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.


Living on the Edge: Kenya’s Mathare Valley Disaster


**Cross-posted from Living the City blog**

By Baraka Mwau, Muungano Support Trust, Kenya

On the dawn of Wednesday 4 April, Mathare valley residents in Nairobi woke up to yet another disaster; a massive rock landslide that left 9 people dead (as of the morning of 5th April), several others hospitalized and another number still unaccounted for. This tragedy follows barely a month ago after an inferno that blazed section of the slum. It is also a sad moment yet again for our nation as we receive sad news from our urban poor and the disenfranchised urbanites sitting on disaster time bombs due to policy and institutional deficiencies in addressing slums and informal settlements. Is this just another talking point for our city/nation?

Mathare is located close of the City’s CBD, in a section where precarious housing (shacks) and environment characterize the informal settlement. This is a catastrophe prone settlement; floods, house sinking and slope instability, landslides and other environmental hazards.A large section of Mathare Valley is an abandoned quarry site that had for long been mined for stone buildings and concrete. It is evident that shacks and buildings in this area sit on landfills and others at the bottom of quarry pits. Situated along the top of the rock cliff where the recent landslide occurred, is a residential development of high-rise buildings with some structures erected at the cliff edge. This definitely raises questions about the structural stability of those buildings. A quick topographical transect of Mathare reveals a sharp steep slope characterized by rugged terrains and two rivers that form part of the Nairobi river basin system flowing through the settlement. Apart from the residents in various villages of the valley living at the edge of unstable rock cliffs, there are thousands also living along the riparian reserve. These households occupying the riparian reserve are at risk of facing floods should the unexpected heavy rainfalls occur as it has recently been witnessed. With the weather patterns becoming more unpredictable, the urban poor in the city are at a higher risk of being victims of extreme weather patterns. The effects of climate change are evident and despite the urban poor in developing world contributing almost zero to global GHG emissions, the wrath of climate change has not spared them.


Sections of 4A, Mathare along the high rock cliff where disaster struck (taken before the disaster)

The Sinai fire disaster is still fresh in our memories; this was one of the disasters that ignited a heated debate on slum upgrading in Kenya but still little has been done to address the environmental safety of hundred thousands of Kenyans living in settlements prone to disasters. Whereas comprehensive slum upgrading could take longer to realize; owing to its intrinsic complexities, resettling of households living in hazardous areas and reorganization of informal settlements to open up for roads and other basic network infrastructures is essential for disaster mitigation & management in the short-term. Currently the city have households living under high voltage transmissions lines, railway line reserves, pipeline reserves, quarries and landfills, riparian reserves and others adjacent to heavy industrial activities. To complicate the puzzle further, informal settlements are highly under-serviced with basic infrastructure networks and environmental pollution is taking its toll. Reading the “State of African Cities report 2010”, Nairobi slum residents face some of the worst living conditions compared to other informal settlements in the rest of continent; extreme high densities and high deficiency of basic infrastructure and amenities.

The recent and previous disasters being recorded in Nairobi slums have painfully been sending the clear message to the government, the city authorities, the civil society, the academia and all relevant stake holders that slum upgrading is a necessity and that slum urbanism is part of us. The government through its previous and current slum upgrading programmes as well as through devolved funds has channeled some revenue to slum upgrading projects. On other side, the civil society expenditure for slums programmes is much higher. Amid that, little impact to the livelihoods of the slum communities and generally the urban poor is evident and this necessitates the formulation of a pragmatic and coordinated comprehensive national and city slum upgrading framework where all stakeholders play their part, with no duplication of roles and with measurable indicators clearly defined.

Mathare 4A, after the disaster, Source:

An analysis of the urbanization trends in Nairobi and other Sub Saharan cities symbolize slums as a definitive character of our cities. The school of thought that slums as temporal and they will be phased out as cities evolve through the linear trajectory development process is validness in the wake of everyday slum urbanism that has defined urbanization in the global south. This dogma of urbanization calls for the need to address the planning needs of slums and informal settlements and making cities work for the urban poor entangled in these poverty traps. The disasters we have been experiencing recently in our slums and informal settlements could have been averted and easily managed, if the necessary urban planning strategies had been taken. Making Nairobi a city for all, will require more concerted efforts in making planning and urban development more responsive to slum urbanism.

The role of communities in formulating solutions that work for them is essential and currently the potential of engaging communities in informal settlements is higher with the emergence of strong community based organizations in the slums. One of these organizations is the Muungano wa wanajiji and other CBOs that have emerged due to the infiltration of micro finance institutions in the informal settlements. The potential of these CBOs in unlocking intricate slum upgrading complexities, as witnessed in previous projects, cannot be underestimated. Having worked in Mathare for some time, the community is much aware of the hazards they cohabit with and are willing to develop solutions, if the means is provided. Turning a blind eye and assuming that the urban poor are ignorant,  uninformed and not development conscious is the wrong assumption. What seems to be lacking is the right means towards achieving positive livelihoods transformations in the informal settlements.

“Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage”

The Practicalities of a Social Movement | Kambi Moto, Kenya

Kambi Moto Housing Project

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

Many development narratives provide theoretical analysis and debate based on community orientated social movements. While such analysis is interesting as an academic and theoretical exercise it often overlooks the practicalities of day-to-day processes and the resultant infrastructure developments in favour of a more abstracted reading.

How exactly do communities manage infrastructure projects?  How do they secure land and finance, procure affordable building materials, organize construction, secure assistance from the state, plan for long-term sustainability and negotiate the daily challenges of project management. Make no mistake; communities are more than capable of building their own infrastructure, especially if this process is “nested” within a mobilized and organised social movement.

Over the coming weeks I will provide examples of SDI federation members describing the trials and achievements of managing their own infrastructure projects. These snippets are intended to provide insight into the practicalities of the process illustrating examples and experiences that resonate across the SDI network. We begin with the case of Kambi-Moto in Kenya, described by federation member Joseph Muturi.

I will just share some experiences from Kenya. We have several projects but the biggest project which we have is Kambi-Moto (Camp of Fire) community of about 270 families. After many years of negotiating we got a piece of a land from the city council and an MoU showing that the land is a special planning area. They gave us free land and we came up with unique designs and they have not been done anywhere in Kenya before. We got some money from our savings and from some donors (UPFI). We do not get any money from the government. We do not enjoy the kind of support from the government you get in Uganda – so we have to negotiate everything ourselves. Our NGO subsidized and gave us the technical people – then everyone had to dream and draw the kind of house they wanted (women, men, children). The architects and professionals take these drawings and take into account affordability, if possible… 

Kambi Moto Housing Project

We came up with the design – ground +1. We go up to save space and we share walls. As a federation our responsibility was to figure out how we are going to manage the site. We have a community Procurement Manual – how do we go about the business of procuring materials so what we did was to look at what we need for the next few weeks. They sit down and work it out – we send community people and we get quotations from different suppliers of materials, then we sit down and look at who is offering the best deal and will deliver on time. The procurement team and the construction team ensure the quality of the materials (quantity and standards). Sometimes people were bringing their friends and delivering less material…. We try to make things transparent and easy to manage.

For us we do not withdraw all the money. The executive draws money and gives it to the construction team and they pass this on to the procurement team.  We need to sit down with the professionals who tell us for the next few weeks what we need and what we have to do. They can guide us and give us good advice. 

The project management committee is at the regional level [in Uganda] – in Kenya it is at the local level. It comprises the beneficiaries of the houses – the only external people are the engineers, architects and other external people. They sit down and discuss things and the way forward every few weeks – the project team is at the site and its people who are locally available. The other advantage of having a local team on site is that we do not have outsiders to blame for our mess – we only have each other to blame. The construction team does weekly revue meetings – how far has the project progressed and how long it will take. The construction teams have a list of all the beneficiaries – they have to work themselves or pay someone to work for them.  This process is taking a long time so now we are getting some subsidy contractors from within the community.

The more you expand and grow the more the challenges will grow-we will learn as we go along. This is just a basic framework of how we procure. Executive-finances, Construction-building and the Procurement team that is completely separate and buys the materials. We have community procurement manual – basic steps to go through and how we should go through the business of procuring.

Unabated Forced Evictions in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements

Nairobi, Kenya

by Michael Njuguna, Huruma–Kambi Moto, Nairobi 

Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenyan slum dweller federation, expresses its grave concern on the ongoing evictions and threatened forced evictions taking place in Nairobi’s informal settlements. The latest settlement to be demolished is Mukuru Kwa Njenga’s Wape Wape village where three people lost their lives as they scampered to safety.

The federation is aware that there are plans to demolish houses located near power lines in a number of our communities, particularly along the Mukuru belt and other areas. This comes at a time when Kiang’ombe and  Mitumba settlements were demolished by the Kenya Airports Authority due to their location under JKIA flight path. It is my view that there are more humane ways of addressing slum issues, but forced evictions have never made that cut. 

A good example are the negotiations that have taken place between the communities living along the Mukuru-Kibera railway line and the Kenya Railways, who sat at a round table to discuss on the modalities of a Railway Relocation Action Plan. This lead to thousands of people reaching consensus that, “indeed we are living on the railway line and other than living on a public land we shall agree to relocate.”


These threatened demolitions have caused widespread panic, fear and confusion in our urban poor communities. Of immediate concern to us is the likelihood that tens of thousands of people will be rendered homeless and left no alternative areas to call home. In addition, we are concerned that the evictions will provoke physical conflict and violence.

Slum dwellers across settlements and villages have made it an agenda to always scuffle over who occupies the limited space that is available after demolitions. There are instances where structure owners resist evictions, which inevitably would result into violence.

Moreover, we are very concerned that the government is undertaking these forced evictions without regard for the law or established human rights norms. In most scenarios there has been no official notices served to the potentially affected parties that their structures will be demolished. General statements made in newspapers do not constitute adequate and reasonable notice as required by law.

In addition, we have found that government and private investors have in most instances failed to consult with or inform communities about the parameters of the evictions. This is the reason why Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, is pushing for the enactment of the eviction guidelines, which will ensure that the urban poor are treated with respect.  As it stands, people do not know when and if they are going to be evicted.

And most notably, the government has not provided the people living in the slums any compensation for resettlement or alternative housing, which Is a basic minimum requirements of the government when it undertakes forced evictions. This applies even when the evictions are justified or somehow necessary.

It is a fundamental human rights principle that any process to evict people must follow a peaceful and lawful process that protects the rights and dignity of the poeple. Development of any kind cannot take precedence over the human rights of the poor.

This article originally appeared in the Muungano News January-March 2012 e-newsletter

For more news from the Kenyan SDI Alliance ,visit the Muungano Support Trust blog. 

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.

In the Spirit of Jubilee: Marking Kenya’s 50 Years of Independence

**Cross posted from Muungano Support Trust blog**

The Republic of Kenya, precisely the county of Nairobi, has for the past 48years had a crisis of inequality (unequal distribution of resources). Over time this has led to gross poverty levels in country. Overcrowding has become a norm in most urban settlements with 65 per cent of the total Nairobi populace living on less than 1 per cent of the land mass.

These conditions have resulted in constant threat of demolitions, violent evictions, fires, floods and insecurity of the slum settlements by powerful forces within Government and the private sector.

In breaking this generational cycle, Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-13) is designed and choreographed to lift from the hearts, the terrible burden of lifelong poverty, bondage, doom and hopelessness whose ultimatum is death.

The British colonialists’ involvement in Kenya began in the 19th Century; this facilitated discriminatory self – allocation of large tracts of land to white settlers immediately after the 2ndWorld War.

This necessitated increased resistance by the Mau Mau to Colonial rule, Oppression and Exclusion in the 1950s led to eventual independence on 12th December 1963. Many Kenyans of Asian origin left for Britain in the wake of the Africanization Policy, however, the Colonial Land Distribution Systems remained in force, and thus the influx of Kenyans moving to Nairobi in search of jobs increased the number of squatters moving into Nairobi’s informal settlements.

Kenyan citizens were left with the “left- over”, they were forced to occupy fragile land zones, steep slopes, river valleys, railway reserves and the available riparian.

Fast forward to the year between 1964-2011, overwhelming evidence suggests that land allocation procedures are routinely by-passed to benefit a small group of powerful individuals, who were and are cabinet ministers in government, senior civil servants, politicians and well-connected businessmen.

Slums in Nairobi can be categorised into two; squatter settlements and those that arise out of illegal sub-divisions of either government or private land.  In the country, 60-80 percent of the urban population lives in slums that are characterized by lack of access to water and sanitation, insecure tenure, lack of adequate housing, poor environmental conditions, and high crime rates (UN Habitat, 2008)”.

Rapid growth of informal slum settlements in the city of Nairobi has been mainly due to increasing income inequalities and urban poverty, increasing rates of rural urban migration, inefficient land delivery systems, high costs of urban living and poor investment in low income housing, among other factors.

We have witnessed heavy investments in Nairobi’s vibrant housing market by banks, Real estate developers and other multinational companies, not only excludes the urban poor in acquiring housing units, with less than 2 per cent of funds in financing their housing needs. It also seeks to snatch from them the spaces they occupy, with most stakeholders eyeing the Mukuru Belt, which sits on 2,000 acres of Prime Private Land and has a populace of over 500,000. Evictions are daily orchestrated threats, as developers seek to put up housing structures on this prime land.

The major slums in Nairobi are Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho and Mukuru which comprise of many villages within them, with other over 160 smaller slums which are spread in different areas of the City.

In addition to this divisive politics along tribal lines and bribing slum dwellers just in time for the elections, all in aim of getting votes(vote banking),this then tends answer the old age question , why the poor remain poor and vulnerable and the rich become richer. The gap becomes wide every single day.

 ‘Jubilee’ literally signifies “True Liberty – Uhuru wa Kweli”. According to Leviticus 25:8-13, it is to take place in the 50th year after 7 cycles of 7 years each.  The golden Jubilee is an announcement of Freedom, Restitution of Land and Property, preclusion of inequalities created by the extremes of riches and poverty in Kenya.

This campaign hopes to turn millions of squatters into secure, confident and dignified home owners. It gives Kenya a Holy Window of Opportunity, a kairos moment, “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven with force, if success is to be achieved.”

As Kenya prepares to mark her 49th anniversary as an Independent State, The Kenyan Jubilee goal is to ensure that by this timeline, security of tenure and comprehensive slum upgrading commitments are guaranteed for all slum dwellers across the country.

Quotes of the Jubilee Ambassadors

Mzee Mwangi Mbaru, 92 years, a squatter for the last 5 decades

“I last owned a piece of land in Runda in 1952, it was during the same year that the Colonialists declared a state of Emergency and within a blink of an eye, I had lost my piece of land and my home. Ever since, I have remained a squatter in my own country. Am 92 years, I still do not have a place to call home for I am staying with My eldest son, Peter Waweru on less than an eighth acre piece of land . I understand that the Government should provide low cost housing for its people, but since independence this has not materialized ….this is a really painful ordeal that the homeless people like I have to deal with.

I hope in the spirit of the Kenyan Jubilee, (as Kenya waits to celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2013 as an independent state), let forgiveness, cancellation of bad debt owed to the rich by the poor and most importantly the release of land to the poor in society be a priority on the Governments’ agenda.”

Peter Waweru, 68 years Mzee Mbaru’s eldest Son, also a squatter in Kahawa West

“My father brought up my siblings and I in the slums. Slum life is all that I have ever known. It is unfortunate scenarios that after independence freedom fighters like my dad were neglected. Am really sorry for myself that I too had to bring up my children in such circumstances, but am still hopeful that things will become better as the Jubilee campaign gears itself to address issues of past injustices that the poor and weak in society have had to undergo for the last 50 years. Let’s ask ourselves this important question,

Where did we go wrong as a nation?”

Gitema Mwangi, 47 years, Mzee Mwangi’s Last born son, also a squatter

“The Government is the custodian of the Constitution and is supposed to protect its citizens from any form of abuse of their rights. Parliament should also play its fundamental role of keeping the Government in check, I really take offense when the same Government would just bulldoze into the slums and demolish homes belonging to the poor, in the slums without caring where they would move to. Evictions are not a long-term solution to eradicate slums. Recently residents of Kiang’ombe and Massai villages were forcefully evicted by Kenya Airports Authority living thousands of families out in the cold…what did some families do? They picked up their pieces walked across Mombasa road into Mukuru and are now putting up new structures! Hasn’t the government made this situation even more complicated? Let the authorities’ dialogue with the urban poor and offer them alternative areas for them to relocate if the lands in question are public/private. “


Terresia Njeri, 23 years, Peter Waweru’s daughter and Mzee Mwangi’s grand daughter

Kenya will go down the annals of history as one of the countries in with no proper policy framework that would guide in the provision of low cost housing for its citizens. It is heart wrenching to accept the fact that my grandfather has been a squatter all his life having brought my dad, uncles and aunties in the slums. The next unfortunate episode of my life is being brought up in the slums too. It’s time the Government take action to provide land and housing to its people, this is indeed a time bomb if necessary action is not taken to remedy the situation.


Francis Chege, 22 years , Mzee Mwangi’s grandson

We are living in a digitized world where technology has taken centre stage. It is unfortunate that the Kenyan youth have no access to this kind of basic infrastructure. The Government needs to empower its youthful constituency so that they are able to emerge from the cycles and shackles of poverty. Past injustices especially when it comes to issues of land. I support the Kenyan Jubilee campaign for it is the voice of the voiceless.”

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.



Reflections from Mukuru Sinai: Evictions are not the answer

Slum areas along the Mukuru Pipeline

Map of slums along the Mukuru pipeline.

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

By Irene Karanja, Executive Director, Muungano Support Trust, Kenya

The more I listen to the voices of the poor and to the remorseful government’s reaction to the fire in Mukuru Sinai on Monday, I see a wide gulf between these voices.

The situation of all cities and urban towns in Kenya have a similar archipelago of slums with large densities of poor citizens who live in perpetual fear of evictions or, in such cases as Sinai, fatal accidents.

Its sounds both right and sensible to look at a short-term solution to pay a year’s rent for the victims and then the prevention of another tragedy can be done later. However, the experiences of many countries is that displacement is not a solution. The solution is to improve existing settlements with upgrading programs that address very fundamental issues of the city, such as land tenure and access to basic services for the poor.

It would be strategic for the government to sit back and reflect on aggregating the costs of slum upgrading instead of making small pieces of solutions that do not necessarily lead to a bigger solution. Maybe to make this picture clearer I will quote my post-graduate lecturer who said “It’s more expensive to buy cigarettes one-by-one than to buy the whole package. The cost is not one-twentieth of the cigarette box, it’s much more than that,” -Prof. M. Smolka. 

In order for government upgrading programs to successfully run in Kenya, many things have to change in major affiliated agencies in government. This task will not be a comfortable or easy. For example, in the Mukuru belt of slums, land ownership patterns are a maze of confusion. Land is owned by layers of owners who may or may not be known to residents. In major slums in Kenya, thousands of families have lived on the same parcels of land for more than 40 years. New generations, up to the third generation, have been born on these parcels of land. For upgrading programs to take place, security of tenure for these Kenyans must be resolved sooner rather than later. The poor must be freed from the insecurity of the tenure situation.

A train rolls through Kibera

In 2004, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Federation of Slum Dwellers of Kenya, challenged the authorities traditional ways of thinking, which asks: “What should we do to remove these vijijis?” Through the support of Slum/Shack Dwellers International, local authorities attended an exchange to India to learn from the Indian government how to resettle the poor within the confines of their access to the livelihoods and services.

Upon returning to Kenya, a journey to resettle 10,000 households residing on the railway reserve in Mukuru and Kibera began. Communities in these two large slums voluntarily got involved in the enumerations of all affected households as well as the mapping of all the structures.

A group of slum upgrading experts comprising of the community members, sociologists, lawyers, engineers, surveyors, architects and community organisers, sat with the local authorities and the Kenya Railways Corporation to design a solution for resettlement. The resettlement project has been approved by government and the financeer (The World Bank), an implementation starts this year.

The unfortunate outcome of this disaster is the general call for slums to be removed immediately from dangerous places – which is largely where slums are situated, thanks to scarcity of available land – without any serious thought given to where slum dwellers might be relocated to, and how this would effect these communities in the long term. Finding alternatives to eviction and relocation is possible, so long as the people on the ground are brought into the process, and the political will is there. Let’s make sure, then, that evictions do not take place now in the guise of helping the urban poor. 


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.

“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.