Art in the Service of Transformation. Transformation in the Service of Art.

Earlier this year SDI co-produced a film about life in Uganda’s slums, called The Boda Boda thieves.

This was a first and highly experimental investigation of how to freely construct the everyday lives of slum dwellers and to find ways to contribute to the development of a new form of grassroots contestation – not through ideology or representation but through a social realist portrayal of life in poverty.

The Boda Boda Thieves is a modest call for a new form of art – something beyond the endless consumption of images for mindless entertainment that we are bombarded with today. At the same time it is a baby step towards a new developmental communication, one that is rooted in poor people telling their own stories of survival, struggle and triumph. 

If we focus on the everyday life of the poor and not on organisation or representation then the gap between art and transformation disappears. An authentic life, which is a life of struggle for change – especially if you have to deal with the daily indignity of being poor – makes art into transformation and transformation into art. In other words the real artistic endeavour is to eradicate poverty and alienation, and all art forms that we apply on our journey towards such a goal must have this in its sights. 

SDI’s media project is as much about transformation in the service of art as it is about art in the service of transformation. In fact, if we are only seeing our media as being in the service of our political agenda then both our art and our politics will continue to fail.









The Boda Boda Thieves has been shown at various film festivals and won more than a handful of awards since its release earlier this year.

Film Festivals

  • Africa in Motion – Scotland African Film Festival, Scotland
  • Africa International Film Festival, Nigeria
  • African Film Festival of Cordoba, Spain
  • Berlinale International Film Festival, Germany
  • Cinémas d’Afrique Festival, Switzerland
  • Durban International Film Festival, South Africa
  • Euro-African Kampala Film Festival’s, Uganda
  • Festival Cinema Africano di Verona, Italy
  • Montreal Black Film Festival, Canada
  • New Delhi Jagran Film Festival, India
  • Seattle International Film Festival, USA
  • Toronto Black Film Festival, Canada
  • Uganda Film Festival. Uganda
  • Vancouver International Film Festival, Canada
  • World Cinema Amsterdam, Netherlands


  • 2015 Africa Movie Academy Awards
    • ‘Boda Boda Thieves” star, Hassan “Spike” Isingoma, wins joint award for Most Promising Actor.
    • Rukundo Pross nominated for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award.
  • 2015 Uganda Film Festival 
    • Best Cinematography
    • Best Post Production
    • Best Supporting Actor to Michael Wawuyo for his portrayal of Goodman.
    • Special mention for the Best feature Film Award.

Learn more about The Boda Boda Thieves here.

In the next week, SDI will be showcasing movies and media coming out of slums across Africa and Asia. Stay tuned for more.

Addressing Evictions Before Push Comes to Shove

A Commentary On A Recent Spate Of Evictions To Affect Federation Groups In West And Southern Africa.

In the last fortnight the SDI Secretariat has received reports from a number of our affiliates about large-scale evictions taking place in settlements in which the SDI network has a presence. Current estimates are that over 40,000 people have been evicted in Badia East, Lagos (Nigeria), Crab Town, Freetown (Sierra Leone), Old Fadama, Accra (Ghana), and Caledonia Farm, Harare (Zimbabwe).

In their desperation to find a way to stop the destruction of Crab Town, the SDI affiliate in Sierra Leone reached out to the network. A lively correspondence has ensued. It is a revealing and enlightening communication between slum dwellers and support professionals that reminds us that the SDI network has its roots in a struggle against evictions and that over thirty years later struggles for land and security of tenure still lie at the heart of the movement.

We invite you to read the full correspondence, included below, and to contribute to the discussion. SDI will continue to support community efforts to get ahead of the bulldozers and invites its partners to intensify efforts to find workable solutions.


On Sep 7, 2015, at 6:36 PM, Samuel Sesay, SDI affiliate in Sierra Leone wrote:

Dear All,

It is sad to inform you that one popular slum in Freetown situation at Aberdeen Beach axis has been absolutely demolished and about 9,000 slum dwellers made homeless in the middle of the heavy down pour of rain in West Africa. The entire exercise started on Saturday 5th Sept. 2015 and the demolition work is still going on. The entire deal was driven by the Ministry of Tourism with the intention of taking away all the coastal slums and make them attractive for tourism. The government intend to continue in this until they get rid of all coastal slums in Freetown. This has created a very serious alarm. Fedurp and Codohsapa went on the ground and bull dossers, caterpillars and vibrant youth were hired for the exercise.

Sorry we couldn’t provide pictorial evidence because the entire area was heavily covered with military and police presence and picture and videoing was not allowed, if you are caught, then you will be charged to court for various offences. So, that is the situation we are faced with right now and the exercise is still on going. So that is that the SDI family.


Samuel Sheka Sesay,

Programme Coordinator

Centre Of Dialogue On Human Settlement And Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA).

REPLY From: Joe Muturi, National Leader Kenya Federation


Date: 11 September 2015 at 11:52:57 AM SAST

Dear Samuel,

On one of my visits to SL, you took us to a part of kroobay where the families where evicted and I remember telling you that you should never take visitors on field visits to showcase your failures. This is exactly what I meant. If you appeal for sympathy after evictions happen then they will continue to happen. You must do something to make sure you raise the price of evicting a community. 

As I say this I want you to know that my and all of SDI’s thoughts are with you and we feel you. We know how cruel it is and we also know how difficult it is to deal with these situations. 

The immediate problem is that when a community is evicted and they do not stay on the land, they end up losing because they are already hard hit and cannot afford to re-invade the land. And when they leave the settlement everyone ends up looking for a place to go by themselves and it is very difficult to bring them together again. 

Nigeria, has had an experience of going to court and getting compensation for the evicted families. So I am copying in Megan who can share on the Badia East experience. I am also copying in Jane, who could share a Kenyan legal precedent where the courts granted compensation for evicted families in a settlement called city carton.

These cases are however exceptions made possible by the involvement of the world bank in Nigeria, and in Kenya we had new laws and the judge was previously muungano’s lawyer. It is easier if you had done an enumeration but I think you had only a profile. And therefore this is the info you will need to fight for the settlement. These cases are long and hard and if there is a legal NGO in SL you could try getting them to take up the case.

Whatever else you do make sure that this eviction does not go away quietly. You must make sure that it is in the media and that there is a petition to government, delivered with people power and some oomph. Demonstrate or do whatever you have to make sure everyone knows that there are consequences. And all settlements in SL need to see you as the movement that fights for them.

This is easier said than done, because you are always trying to build a relationship with government. In Kenya we say we work like a rat, “we bite and blow”. You fight and appease at the same time. You fight over one settlement with ministry of tourism and you build a project in another settlement with another ministry. You should never allow an eviction to happen without a noise. 

SDI can help in making a noise if you help us document the eviction and keep us updated on what you are doing. The secretariat will post on its website and all of us will highlight it wherever we are, So keep sharing with us on a daily basis.

Lastly, since you know the evictions for coastal slums will continue. You need to take preventative steps. One way is to create a coastal slums federation – a daughter federation of the  big federation. A federation that is just focused on building advocacy and proposals for the coastal slums. If I remember well there are plenty of coastal slums, mo wharf, kroobay, Susan’s bay, colbolt etc. when doing this remember you must mix the positive and negative. Do advocacy and the building local solutions for the communities.



REPLY From: Megan Chapman SDI affiliate in Nigeria


Date: 14 September 2015 at 10:10:57 PM SAST

Dear all,

Very sorry for the slow reply, Samuel, and very sorry to hear of the demolitions and displacement in Freetown. How are the people coping? Can you provide any further details about the background to the evictions — was there any prior statement of intent to demolish by the Ministry of Tourism? Was there any notice? Any prior attempts at engagement between the affected community/communities and the government? Any action in court? Any protest or action since? Media attention?

Indeed, Nigeria has plenty of experience with forced eviction — large scale and ruthless — and, sadly, little experience of success in getting compensation or justice through the courts. Decades of losing in court and continued demolitions is what led us to seek partnership with SDI so as to try new methods — namely mass mobilization and proactive engagement — aimed at changing the politics towards bringing an end to forced evictions in Nigeria (both by raising the costs, as Muturi explained, and practically illustrating win-win alternatives). 

We have tried many different approaches to dealing with forced evictions through litigation and advocacy. Generally, it is always best to start working preventively before the worst happens. Trying to get compensation, resettlement, etc, after the fact is an up-hill battle. We have, literally, dozens of demolition/eviction cases before Nigerian courts, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and regional human rights courts — the most successful ones are those where the community is able to continue to stay united and mobilized, bring a lot of media attention, and pursue various political and legal angles at once.

Of all these cases, we have only had ONE instance of after-the-fact compensation — the Badia East 2013 case that Muturi has mentioned. Indeed, there was no opportunity for prior engagement in that case, since the rumors of possible demolition came less than 48 hours before the demolition and the Lagos State Government denied its intention to demolish just the day before they came in and demolished 267 structures affected 9,000+ people. 

After the demolition, we followed many angles very very quickly. The community protested two days after the demolition. We filed a case in court seeking an injunction against demolition of the rest of the community. We petitioned the NHRC, which came to investigate a few days after. We got a ton of media attention, including New York Times, Huffington Post, and other international news. And — most importantly — we petitioned the World Bank, which was simultaneously funding an infrastructure upgrading project in Badia East and argued that the WB had a responsibility to the intended beneficiaries of its project.

The last angle was the one that ultimately led to a modicum of relief for the people. World Bank’s involvement was the game changer because we were able to make a compelling legal and political case (with risk of public embarrassment) that the Lagos State Government should have followed World Bank safeguard policies on involuntary resettlement to come up with a “resettlement action plan” (RAP). Ultimately, our continued pressure on World Bank and World Bank’s continued pressure on the Lagos State Government led to a retroactive RAP that involved modest financial and livelihoods assistance amounting to $2mill, which went to landlords (without title documents) and tenants alike — a first in Nigerian history.

That said, the process was messy and imperfect. All of us wish the risk had been identified beforehand and the community had started preparing years in advance. Based on this experience (and dozens of others with even less successful outcomes), the Nigerian Federation is now mobilizing communities at risk of eviction to organize, build strength through savings, profiling, legal awareness, strategic alliances, and proactive solutions. 

Happy to chat more on Skype or phone, including discussing the specifics of potential legal claims and/or looking at the political landscape to think about strategic advocacy options. For legal assistance, perhaps you could reach out to Timap for Justice (we can put you in touch if you do not already have contacts)? Just let us know how we can help. 

In solidarity,


Megan S. Chapman

Co-Founder / Co-Director

Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria



[caption id="attachment_10554" align="alignnone" width="578"] Residents of Bogobogoni village in Kibarani, Changamwe watch from a distance as buldozers demolish their houses as police gaurded the demolition of the houses without a court order to pave way for a private developer. Over two thousand people were left homeless. Photo by Gideon Maundu.[/caption]


This is nothing new for us. 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 all of these cases it is clear that the desperate efforts of poor people to cling onto miserable pieces of land end up clashing with vested interests of people with money and power. Local politicians and businessmen resorted to violent means to assert their claims to the spoils of development that should be going to those who often end up being its victims – informal settlement dwellers themselves.

[caption id="attachment_10553" align="alignnone" width="602"] A demolition scene at Mitumba Slums near Wilson Airport Nairobi as several Houses were demolished on November 19,2011 , in the ongoing government exercise to clear settlements said to have been illegally constructed on a land belonging to Kenya Airports Authority (KAA)..,government bulldozers rolled into the Slum ,Two Primary Schools and SDA Church were demolished . William Oeri (Nairobi)[/caption]


But before we go any further we need to get some facts straight – starting with some facts about poor people and about cities.

Reality number 1. People are leaving the rural areas for good reasons. Changes in how land is farmed and owned and increasingly tied to global markets are leaving more rural people in crippling debt, without land, work, money or any hope of surviving. At the same time, increasing numbers of natural disasters are destroying rural livelihoods and impoverishing more and more households. With TV, cheap mobile phones and easy communications, people in the most remote villages now know what cities have to offer, and their choice to migrate is usually a well-informed one.

Reality number 2. In cities they find job opportunities as well as markets for their own informal businesses, making and selling cheap goods and services. And the money they can make in cities can usually be enough to support themselves and their households, as well as send money home to relatives still in the rural villages. In cities they have better access to schools, health care, culture and opportunities for a future no village could ever offer.

Reality number 3. Cities need large supplies of cheap labour. This is imperative for various city-based economic activities in many different sectors such as industry, construction, the public sector and the informal sector. This cheap labour toils in the factories, staffs the crews that build houses, bridges, roads, and shopping centres. They sweep the streets, carry away the city’s garbage, prune its trees and maintain its sewers. They are the housemaids, the taxi drivers, the cleaners, the delivery boys, the clerks. And where would our cities be without the markets and the street vendors, selling prepared foods, fruits, vegetables, clothes, shoes, and so on?

Reality number 4. These important inhabitants of our cities often have no choice but to live in slums. Land prices in cities have skyrocketed and the poor find themselves increasingly priced out of any formal land or housing market. In most cities in Africa and Asia, planners and governments, at all levels, have been unable to cope with this influx of poor people and with the natural growth of urban poor populations. It is hard to find cases where governments have been able to intervene successfully in these markets with programmes to help meet the land and housing needs of their poor populations.

Reality number 5. Slums are solutions to housing problems. Policy makers, city managers, urban planners and many citizens tend to see the growth of slums in their cities as unsightly and lawless blights that should be cleared away or at least hidden in out-of-the-way corners of the city. Nobody would argue that a crowded, dirty, unplanned settlement is anybody’s idea of an ideal living situation, with its poor quality housing, its bad infrastructure (or no infrastructure at all) and its insecure land tenure. But if you go beneath their admittedly grim outer layer and take a deeper look at what is really going on in slum communities, you will often find them to be places of support and hope and growth and not places of despair at all. In fact, these makeshift settlements evolve quickly into vital and complex life-support systems for the poor, which can help meet a variety of their needs and give them a base for lifting themselves out of poverty. They may fall short when it comes to design, status, comfort and resale value but they generally tick a number of boxes that are critically important for the urban poor, such as location (proximity to jobs, income opportunities, transport hubs, schools), space for home-based economic activities, community support systems in the form of networks of friends, neighbours or kinsfolk, and affordability.

[caption id="attachment_10557" align="alignnone" width="605"] A demolition scene at Mitumba Slums near Wilson Airport Nairobi as several Houses were demolished on November 19,2011 , in the ongoing government exercise to clear settlements said to have been illegally constructed on a land belonging to Kenya Airports Authority (KAA)..,government bulldozers rolled into the Slum ,Two Primary Schools and SDA Church were demolished . William Oeri (Nairobi)[/caption]


Given these simple facts one would imagine that city leaders would recognize poor people as valuable contributors to the smooth functioning of our cities and slums as the foundation stone for good urban development. But this is often not the case. In fact as the tragic events in Caledonia Farm, Badia East, Old Fadama and Crab Town demonstrate many city governments make decisions that force poor people out of their homes and off their land. One has to ask the question: “Why?”

Those who are responsible for evictions or choose to justify them often present them as the process by which people who have illegally occupied a piece of land belonging to someone else are removed from that land by due process of law. In this view, the squatters are the criminals and the property owners are the victims. This does not capture the human reality of an eviction, which is always painful, violent and impoverishing for the evictees. And it also does not capture the unjust systems of land use and property ownership in many countries that allow a few to enjoy great property wealth and leave many with little or nothing at all.

There are cases, it must be noted, where evictions cannot be avoided, and this may apply to some of the current crises. But even when health hazards or environmental risks make evictions necessary, suitable alternatives, negotiated with the affected communities, need to be provided. It is not in the interest of the city authorities and the better off to treat poor citizens like leaves swept into a corner only to be blown far and wide by the winds of desperation and necessity. Once evicted the urban poor do not disappear. They do not rush off to the rural areas. They find other parcels of land in the city to settle on once again.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the courts, the constitution, and flimsy barricades are the only recourse for those who face evictions. But it is because of the very power relations described above that we know (not just theoretically, but from bitter experience) that laws, pyrrhic victories in courts, and unfocused public demonstrations do not and will not turn the tables — will not restrain those with power and resources whose intention it is to grab the spoils of development. This does not mean that SDI disregards constitutional rights, litigation, and the courts. However, we know that these are reactive or defensive tools, often applied after evictions have already happened.

There has been a gradual evolution in how community organizations handle evictions. For decades their main tools, as mentioned above, were organizing to bravely and often quixotically resist settlement specific evictions through demonstrations, marches and barricades and by filing court cases to stop demolitions. But during the violence, fear and dislocation of an eviction it is hard to think clearly and negotiate alternatives. Once a crisis erupts, the tools available to communities reduce sharply. So the question for poor communities has got to be how to create a more pro-active, longer-term process to resolve these eviction conflicts. Instead of waiting for the eviction squads to come and then trying to stop them, what if communities could find space to focus on the longer-term goal of securing tenure and gradually building houses long before the evictions happen?  Litigation and confrontation are always a last resort, but more and more community organizations have developed, refined and scaled up a number of long-term strategies to stop evictions and change their relationships with their city governments, and these strategies are now starting to bear fruit.

In a seminal document prepared for Cities Alliance, our colleague Tom Kerr summarized the experiences of slum dwellers in SDI and its sister organization the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and came up with 5 tools or strategies that communities have used to negotiate alternatives to eviction.

Strategy Number 1 – Ever expanding networks.

Karl Marx pretty much summed up the state of affairs more than 150 years ago when he declared that the poor are weak because they are not united and they are not united because they are weak. In Europe and the United States at that time the primary terrain of conflict was the industrial factory. While their dwellings were just as squalid, unplanned, overcrowded and insecure as the shantytowns and slums of today, the overwhelming majority of the urban poor worked in these factories. There was not much of an informal sector and so the urban poor and the working class were pretty much synonymous. They were also more easily able to organize since they were concentrated in close working proximity. They were able to come together and secure the occasional victories. But as Marx pointed out “the real fruit of their battle (lay), not in the immediate result”, but in their ever-expanding union.

The urban poor are now defined as much by their physical vulnerability and their living conditions (if not more so) as they are by their direct exploitation as wage labourers. Nevertheless the first and most critical strategy remains the same – to build a movement – that is to federate illegal slum communities at the city, national and international level. With that strength comes unity and with that unity comes strength. Local, national and global solidarity is the number one macro strategy to force negotiations for decent alternatives to evictions. No household or community alone can negotiate with the city for alternatives when organized and well resourced vested interests are pushing for projects that lead to wholesale dislocation. Only when the urban poor negotiate together, in organizations which have the collective force of big numbers, does it work. To make change, there needs to be a “critical mass” of people breaking down resistance to change, and dissolving the barriers between poor people and decision making about the allocation and distribution of resources. Community networks also create platforms for horizontal learning, mutual support and sharing of ideas between poor communities, in different parts of the city, different parts of the country and different parts of the globe.

Strategy Number 2 – Women Centred Community Savings.

Collective saving binds people together, teaches them to manage their collective resources and helps them take control of their own development. Savings make room for poor people to develop self-reliance and self-awareness and to make decisions together through a collective mechanism. When small savings groups link into larger networks or Federations, these networks give community members access to greater financial resources and enhanced clout when negotiating for their basic needs, and enables the poor to deal with the larger, structural issues related to their problems — especially eviction and access to urban land.

Strategy Number 3 – Community Enumeration and Mapping

SDI linked federations of the urban poor have very consciously undertaken a strategy of self-enumeration and self-surveying. Federations constantly gather reliable and complete data about households and families in their own communities. Then they codify these techniques into a series of practical tips for their members and have thus created a revolutionary system of information gathering and management that forms the very basis of a real governmentality from below. All SDI federations are now deeply aware of the radical power that this kind of knowledge gives them in their dealings with local and central state organizations – especially when it comes to trying to prevent evictions. In every country and city there is a host of local, state-level and local entities with a mandate to eradicate, rehabilitate or ameliorate slums.  But none of them know exactly who the slum-dwellers are, where they live or how they are to be identified. All slum policies have an abstract slum population as their target and no knowledge of its concrete, human components.  Since these populations are by definition social, legally and spatially marginal, invisible citizens as it were, they are by definition uncounted and uncountable except in the most general terms. By rendering them statistically visible, the Alliance controls a central piece of any actual policy process dealing with upgrading, relocation and resettlement.

Strategy Number 4 – Participatory Preparation of Alternative Plans

When poor communities are backed up against the wall and demand their rights through protest or defend what they have through resistance they are putting the authorities in a position where they only have two options: to acknowledge what people are demanding or to reject it. Such a situation is often a dead-end for communities – as the evictees in Accra, Freetown, Harare and Lagos will testify. But things can be very different when there is an opportunity for community organisations to design strategies and plans which demonstrate that their situation can be improved and on that basis begin a dialogue with the authorities. Demonstrable and testable alternative ideas backed up with large numbers of people is a strong way for community organisations to establish their credentials as development partners and therefore by association as citizens with defendable rights.

Strategy Number 5 – Urban Poor Funds

Urban Poor Funds or similar community managed development finance facilities are institutions that have been set up in many SDI countries to respond to different local needs, capacities and political contexts. They all build on the financial and organisational assets that are generated by community savings. As a result money is pulled through the system by people’s real needs, not pushed though by the development agendas of other actors. They become the basis for deal-brokering, for leveraging significant resources from within the network and beyond and putting these resources behind alternative plans to evictions that have emerged from participatory planning and are backed up by knowledge derived from mapping and surveying. This in turn is backed up by large numbers of organized, united and informed slum dwellers – not only from the affected settlement – who are no longer victims but empowered people capable of having a decisive say in their own development destinies.

SDI has chosen to put its efforts and energies into these long-term eviction prevention planning strategies – instead of being defensive, waiting for eviction to come and then scurrying to find a way that “they” should not evict “us” too easily. At the end of the day it is all about ordinary slum dwellers organizing themselves community-by-community, coming together at the city level, at the national level, and at the international level. SDI choses to link communities together so that they can equip one another with knowledge, unity and organisation, starting processes of change, working out and proposing alternatives, making governments understand that when there are evictions, everybody loses, barring a handful well connected individuals.

Our colleague Jane Weru a renowned human rights lawyer from Kenya once summed this up with these insights:

“I am sure you must be asking yourselves who we are as Shack Dwellers International. You see people from all over – brown, white, black coming together and I am sure the question as to what brings these people together must be floating in your minds. I was thinking about that question.

First thing that came to mind is that essentially the people in Shack Dwellers International, in the support organizations, and the Federations are mainly people who are discontented. Discontented with the current status quo. From India to Kenya to South Africa we are people who are very unhappy about evictions. People who felt very strongly that it was wrong for communities, whole families to live on the streets of Bombay or to live on the garbage dumps of Manila. We felt very strongly about that. So we the people within Shack Dwellers International are people who are, in a sense, the discontents of our societies.

I think also we the people within Shack Dwellers International are people who have a vision. We are the dreamers to a certain degree. We believe that this world can be better and we believe that working together we can make a difference. So essentially we are pragmatic. And you can see our pragmatism in the approaches we have. This pragmatism has led us to develop social movements. Not only in our countries but across the borders.

We have a vision of an alternative world that we want to see in existence. And that vision is based on our current discontent with what we see in our cities. This vision is backed up by our practices. Backed up by our customs and our ways of doing things. We have enumerations, savings, house models and these are practices and customs that lead to the development of this alternative society that we believe in.

And how is this? How do these mundane customs and practices like savings and enumerations bring change in our society?

I think these practices and customs help develop a new culture amongst us. What is this new culture? I think the culture that we’ve developed within our community is a culture of care and nurturing, because in our saving schemes we interact at a very high level. We save on a daily basis. On a daily basis people move from house to house collecting money and like we say within the Shack Dwellers International network – collecting information, collecting problems and seeing how as a community we can begin to resolve those problems. Using the different resources we have at that communal level we begin to address the problem of the women who does not have food in her house for that day, who is able to come to that community organisation that has developed within that settlement and say: “today I was not able to get work, can you give me a bit from my savings. So I can buy food today. And if I don’t have a bit from my savings, can this community give me a bit of money for today so I can put food on my table.”  So we develop these communities of care and sharing, right from the ground. That is the culture we develop.”

[caption id="attachment_10558" align="alignnone" width="387"] Scene of inferno on Saturday night at Mukuru-Hazina Slum in South B, Nairobi. More than 100 houses were reduced to ashes rendering more than 400 people homeless while an informal school and electric posts were not spared. Area chief Solomon L. Muranguri said the fire was caused by a stove. Photo/SAMMY KIMATU (31.07.2011)[/caption]

Below is a selection of images of evictions and demolitions that have taken place in the past few years in Kenya and Ghana. 

[gallery link="file" ids="10568,10569,10570,10571,10572,10573,10574,10575,10576,10577,10578,10579,10580,10581,10582,10583,10584,10585,10586,10587,10588,10590,10589,10591,10593,10594,10595,10597,10600,10601,10602,10603,10604,10605,10606,10607"]

Memoirs of a Uganda Slum Dweller: Part XII

Talkative Mama

**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc**

Age of Zinc is proud to present the twelfth installment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

The first time I left Uganda was in 2010. I went to Nairobi for a savings meeting. It was my first time to go on a plane. Eh, it was not easy! My child was one month old so I had to move with him. When I reached the airport with the team I was told I needed documents for the child. It was time for the plane to leave, so the team told me that we are going and you will come by yourself once you get the documents. I said, “I can!” They said, “Will you come?” And I said, “I will come and I CAN!”

I went to the office where I was told to go for the documents and they directed me on what I had to do. I went to the nearby area to get photos of my child taken and then I filled out and submitted all the forms. I did everything quickly and I made it in time for the next flight! I went andI reached there by myself! Yes I did it! When I reached, I found the team and they were all surprised. They thought that maybe I couldn’t do it.

This had been my second chance. My first chance I was supposed to go to India but my passport was not ready. I said to myself it is not my time. My time was coming and now this was my time! When it came it had challenges, but I said, “No, today I can do this!”

The next trip was for federation strengthening in Ghana. We went to see how the Ghana federation was working – the structure, the projects, the saving groups, and the community. It was a good exchange. We learned a lot from Ghana and it helped us with our federation.At that time our structure was still new so the leaders went to see what they were doing in Ghana. We saw the Ashaiman housing project where the federation negotiated with the chiefs, whom had been on an exposure exchange to India, which learned how the Indian federation worked with its government to get land. We also took a tour in Old Fadama, a big settlement, and saw how the slums are set up and how they managed the eviction threat. All of this was to strengthen the leaders, because in Uganda we never had that structure before. We wanted to see what the role of the leaders is and how do they work.

From Ghana we went to Malawi. That exchange was also about federation leadership. We went to see the different projects and we visited different groups to learn what they were doing. We learned how their saving schemes operate and how their projects work. With these projects they would agree that when they made clothes (it was a tailoring group) one person would take them to the market and sell and then bring back all sales. They were doing it to revolve funds. Everyone would go to the market and report. Another team sold vegetables. They would all agree and sell them as a team in the market. Their work was really teamwork in the saving schemes and their savings were always good. After selling they would each get some money and everyone could save. After that we came back to Uganda and had learned what to do to.

Know Your City: Discussing Community-Collected Data at World Urban Forum 7

Know Your City

By Ariana MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

There has been a lot of discussion at this week’s World Urban Forum about the use of data as a key tool in the development of inclusive, sustainable cities. Key to this discussion is how data can be used in the cities of Africa, Asia and Latin America, most of which still face major challenges around urban poverty and whose city development strategies, for the most part, continue to exclude the large majority of these cities’ populations – the urban poor. But yesterday at SDI’s networking event, a strategically different approach to data was presented and discussed. The Know Your City campaign – a global campaign for gathering citywide data on slums as the basis for inclusive partnerships between the urban poor and their local governments – was presented as a critical component of the push for urban data. When communities of the urban poor collect data about their own communities, in partnership with their local and national governments, they are armed with the necessary tools to become key players in the development of strategies of urban development that take into account the realities and needs of the city’s urban poor majority.

In our networking event, delegates from SDI-affiliated urban poor federations and support NGOs, the SDI Secretariat, and key international networks and agencies discussed the importance of this campaign in greater detail. Jack Makau of the SDI Secretariat spoke on the history of SDI’s data collection strategies. SDI-affiliated federations of the urban poor have been collecting information about themselves for decades. This data has led to upgrading projects in affiliates across Africa, Asia and Latin America, and has formed the basis of large-scale slum upgrading interventions in India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and more recently, Uganda. 

Know Your City

In the last year, however, the SDI network has begun to standardize and aggregate this data in a way that we have not been able to before. This means that urban poor communities have expanded their scope – from collecting data only about the settlements where they live, to collecting data on all the slum settlements in their cities. This includes demographic, spatial and economic information that allows for a picture of the whole city – data that can be used to drive communities’ negotiations with local government for slum upgrading and development at the citywide scale. The accuracy and ownership of the data is enhanced because it is collected and used by communities in discussions with city governments on upgrading plans and programs, meaning that the communities themselves have a greater stake in the need for accurate, up-to-date information.

Know Your City

These claims were supported by the experiences of SDI affiliates from Kenya and Zimbabwe. Catherine Sekai, national leader of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, related that the Federation, alongside their local authority, “profiled the entire city of Harare, settlement by settlement” to identify peoples’ needs on the ground. This led to the transfer of land by the city to the communities for the construction of upgraded houses in Dzivaresekwa Extension, one of Harare’s largest slums.

Know Your City

Another example of the power of community-collected data came from Irene Karanja, executive director of Muungano Support Trust, support NGO to the Kenyan urban poor federation Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Karanja shared some key findings from 300 community-driven profiles from slums in 20 cities and towns across Kenya. Two central issues emerged from these profiles: land and sanitation. Most of the land occupied by slums in Kenya is privatized, and currently under high threat of eviction from developers looking to take back the land as land values in Kenya’s cities continue to rise. Because of the status of land ownership, interventions around sanitation have been nearly impossible and continue to threaten health and security of slum residents, particularly women. 

Karanja concluded her presentation by calling to action the Kenyan government and global urban development stakeholders, stating that, “The dialogue [around urban development] has to change now as we move towards Habitat III – poor people need a chance to expose the data that we are talking about today. Communities have data that government does not have. Despite this, government does not want to accept this data. It is our hope that this data can be used in Kenya to form part of the national urban agenda.” 

Know Your City

Two of SDI’s key institutional partners in the Know Your City campaign also participated in the event – Jean Pierre Elong-Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities & Local Governments Africa (UCLG-A) and Anaclaudia Rossbach, Regional Advisor to Latin America and the Caribbean from Cities Alliance. Elong-Mbassi reminded the group that at least 50% of Africa’s cities are made up of slums, and that “any mayor interested in managing a city in a comprehensive way cannot ignore slum dwellers.” Elong-Mbassi echoed the call to action of the Know Your City campaign, requesting that local governments “leave [behind] the moment where we use second-hand data to [understand] reality,” instead, he went on to say, “We want first-hand data from communities to be the mine of knowledge for the management of cities.” 

Know Your City

Lastly, Anaclaudia Rossbach of Cities Alliance, coming from her experience in municipal government and her background as an economist, went on to endorse the need for community-collected slum data as critical to the successful implementation of slum upgrading projects. Indeed, with SDI sitting as a member of the Cities Alliance Executive Committee, the Know Your City campaign is part of the Cities Alliance medium term agenda. Rossbach emphasized the key point that it is only feasible to collect accurate data if the local people take ownership of the process – a critical component of SDI’s data-collection strategies.


Know Your City: Reflections from the Kampala Learning Centre

Kampala, Uganda

By Skye Dobson, ACTogether Uganda 

Last year as part of an external review of SDI, the staff of ACTogether Uganda and members of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) were asked to consider a continuum from 1 to 10, on which being a “model builder or catalyst” was at one end and being an “operator for citywide upgrading” was at the other. The point was not that one was better or for us to move from one (model builder) to the other (implementer), but to understand the ultimate aim of our work so we can find the most strategic ways to get there. The discussion that followed was revealing. It was clear there were mixed feelings in the community and even the NGO staff when it came to situating our present work and future goals on this continuum.  

After challenging themselves to resist proprietary claims to projects, approaches, and information, the local team concluded that in order to achieve scale the primary goal is to set precedents and catalyze more inclusive urban development. To do this, the Uganda federation and support NGO, will need to capitalize on their comparative advantage as a mass movement of slum dwellers and partner and push others toward pro-poor development – not seek to implement all the projects itself. 

Personally, I was satisfied by the conclusion of the team as I had been nervous for some time that as we move to a city-wide slum upgrading agenda – increasingly defined and measured by projects – we risk losing focus on the community organizing that has distinguished SDI from so many other urban development actors. This year I feel assured this is the right approach in the Uganda context. Some recent developments have given concrete indications that the so-called “soft” investments of SDI are beginning to have a “hard” impact on city planning in Uganda, while staying true to the priorities, principles, and strengths of the slum dweller federation. 

At the end of last year ACTogether and the NSDFU began profiling and mapping slums in Kampala.  We identified 62 slum settlements and conducted profiling in each and every one in order to gather data on land tenure, services, housing, and livelihoods etc. The verification process will be complete in March 2014 and the final report will be produced in April.  This is the first time city-wide slum profiling has been conducted in Kampala and the opportunity for ACTogether and the federation to engage in the formulation and implementation of city plans is significant. 

As part of an effort by the city to improve sanitation access for the urban poor, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) recruited Fichtner Water and Transportation GMbH consultants to conduct a feasibility study on 20 urban poor parishes in Kampala. Thanks to lobbying and advocacy in 2013, ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda were invited to sit on the steering committee for the project – the only NGO/community representatives to do so. The international consultants were concerned by the lack of current information on slums. Official population data is 12 years old, gathered during the 2002 census, and it became clear to them that this had resulted in a serious underestimation of the present scale of slum coverage and a failure to understand the population shifts that have taken place as a result of eviction or displacement.

When ACTogether and the NSDFU presented their information from the city-wide profiling, the consultants immediately recognized its value. It was the first time the information gathered by Ugandan slum dwellers had been appreciated on such a highly technical and immediately practical level. The consultants requested we share our slums map so they could overlay it with maps from KCCA and NWSC in order to generate agreement on the extent of slum settlement and prioritize the areas of operation for the project. It was clear this was a concrete opportunity for the information the federation had gathered to influence planning for the whole city and target planned improvements to service delivery to the most vulnerable.

In Map 1, below, you can see the map produced by KCCA in 2010, showing 31 slums (in yellow). This is the most recent map available from the city authority. Map 2 was produced by ACTogether and NSDFU and shows the 62 slums (in orange) mapped in 2014.

Map 1. KCCA Identified Slums (From Kampala Physical Development Plan)

KCCA Slum Map

Map 2. ACTogether and NSDFU Slums (2014)

Federation Slum Map

The consultants used these two maps and another from National Water’s Urban Poor Unit to produce the following map (Map 3) to propose a consensus on slum coverage. The green areas are only confirmed by one source (mostly ACTogether/NSDFU) as part of the recent profiling work – highlighting what we believe to be a critical lack of recognition for the scope of slum coverage in the city.

Map 3: Confirmed Slum Areas, Kampala (Fichtner 2014)

Confirmed Slum Areas

As a result of this information, priority areas for the project were altered to reflect on the ground realities  – a big achievement for the federation. The consultants were able to advise government that the scope needed to be expanded to 40 parishes and that administrative boundaries were not sufficient to identify slums, as some parishes are comprised of informal and formal settlement. The development of the feasibility study rests on conceptual guidelines including: “placing the communities at the center of the decision framework with a view to improve the quality and sustainability of services and reduce costs.” ACTogether and the NSDFU have demonstrated their relevance to this process and eagerly anticipate slum dwellers being part of the decision framework in a way that is unprecedented in Uganda.

Last month ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda were contacted by KCCA’s Strategic Planning Department requesting us to support them to gather the most recent information on slums to assist with the formulation of the Kampala Five Year City Strategic Plan, which will include a slum redevelopment component. This month we will present to the Management Committee of KCCA and present a draft MOU for partnership that will enable us to leverage our data to achieve significantly more substantial partnership between slum dwellers and the city – especially as the city embarks upon the precinct physical development planning process for implementation of the Master Plan (2012). 

Here in the Uganda learning center it is clear that Knowing Your City is the critical fist step in planning for your city. The comparative advantages of slum dweller communities to Know Their City is obvious and gaining recognition from an increasing number of state and non-state actors at a very practical level. In Uganda the federation and ACTogether are increasingly finding a balance between technical and community knowledge, recognizing that both are necessary and the challenge is to find creative combinations of community and expert knowledge and practice. As the federation and government learn from each other and adapt their strategies accordingly we truly see a movement toward collaborative planning. As Watson (2014) suggests, this kind of partnership goes beyond merely the debates required to shape plans, and extends community participation into the realm of delivery, implementation and management.


In Kenya, Using Tech To Put An ‘Invisible’ Slum On The Map

NPR Story: Mapping in Nairobi's Slums

**Cross-posted from**

By Gregory Warner 

If you were to do a search for the Nairobi city slum of Mathare on Google Maps, you’d find little more than gray spaces between unmarked roads.

Slums by nature are unplanned, primordial cities, the opposite of well-ordered city grids. Squatters rights rule, and woe to the visitor who ventures in without permission. But last year, a group of activist cartographers called the Spatial Collective started walking around Mathare typing landmarks into hand-held GPS devices.

In a slum with no addresses and no street names, they are creating a map of what it’s like to live here.

Their map includes things like informal schools, storefront churches and day care centers, but also dark corners with no streetlights, illegal dumping grounds and broken manholes. They bring the most urgent problems to the attention of the authorities.

NPR Story: Mapping in Nairobi's Slums

Slum mapper Isaac Mutisya, whom everyone calls Kaka, says they have actually been able to get a few streetlights built. And it’s always the map that makes the difference.

“Because it’s technology, it can shame some of the people,” he says. “Like, ‘Why didn’t you put up a light there when we told you that this area is dangerous?’ “

We think of GPS maps as guides. They are the sometimes annoying, always calm, recorded voice in our car that steers us through unfamiliar places. But maps are also public records that can help slum dwellers negotiate with city authorities.

A Global Movement

The slum-mapping movement started in India about a decade ago and more recently migrated to Africa. The idea is to make slums a reality for people who would never set foot in one.

A map can be entered as evidence in court to stop evictions. It can be reprinted by international advocacy groups to raise awareness. It can be presented to city planners, as a puzzle to be solved.

NPR Story: Mapping in Nairobi's Slums

Emily Wangari is a member of Slum Dwellers International. She invites me into her one-room house. Pigeons dance on her roof — an entrepreneurial side project of her neighbor’s son — and send tremors through Wangari’s only light bulb.

To picture the astonishing map she unfolds on her lap, imagine a satellite photo of your hometown and trace lines around all the houses and buildings: What you’d get on the tracing paper would be squares and rectangles surrounded by space — the space being the lawns and parks and roads.

But Wangari’s map looks more like a mad game of Tetris. Blocks of every shape are jammed in together with no space between, except narrow pathways following the trails of open sewers. And every year these narrow streets get narrower still, as people expand their houses farther into the walkway.

“People take that as an advantage of just widening their house,” she says. If there’s any extra public space, people take it for their own.

If Kaka’s map, the Spatial Collective map, is a map of city neglect, Wangari’s map describes life in a slum where the idea of public space has no enforceable authority. You’ll find no parks, no playgrounds, no breathing room.

Helping Slum Dwellers Negotiate

This year Wangari did use her map to briefly claim some communal space. The story is this: After years of grass-roots activism, the city of Nairobi finally agreed to pipe in municipal water and sell it at public collection points for a half a penny on the gallon. But when the city workers went to lay the pipes, the place was so crowded they couldn’t actually find enough space for their shovels.

So Wangari had to go around telling people to move parts of their houses. But then she pulled out her map, showed people where their houses were and assured them they could get their space back.

“We had to tell people, ‘Move your structure a bit so the [water] line can pass. But you are assured, of building back. Yeah, when the line passes you’ll build back,’ ” she says.

It’s the kind of guarantee that never gets granted in this slum. Amazingly, people accepted. The water line was laid. It was as if in a place where no one has a legal right to anything and everything is claimed by force, the map provided some assurance — if not of actual ownership, then at least of a shared record of the past that allowed people to plan together for the future.

NPR Story: Mapping in Nairobi's Slums

Knowing Your ‘Spot’

In the storage room of an Internet cafe that the Spatial Collective uses for its office, I watch Kaka and the other slum mappers play idly with their GPS devices. In nine clicks, they zoom out the view broader and broader to encompass Nairobi city, then Kenya, then Africa, then the globe. Kaka laughs when I point out his habit.

“It’s good to know where your spot — where your spot is in the world,” he says, shrugging.

And the more time he spends looking at his home through the lens of the GPS, the more he can’t shake the sense that the outside world is finally looking back.

“With the GPS if you mark a point, you know that there’s someone out there who will get the information that there’s a something happening here — or that there’s me here,” he says, with a sheepish chuckle.

While basic inadequacies and deep uncertainty still define the life here, he says, the days when some unscrupulous developer could send arsonists in at night and erase all traces of a community seem to be fading into the past. Among residents, there’s a growing sense that in seeing their slum from the satellite level, from 10,000 miles up, they are starting to take their city out of the shadows.

‘The Tenement City’: The ‘Inconvenient’ Urban Reality Facing Nairobi

**Cross-posted from Living The City: Urban Informality**

By Baraka Mwau, SDI

“When the modern city does not adapt to the people…The People will adapt to the city” (Urban Think Tank, Trailer-Torre David: the World’s Tallest Squat)

Living in the Tenements of Nairobi – Part One 

Tenement City

Typical Tenement Building: Pipeline, Embakasi-Nairobi © B.Mwau 2012

 Tenements, or if used informally vertical semi-slums, are in their own version congested settlements which have been around since the industrial age and have been witnessed in all regions of the world, and especially in particular urban growth stages.  These settlements, often strategically located near key urban services (mostly commercial areas) are a representation of the role of market forces in housing provision for a particular class of urban residents. These settlements maximize space use (mostly by exploiting ground coverage and plot ratio standards) and leverage huge capital investments with many housing units for which residents pay “affordable” rents. Like in many parts of the world, this phenomenon is rive in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya and one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. In this article and its subsequent series, we will highlight various aspects of living in tenement buildings in Nairobi as told by individual dwellers.

It is 5 am on Saturday May 11 2013 in Pipeline Estate, Embakasi – Nairobi, one of the most notorious areas for unregularised tenements in the city. Milcah Kioko* (not her real name) has just woken up. No, it isn’t an early day because she has to report to “work”. Throughout her stay in the city, a day must start early, regardless of the fact that she is a housewife. Milka is however somewhat optimistic about landing a reliable job someday that will enable her to support her husband and combat the ruthless and indiscriminative escalating living cost in Nairobi. Having migrated from Eastern Kenya a few years ago to the city, she started urban life in a Nairobi slum, Mukuru kwa Njenga, where she was lucky to be sheltered by her elder married sister while looking for a job. Many slum residents can narrate how agonizing life can be for rural converts, making a fresh start in Nairobi slums. Without critical social networks, such as Milcah’s, the ‘arrival city’ (slums) can turn out to be one legendary, horror narrative to pass to your descendants. Even after being nested by her sister and tirelessly hunting for a reliable job for years, Milka has made very little progress. After the first few years, she had to leave the nest and continue with her job hunt from somewhere else, a move that opened a new chapter in her life. She got married and shifted focus to raising her young family.  Life might have improved after her husband managed to move the family from Mukuru kwa Njenga slum to the adjacent ‘concrete jungle’, the high-rise tenements of Pipeline Estate, Embakasi.

Since her move, waking up early is Milka’s Saturday routine. The day normally begins by climbing down the sharply-inclined staircase from her unit on the sixth floor to the ground floor, where she joins the long queue at the water tap. Having migrated from the dry lands of Eastern Kenya, queuing for water is ‘normal’.  She migrated from her rural home in the quest of living the ‘urban dream’ and creating a new ‘normal’ life.  It’s almost a decade now, and the city still seems unforgiving to her.

Being a Saturday, her two young daughters are in slumberland until mid the morning. It’s not a school day and in any case, they have nowhere to play, except the dangerous and narrow balcony at their doorstep.  This is highly unappealing for the kids. The numerous warnings they have received from their mother not to play near the balcony as well as the obvious physical danger has cultivated sufficient fear in them. They have also adapted to routine everyday re-organization of the house. The family lives in a single room, which similarly to a shack, is partitioned by a curtain and is accustomed to space-use transformation at different times of the day. After getting her water, Milcah is going to undertake a makeover of this temporal children bedroom to the living room and the kitchen.

The queue at the tap is long, taking several loops on the open-indoor space at the ground floor. You are never too early for it, unless you have a ‘good relationship’ with the building caretaker, who sends signals to his ‘friendly tenants’ when he is about to open the tap. That’s how powerful this position can be in these kinds of tenement buildings where communal facilities exist and infrastructure services are rationed. Often, the caretaker (mostly men) doesn’t send the signals for free; there are ‘payments’ involved. The ‘payments’ range from cash money to a beer in the bar at the ground floor and/or more ‘personalised’ forms from certain female tenants. This system is a clear illustration of how survival in tenements can be constructed through social networks. In these residences, the city council and utility companies are partially to blame for the inadequacy of services. The other half involves complex dealings with all sorts of actors, mainly including the landlord, property care taker, utility company workers, and service cartels.

Milcah has no choice but to join the queue and get her usual ration—4 jerricans (20 litres each). She is no party to the ‘exclusive club’ in the building, hence no favours from the care taker. As an offer of support, her husband will give her a hand in ferrying the water to their unit in the sixth floor, before he goes for work.    Despite the building exceeding 4 floors (recommended threshold for a lift in Kenya), this particular building does not have a lift.

Her husband will also help to ferry the household solid waste (collected into a polythene bag) to dump it somewhere along the road side, on his way to work. Solid waste collection is yet another scarce service here. At least the City Council will pick up that garbage, when the ‘mountain’ gets visible enough.

The building used to have a booster pump which pumped water from the mains at the ground floor to the 7th floor. However, this pump worked only for a few months when the building was new.  After its starting to malfunction, the landlord did not bother to repair or replace it. Surprisingly, Milcah is not even aware that there was such a pump in the building, even after living there for over a year. She is actually surprised that water indeed flowed in the taps and shared toilets/ bathrooms beyond the ground floor. It is not that she is ignorant, she just copes with the situation as is, and is motivated by the fact that her rent is just worth what she gets.

Tenement City

Front View of a Typical Tenement Building in Pipeline Estate, Embakasi-Nairobi © B.Mwau 2012

In most tenements, the utility bills (mainly water and electricity) are inclusive in the rent and only the landlord knows what goes to the service providers. In roomed tenements, sharing of toilets and bathrooms is the norm. The maintenance of these shared facilities is in most cases left to the tenants. Where there is no proper ‘maintenance plan’ formulated and followed by the tenants, the ‘tragedy of the commons’ triumphs. Should the later prevail, chances are that some tenement residents will find themselves grappling with the dilemma of ‘to have or to avoid guests’, just as it has been narrated by numerous shack residents. The dignified visitors could easily loathe the reception at the “small rooms”, especially those coming from upmarket areas. In most cases tenants develop a duty rooster for maintaining common spaces and facilities. Its not surprising to see tenants being actively engaged in managing the asset for the landlord, to whom they pay rent. For them, the free service they offer semi-consciously for the landlord is more to their benefit, and particularly in safe guarding their public health.

Similar to shack areas, infrastructure services in most tenements are constrained, either as a result of collapsed (or on the verge of collapse) building infrastructure, or inefficacies of the service provider. For electricity, the stories are agonizing as well and particularly in buildings where billing is on a shared meter. In these areas, meter reading is classified information that should only be known to three parties – the service provider, the care taker and the landlord. If not rationed by hours, the voltage limit will not permit tenants like Milcah to use certain appliances such as iron boxes, cookers, water heaters etc.

Milcah’s experience is just a tip of the iceberg. Life in Nairobi’s tenements is deeply dynamic and cannot be covered enough within the scope of this article. Mathare-Huruma, Pipeline, Zimmerman, Githurai, Roysambu and Kawangware neighbourhoods epitomize the tenement phenomenon in Nairobi. In these areas, buildings have plot coverage’s of 100% and plot ratios of upto 10 times the recommended standards. Yes, the buildings are built back-to-back, from beacon-to-beacon, go as high as 8floors, and use designs, shapes and space standards that can never be found anywhere else. The vertical densities in these neighbourhoods are extreme, filled with densely massed multi-storey buildings. The facades often decorated by hanging clothes or repugnant like windows that appear as engraved rather than fitted, and at times a view from the street will land on a solid wall.

In tenement areas, social life is influenced by the codes stipulated by landlords to tenants, and fully enforced by the tenants, such as locking the gate or the main entrance at certain times of the night.

The roads in these areas are rough and dusty. When it rains, they turn to muddy streets making walking and driving unbearable. Space convertibility is a key element in these areas, with streets converting into busy business areas in the mornings and evenings. During these times of day, the massive activities taking place on the main streets leading to public transport stops often mimic mass migration.

Subsequent series to this article will illustrate some of the urban qualities produced by tenements, the variety in housing they offer, their production and perhaps their implication to the urban future in Nairobi.



The Real Crime Problem Lies in the Formal World


Fears about how slums harbor thieves and criminals reflect the fact that we are looking only at the bottom of the food chain of illegality. Photo credit: Cheryl Marland via Flickr Creative Commons

**Cross posted from Informal City Dialogues on** 

By Sheela Patel, Chair of SDI Board

In a guest blog post, Sheela Patel, advocate for the urban poor, argues that if illegal activity is a problem in informal settlements and economies, it’s nothing compared to the rampant crime in the formal world. You can read a different perspective on this issue by clicking here.

As a person working on redefining inclusivity in city governance, I am often challenged by the people who have argued, well and based on evidence, that informality is a menace to a city’s development. And maybe when challenged by it — especially when the face of informality is violent, abusive and confrontational — there is a legitimate case to be made for using police and judicial systems to subdue, contain, or manage it. The challenge we face is to examine where cities will be in the future if this is the only method used to deal with informality.

In many Asian and African countries, urbanization is clearly speeding ahead, and conventional regulatory frameworks that plan cities have clearly not been able to adapt to the global trends and local reality in which more poor, unskilled migrants are coming to cities. With no assets or skill sets, and kinship networks in the same situation as they are, they add to the city’s informality of work and habitat. Most of those in informal livelihoods serve the formal city in ways that we don’t acknowledge. Very few economists have sought to calculate how much they subsidize the lives of those who live and work in the formal institutions.

Traditional markets and vendors who brought goods to one’s doorstep have historically been part of the city. Only now, their numbers are expanding exponentially, and unlike in the past when they melted into invisibility, they are in your face, seeking to live and work in and around the formal city streets and near our homes. Today the vendor and hawker pays the equivalent of thrice what a licensed vendor pays to bribe police and municipal workers; similarly, slum dwellers end up paying for stolen water and electricity – resources that are often stolen by the utilities’ own staff, local politicians and illegal entrepreneurs, and then sold at three to four times their original cost to the slum dweller or vendor.


A woman in Dharavi, Mumbai. Slum dwellers end up paying for stolen water and electricity – resources that are often stolen by the utilities’ own staff, local politicians and illegal entrepreneurs. Photo credit: ToGa Wanderings via Flickr Creative Commons

In the face of industrial and manufacturing sectors being closed down, more and more assembly and manufacturing work is occurring in slums. With no safety nets the poor are forced to explore self-employment as hawkers and vendors, and those who are destitute to take up begging. Is the solution filling jails with people seeking to survive? How will we deal with the situation when another 25 percent of the world’s people come to cities in the next twenty years?

Crime and criminality occur across class and race, and for every petty criminal and thug on the street one could argue that the formal, respectable, upper-class elite steal much more per capita. So fears about how slums harbor thieves and criminals reflect the fact that we are looking only at the bottom of the food chain of illegality. The reality is that the city does not police informal settlements, and being out of bounds makes them safe heavens for bad elements.

Just like transport planning has to move beyond investing in roads only for the private cars that 10 to 15 percent of the city owns, cities too have to be planned for all of those who will eventually end up living in cities. Those of us who see cities gearing up to attract foreign direct investments and imitating European cities where populations are shrinking, or being seduced by Northern planners who produce almost 24th century visions of the city, are accelerating this tension and conflict instead of using planning to create cities that make space for all.

Sheela Patel is the Founder-Director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), a Mumbai-based NGO that has been working on housing and infrastructure rights for the urban poor for the last two decades.

Discussing Slum Upgrading Strategies: SDI Attends Habitat III

Conference in Rabat

By Joseph Kimani (Muungano Support Trust, Kenya) and Joseph Muturi (Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, Kenya) 


Imagine a world without slums. Fine, let’s keep it close: imagine the city of Nairobi, Cape Town, Mumbai or your favorite city without a single informal settlement, slum or shacks. That is exactly the thing…your mind is probably saying, “Well it is possible.” Perhaps you are also wondering how this could be possible and, in reality, how that could happen. Most likely you are also pondering whether we have the same definition of slums or shacks. Are the favellas in Brazil the same as the ghettos in Kenya, or are the slums in India the same as those in South Africa? Can slums in Nairobi, Mumbai, Brazil, South Africa or anywhere be defined the same way? Are access to sanitation, water, infrastructure and services and secure tenure the only indicators that we should use to measure the extinction of slums? These were some of the main issues addressed at Habitat III, a UN Habitat sponsored international conference that took place in November 2012 in Rabat, Morocco. 

Conference Objectives: 

The three-day conference was organized by the Government of Morocco under the patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI and under the authority of UN-HABITAT as an effort to share best practices on policies and the implementation of slum upgrading, eradication and prevention programmes by local and national governments around the world. The organizers invited 20 top countries that have been rated as having performed best in making slums history. The specific objectives of the conference were:

  • Develop specific recommendations and guidelines for slum improvement policies and the development of well-adapted housing alternatives to prevent new slum formation (the Rabat Declaration). 
  • Devise the strategy required to revise Target 7-D of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and adjust it more closely to the diversity of national conditions and circumstances. 
  • Share successful experiences, methodologies and evaluation methods with regard to slum reduction. 
  • Broaden the scope of experience-sharing within the conference to bring in Least performing Countries (and African countries in particular), to help them implement effective slum reduction policies. 
  • Strengthen partnerships between Morocco and other African countries. 

Conference Participants: 

The Rabat Conference brought together over 150 participants representing 24 government delegations. The countries identified as the 20 best performers in slum upgrading invited were: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Turkey, Uganda and Vietnam.

Summary report of the plenary discussions, workshops and expert group meeting: 

Some of those who spoke at the conference included the Minister of Housing, City Planning and Urban Policy of Morocco, the UN-Habitat Director, Cities Alliance, World Bank and SDI. In our main presentation, we were able to present SDI’s background, mandate and experience by highlighting the role of the community in slum upgrading. We then shared our perspectives on slums post-2015 MDGs or perspectives that we thought stakeholders in slum upgrading need to consider as UN HABITAT proposes to develop Sustainable Development Goals. We presented three key points that we argued were important in helping a slum upgrading process to take shape, and some of our perspectives regarding the development of Sustainable Development Goals. Here our main argument was with respect to the issue of community organization and the role of the rituals of the federations in promoting community ownership and community led initiatives. We provided examples of Huruma Slum Upgrading in Huruma, Kenya and our experience of the Kenya Railway Relocation Programme. Our second point stressed that land delivery was a prerequisite for any slum upgrading to happen. 

Using our Kenyan example again we shared the challenges of attempting to make slums history when in a situation like Nairobi in which 50% of the slums are on private land and another 40% are on land considered to be unlivable (i.e. riparian and railway reserve and high-risk zones such as those living under the high voltage electrical powerline). This allowed us to highlight the need of government and all actors address the issue of land. Our third point was the need to scale up successful cases by not only choosing to deal with the settlements that are appealing, but to also invest in finding solutions to deal with informal settlements that appear to be difficult. Our major issue on this matter was to encourage all players to consider looking at slum upgrading as both functional and spatial and as a broader strategy of poverty alleviation. 

Conference in Rabat

Joseph Muturi of Muungano wa Wanavijiji addresses the audience. 

Below is a sample of comments and suggestions captured during sessions by SDI representatives. 

“We would have wished to see more representation of the slum dwellers, especially from the case studies, shared in this conference. One would have hoped that the hosts would have had in this conference representative of upgraded areas as well as those that have not succeeded or waiting to benefit”.  – Joseph Muturi, during the thematic workshop session on Planning, Land Management and Urban. 

“In the spirit of sharing could we have in the future conferences representation by countries considered to be under performing in slum upgrading processes or those that have the potential and yet challenged in whatever form. It is amazing to hear stories of change and success and one hopes some of countries would have benefitted a lot from the experiences shared here and could have re-kindled hope to those that have despaired and lost hope of assisting the poor.” – Suggestion by Joseph Kimani, Program Manager at MuST during the South-South Cooperation Session. 

“I want to acknowledge and appreciate that this conference has provided most of us with valuable knowledge and experience. In fact I kind of agree with most of the presenters who holds that we can make slums history in our world. However I strongly propose that we ensure that the message we are taking home to all our governments and slum upgrading stakeholders is that the role of the community in this processes should not be underrated at all. In fact is it possible for all of us professionals and Government as well to allow the slum upgrading process to be led by the slum dwellers while we journey with them in this process, so that the issue is not just mere participation and inclusion for the sake of it but to carry with us the spirit and commitment that requires the people to be at the center of their own developments.”  – Statement by Joseph Kimani during the Expert Group Meeting.  

Our main question: Is it possible to make slums history? How did the Morocco attain this goal? 

The Moroccan speakers took all the participants through their journey of making slums history in their nationwide “Cities without slums” programme which focuses on improved shelter conditions for over 1,742,000 people living in informal, substandard housing, contributing to better urban inclusiveness and social cohesion. We learnt that since 2004 the Morocco programme has achieved over 70 per cent of its overall objective. The speakers too acknowledged there were challenges that they are facing as a government while implementing the programme but emphasised that the 70% success so far has been as a result of the strong push of their strong leadership, political will, well defined objectives, an appropriate modus operandi and adequate budgeting. 

In a nutshell as documented in the National Report (2012) the ‘Cities without Shanties” programme has made it possible to: 

  • Reduce the demographic weight of household dwellings in shanties across Moroccan cities and towns from 8.2% to 3.9% between 2004 and 2010; 
  • Improve the living conditions of roughly 1 million inhabitants; 
  • Declare 45 cities without shanties out of a total of 85. 

In achieving the above, Morocco and many other countries in the world have managed to beat MDG Target 7-D by a multiple of 2.2, namely to “significantly improve living conditions for at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.” UN HABITAT estimates that, between 2000 and 2010, a total 227 million people in developing countries have experienced significant improvements in living conditions. 

General lessons drawn from the conference:

The presentations by best performing countries like Brazil, China, Morocco, Turkey highlighted the extent countries and their governments can go to to improve the standards of those living in informal settlements through scaled-up housing developments. However, it should be noted that caution should be taken to ensure that the large scale housing developments do not create shells of void, silence and emptiness by ignoring the value of human development. This is summarized in the quote below:

“What we aim at… is not simply to have shanty-free cities, still less to set up soulless concrete slabs which thwart all forms of sociable living. We rather intend to evolve cities that are not solely conducive to smart, friendly, and dignified living, but also investment-friendly and productive spaces – urban areas, that is, which are attached to their specific character and to the originality of their style.”  – Extract from the Speech delivered by His Majesty King Mohammed VI on the occasion of the National Convention of Local Collectivities Agadir, 12/12/2006. 


The fact that some of the presenters and participants appreciated and acknowledged the role of SDI in facilitating and enabling urban poor communities i to be the drivers of slum upgrading and human development was very encouraging and inspiring. It is with this same spirit that we hope those of us within SDI will continue to work hard in ensuring that slum upgrading does not only become a rhetoric of the state authorities and institutions but remains real and focused towards addressing the economic, social and physical needs of the people. It is our desire to see countries like Kenya respond by speeding up efforts to scale up slum improvements. The ability is there, the resources are with the public and private institutions, and all that we hope for now is the government’s goodwill and commitment.

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.