moment and be consoled. We are together in prayers and may all of us be strengthened.

Heinrich, Namibian SDI Alliance


It is saddening to learn of the passing on of our dear brother Benson. Please convey my condolence to the family of the deceased. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray that may his soul rest in eternal peace.

Samuel Mabala, Ministry of Lands, Housing & Urban Development, Uganda


On behalf of the South African Alliance please convey our deepest sympathy to our Kenyan colleagues and the family of Benson.  

Hamba Kahle to a dear friend and brother of the movement!

Bunita Kohler, South African SDI Alliance

This is shocking, Benson has been a source of motivation for SL Alliance. Our condolence to his family and Muungano.  

May his soul rest in peace and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Francis Reffell, Sierra Leone SDI Alliance 


The Zimbabwean Federation and Dialogue on Shelter wishes to convey its condolences to Benson’s family, Muungano and the whole of the SDI  family on the passing  of Benson. He will be greatly missed by all of us who had the pleasure of working with him. 

Beth Chitekwe-Biti, Zimbabwe SDI Alliance


Benson Eric Osumba fare thee well…..’Damirifa due.’ The Ghana Federation wil forever miss you.

Ghana SDI Alliance

Dear Irene and Muungano family,

I am really saddened to hear about this. Please accept my condolences to Benson’s family, friends and the entire Muungano family. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you during this difficult time. I know Benson’s vision and passion will continue to fuel the urban poor and their supporters in creating better lives for all – we will miss him terribly and remember his passion and dedication to push ourselves forward.

Suman Sureshbabu, Rockefeller Foundation


Remembering Benson Osumba

Jubilee Slum Campaign: Secure Tenure & Improved Lives

The Jubilee Slum Campaign March

The Jubilee Slum Campaign March | 8 December 2012 

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

By Nyasani Mbaka

The Biblical formulation of the jubilee principle denotes: “and thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee nine and forty years. Then shalt thou cause the horn (Vuvuzela) of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the horn sound throughout your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all its inhabitants; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family” [Leviticus 25, 810]“.

If a person was obliged to sell his land to pay off a debt, and could not manage to regain possession of it – in the jubilee year his land would be restituted free of charge (A call by Muungano wa Wanavijiji to the land owners and Kenyan Government, on lands occupied by slum dwellers). The same goes for a house, (except for a dwelling house in a walled city). Likewise, “if thy brother… be impoverished, and be sold to thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve thee as a slave: but as a hired servant and as a resident laborer he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee: and then he shall depart from thee, he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.”

This is the Point!

Nevertheless, Muungano wa Wanavijiji in conjunction with other actors such as Akiba Mashinani Trust, and a coalition of churches have dared to thrust and capitalize on the reformist thinking, with the aim of securing the future of the current and subsequent generations, where secure of land tenure and basic infrastructure that would help slum dwellers in Kenya gain access to better and cheap housing. In fact, the Kenya slum Jubilee Campaign March 2012(Held on 8.12.12) ,graced by over 10,000 slum dwellers from more than 12 towns in the country was indeed an attempt to institutionalize periodic social upheavals.

DSC01060 (FILEminimizer)

The most conspicuous difference between the biblical revolution and socialist revolutions is that the latter are supposed to occur once and for all, while the jubilee revolution should occur at regular intervals. According to plans based on the socialist ideal, a just distribution of land especially to communities living in slums (and measures of social justice in general).  According to the Biblical plan, economic life will preserve after the jubilee full liberty from abject poverty for further changes.

However, one area of concern that would be left to the charisma of mother nature, to this kind of social change pioneered by Muungano wa Wanavijiji, to affect change in the slums; is that people will continue to make projects, to scheme, to struggle and compete; some will become rich, some will become poor; life will keep the character of an arena in which it is possible to lose or win, show initiative and fail or succeed.

The true hope of the Kenya Jubilee Slum campaign is that the Jubilee axe sweeps once in a while like a storm over the forest of humanity, and cuts down those treetops which have grown above the average; debts are cancelled, the impoverished regains his property, the slave goes free. Balance is restored, and the economic game starts over again, until the next upheaval when gains of this initiative shall me accounted for.

Last week (8th December 2012) slum dwellers from over 14 towns in the country attended the Kenya Jubilee Slum Campaign march at the historic Jevanjee Gardens in Nairobi. Next year Kenya will mark 50 years since gaining Independence in 1963, the aim of the slum march was basically to consider the biblical principles of Jubilee and enumerate what could possibly be done to give Nairobi’s urban poor dwellers something to really celebrate and smile about in the Jubilee year.

Not even this Mzee(In shorts)  wanted to be left out

It is out of this sheer reason that over 10,000 slum dwellers from 14 towns in Kenya took to the street to peacefully march in the streets of Nairobi to express their dissatisfaction of policies related to secure tenure and housing. The communities simultaneously entered the city through the five gates of the city, which were; Waiyaki Way, Mombasa Road, Juja Road, Ngong Road and Jogoo Road. Slum dwellers were jubilant and excited by the Jubilee march which was organized to blow the Jubilee trumpets in readiness for restitution, donning colorful attires reflecting the colors of the National flag.

The intention of the whole Kenya Jubilee Slum Campaign is to literally prevent families living in our slum environments from viciously getting trapped in a perpetual cycle of poverty and to ensure that large tracts of land owned by a few while the majority became landless tenants and even slaves. In the course of 50 years perhaps a family would fall on hard times, perhaps they would be forced to sell their land or even themselves as slaves to the rich. But now with the revolution that the Kenya Slum Jubilee Is pitching would like to see a scenario where each family has hope that in the Jubilee year they would be released from slavery and could return to their land, the main means of income guaranteed by a government that is keen to the needs of the poor.

In Mukuru belt slums, every single day  we see families getting trapped in cycles of poverty, household heads end up raising their kids and grand-kids in the slum, and poverty is passed on from generation to generation. Nairobi is considered to be one of the world’s most unequal cities, where successive governments since independence have periodically ignored the plight of the poor by addressing policies that would empower the poor to come out of poverty. Picture this scenario; A family residing in the leafy suburbs of Muthaiga (apparently Muthaiga boarders Mathare Valley and are held apart from each other by the million dollar road project, Thika Super Highway) and Karen, where an average family 5 persons live on a 5 acre piece of land while in Kibera/Mukuru/Korogocho/ a family of 8 to 10 live in one 10×10 foot room.

Administration Police Band Escort Slum dwellers during the march

Administration Police Band Escort Slum dwellers during the march

The problem of homelessness and establishment of slums in Kenya and many other cities around the world defies generalization, essentially because the growth of every city and the way the authorities attempt to manage its growth are rooted in its history, culture, as well as its local politics. It is for this reason that through the Jubilee Mission that Slum Dwellers are appealing to its political class to address the issue of inadequate housing. As the limitations of public housing policies in Kenya become evident, the government has continued to exercise laxity in investing in upgrading of slums and squatter settlements, leaving its role to multinational agencies such as the World Bank. In most developing nations governments often contribute to slum growth by failing to provide for the needs of the poor and incorporate them into urban planning. Some governments simply cannot respond to rapid urbanisation quickly enough or lack the tools to deal with the situation. Others take a hostile approach to urbanisation, believing that providing services to the poor will attract more people and cause slums to grow.

an examble 10 by 10 shack in Mukuru slums

An example  of a 10 by 10 shack in Mukuru slums.

The problem of homelessness and establishment of slums in Kenya and many other cities around the world defies generalization, essentially because the growth of every city and the way the authorities attempt to manage its growth are rooted in its history, culture, as well as its local politics. It is for this reason that through the Jubilee Mission that Slum Dwellers are appealing to its political class to address the issue of inadequate housing. As the limitations of public housing policies in Kenya become 

Many people do not realize just how big an issue sanitation — or lack thereof — is especially in urban slum areas. Muungano wa Wanavijiji seeks to advocate for an optimum sanitation solution that is sustainable to the urban poor. Whenever Dorcas Moseti and her family must use the bathroom it is always an anxious moment. For the middle-aged lady, options in Mukuru Kwa Njenga settlement are limited. During the day, there are long queues for latrines that cost Ksh5 to use which to a common slum dwellers is not sustainable. At night, her family must relieve themselves in a plastic bag to be disposed of as a “flying toilet,” early the next morning.

Reality on inequalities on Land allocations. A comparison of Kibera slums and the Kilimani leafy suburbs

Reality on inequalities on Land allocations. A comparison of Kibera slums and the Kilimani leafy suburbs.

There are about 200 different slums and informal settlements in Nairobi with each community living in these settlements having its own unique history of how they ended up in the slums. The driving force of communities behind the Kenya Jubilee Slum Campaign have considered how the principles behind the biblical Jubilee can be well applied in Kenya today to achieve land rights for the urban poor, perhaps not land-ownership but at least security of tenure that families would not need to fear bull-dozers coming in the dead of the night to destroy their homes and communities that they have struggled so hard to build. The other aspect of the campaign is to find sustainable ways of how families can find a secure means of income, since many people living in informal settlements are casual laborers. In Nairobi, the capital city, 60 per cent of the population lives in slums and levels of inequality are dangerously high, with negative implications for both human security and economic development.

Feelings of insecurity in many of the city’s informal settlements have heightened considerably since the violence following the contested election results of December 2007. Poverty in the city is worst amongst those with low levels of education, another cause for concern given that considerably fewer children attend the later stages of school in Nairobi than in Kenya’s rural areas, and many slum areas have few or no public schools. Meanwhile gender inequalities remain severe, with female slum-dwellers being 5 times more likely to be unemployed than males.

This Journey that slum dwellers in Nairobi and other towns have unanimously decided to embark is not easy let alone some of the complex issues that require the undivided attention of various actors to work together to achieve real change, but it is clear that both the local churches supporting this quest and NGOs supporting the basic human rights of the poor need to engage with these issues and seek ways to ensure the voice of the urban poor is not ignored but amplified in creative and constructive ways. Major activities are also lined up for 2013 as Kenya marks its 50th symbolic year, the year of Jubilee.  Slum dwellers in Kenya have also been encouraged to register as voters in order for them to speak with one voice to elect leaders who are keen on the plight of the urban poor especially in the capital.

What is incrementalism, part 2: Community-managed utilities in an informal settlement in Nairobi

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Beyond informal militias and formal bureaucracies — bringing water to Kosovo

The divide between the “informal” and “formal” is commonly understood as that between risk and a sure thing. The “informal” is seen as messy and dangerous. But the story of Kosovo informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, shows that neither side of the divide can bridge the gap working alone.

We have written on this blog before about the need to understand incrementalism as a value for building inclusive cities and developing informal settlements in situ. The story of Kosovo shows how — step-by-step — informal communities and formal utility companies can work together to come up with innovative solutions to the provision of water, sewerage, and electricity.

Kosovo is one of 13 settlements that make up the informal Mathare region of the city. There are approximately 6,000 households in Kosovo.

Here, the Kenya slum dwellers federation, known as Muungano wa wanavijiji, has pioneered a solution that marries the ingenuity of the informal with the advantages of formalization. Provision of water in Kosovo had long been controlled by militia groups. In fact, says Irene Karanja, director of the Muungano Support Trust (MuST), “the militias had formed their bases around the services.”

For years, the Kenya Water Company had complained that they were not receiving revenue from Kosovo residents who had set up informal water connections. As Kosovo resident and Muungano secretary Jason Waweru describes it, “We said that both us have rights. So who is to say who has a more important right. So we opened a dialogue.”

Eventually, Muunagno and Water Company decided  on a system for reticulating the water to the community, facilitated by Muungano. “It wasn’t easy to come up with a consensus,” Waweru says. This “delegated management model” meant that the community in Kosovo would control all the issues surrounding distribution of the water, including communal collection of fees.

Yet doubts remained. “Everyone was scared,” Waweru says. “If we approved the delegated management model would it just allow more militias and gangs to step in?”

So Muungano and the Water Company agreed to first build a model kiosk in one lane of the community. This was a tough negotiation. The Water Company only wanted to install water points on the bulk pipes, and did not want to work with individual connections that hooked up to the bulk infrastructure. “We lobbied that every household should have its own connection,” says Waweru. “We were thinking of the old mamas that have to walk to get water.”

Without waiting for the Water Company, the community started to dig trenches to lay pipes for the individual connections. In doing so, they developed community structures dedicated to managing and maintaining the water supply. After the Water Company saw this work, it indicated its willingness to come on board.

In late May 2010, the community disconnected its informal water supply and installed the formal connections. 180 households now have individual connections, while the rest of Kosovo’s 6,000 households fetch water from kiosks, which serve community-determined clusters within the settlements.

For Waweru, this community-managed system was a big breakthrough for both the community and the water company in understanding how to deal with the gap between the way the two sides work. “When we were doing this project, it created its own community structure. You can see it working,” he says. “We broke the formal structure of administration, and the informal structure of the militia groups. Now we can see the community owning the process.”

A bridge yet to be built — formalizing electrical connections

When I spoke with Waweru in early March 2011, he pointed out that the achievements of the community of Kosovo to achieve sustainable access to services were only partial. “Currently the utility company has been arresting people for illegal electricity connections,” he says. “We are asking why people have illegal connections when there is a good electricity supply in the area.”

At present, the utility company has been uninterested in developing a system for formalizing the connections because the amount used per individual household is perceived to be too little to make the investment worthwhile. Yet, seen from the settlement level, the amount of electricity that the community uses is enough for the company to initiate raids by the police on a regular basis.

Muungano has worked with the community to do a survey of the way that electricity is used at the household level throughout the settlement. This has helped the community to begin negotiating with the electricity company to get enough supply into the settlement legally. The prices are not so high, only KSh 1700 per month (approximately USD 20).

So if the company would be willing to supply more amperes of electricity, community leaders believe larger informal businesses could grow in the settlement. Currently, there are only small business, says Waweru. When businesses want to expand they know that they have to go elsewhere in the city in order to grow.

The example of Muungano’s work regarding the water connections is serving as a powerful model for building trust between the community and utility companies, which is helping the ongoing negotiations. Before, “whenever the utility company would come to the settlement, people would run away, afraid of being arrested,” says Waweru. “Now people run up and ask how they can help.”

The challenge of going to scale

Muungano has been surveying the entire zone of Mathare at the rate of 10,000 households every 3 months. This is intended to contribute to a zonal plan, which is a joint exercise between the federation, MuST, and the planning department of the University of Nairobi. This will help figure out how to reticulate services through the whole Mathare valley, explains Karanja.

Although it is making significant breakthroughs in its work with the Kosovo community, the Water Company is realizing that it is not structured to respond to the scale of demand for formal services in informal settlements. Waweru explains that Muungano is employing GIS technology in its ongoing surveys in order to propose an alternative billing system that addresses the needs of both the communities and the Company.

The zonal plan will allow for a more holistic view of the challenges that exist in this populous region of the city. Step-by-step, the formal and informal worlds are letting go of their preconceived notions, and beginning to implement real, sustainable solutions. When informal settlement communities like that in Kosovo organize around concrete developmental objectives, they show the way forward for a formal world that is too often hoping for top-down silver bullets that never appear.  Together they are changing what informal settlements can mean to the development of cities.

SDI Bulletin: The cruel contest between community organization and state corruption


By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat; photos by Irene Karanja, Pamoja Trust

By early December, ordinary people living on the riparian reserve in Deep Sea informal settlement had organized themselves to move off the land. The move was in compliance with a Kenyan Ministry of Environment order. The people on the reserve assumed that they would end up living on the land within the settlement that had been designated for this relocation. Muungano wa wanavijiji, the Kenyan Homeless People’s Federation, assisted the people living close to the water to count themselves. The completion of this exercise meant that community members would know exactly who would be affected by the move to a far away corner within Deep Sea informal settlement, in the Westlands division of Nairobi. 160 households — 349 people — were now set to relocate.

So why was the land allocated to others? Why are Muungano wa wanavijiji members from this community in prison? Most significantly, why are the people once living on the riparian reserve now homeless?


Violence, displacement, and legal disempowerment perpetrated by entrenched political and market interests are systematic realities in the lives of slum dwellers the world over. In the past six months, we have noted threats and witnessed acts of evictions in the historic Old Fadama informal settlement in Accra, Ghana, as well as the death, destruction of houses, and illegitimate arrest of slum dweller activists in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban, South Africa. In both of these cases, it was clear that moves towards people-driven development were threatening vested interests of capital and power. Local politicians and businessmen resorted — either by themselves or through associated vigilantes — to violent means to assert their claims to the spoils of development. This is the same development that should be going to those who are otherwise the legitimate owners of their own fate: informal settlement dwellers themselves.

In previous bulletins about these cases, we have noted the need for closer analysis of the vulnerabilities of slum dwellers to the structural violence, either direct or indirect, perpetrated through state, parastatal, and market forces. The new case from the Deep Sea informal settlement illuminates the ways in which these susceptibilities arise when communities organize themselves towards their own development. This exposes the cruel contradictions of the state and the market as custodians of housing and urban development.


According to Pamoja Trust, a support NGO for Muungano wa wanavijiji, construction began on the allocated parcel of land for the relocation shortly after the Muungano-led enumeration. These houses went to allies of the local chief, according to residents. Those living on the riparian reserve were cut out of the move.

Community leaders drew up a letter of complaint, which was taken up by the Westlands District Officer. In response, he ordered a partial demolition of the new structures on 18 December. Now those who occupied the new structures protested, demanding back the money they claimed to have paid for the right to live there. According to eyewitness accounts gathered by Pamoja Trust, the police, local chief, and district officer began searching for the community chairman to serve as a scapegoat.

While the demolition was taking place, local police handcuffed the chairman, Richard Monari, who had helped write the letter of complaint. He was held in a police car for two hours, during which time witnesses report seeing a stranger handing a sachet of bhang (marijuana) to a plainclothes police officer. Three police officers and the local chief then took Monari to his house. His wife protested to the police and district officer, according to her testimony given to Pamoja Trust:

“I have seen and heard you from the time you came. You arrested my husband for exposing the transactions that have happened over this parcel of land through your office. Now I have seen this policeman plant the bhang in my bed. I know you want to get rid of my husband because he is contesting the business that you have been doing in this community in the name of resolving the riparian reserve issue.”

As she held her baby, a policeman slapped her. Her husband was arrested and taken to Parklands police station on charges of drug possession.

The crowd saw what was taking place and turned on the government officials. Both the chief and district officer had to flee.


The Deep Sea case is just the latest to highlight the need for slum dwellers everywhere to organize around their own capabilities and resources to fundamentally alter the ways that state and market assets accrue to them as urban citizens. Deep-seated interests are vested in the urbanization of poverty. Laws, near-pyrrhic victories in courts, and unfocused public demonstrations will not restrain them. It will take the full force of ordinary slum dwellers organizing themselves community-by-community, coming together at the city level, at the national level, and at the international level. It will take alliances with professionals who reinforce and enable the priorities, methods, and capabilities of poor people themselves.

The state and the market clearly must be challenged when they perpetrate acts of violence and oppression against ordinary poor urban dwellers like in Deep Sea, Kennedy Road, Old Fadama, and elsewhere. But ultimately, these forces must be engaged to achieve the development priorities of ordinary poor people at a scale that will change the course of the urbanization of poverty in our world. People-centered development will come when the people are truly the focus the state’s political structures purport to serve.

Governments can provide the resources to facilitate development. Still, they must ultimately recognize the primacy of the priorities and capabilities of organized, ordinary poor people. Such organized communities, working in hand with the facilitating power of the state, will put an end to the all-too-present specter of the cruel hand of the market and government, and engage the poor as full citizens of the places where they live and work.