A Learning Centre Emerges in Mukuru, Nairobi


The end of 2017 marked the end of a four-year strategic planning period for SDI and the close-out of various projects and contracts in support of implementation of that plan. To report on the successes, challenges, and impact of our work over that time, SDI produced a Basket Fund Close Out report, available in full here. In this series of blog posts, we present excerpts from this report that highlight some of the key learnings and impact of our work over the past four years and point towards areas for continued growth in the new Strategic Plan, launched this year.

While the city learning centers were identified at the outset of the last Strategic Plan, SDI made a provision to identify project-linked sites of learning as they emerged throughout the network. In the past year, the Mukuru Special Planning Area emerged as a key project-linked learning center used to anchor strategic exchanges.

In Mukuru, Nairobi, the Muungano Alliance (including Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Akiba Mashinani Trust, and SDI Kenya), have been wrestling with the threat of eviction for decades. The Mukuru slums cover almost 650 acres and are home to almost 500,000 people. The challenges facing Mukuru are among the most severe in the city. Muungano’s profiling and enumeration revealed the highest population densities in the city and a high poverty penalty exacted on residents whose access to basic services is controlled by cartels. The area faces severe flooding and — owing to its location in an industrial area — high air, water and soil pollution. Virtually all of the land in Mukuru is privately owned by around 230 different landowners. With this information in hand, Muungano and its partners were able to demonstrate that Mukuru should qualify as a Special Planning Area (SPA) owing to the acute challenges faced by residents (especially flooding).

After long negotiations, the Kenyan Government became convinced and, in August 2017, declared Mukuru to be a Special Planning Area (SPA). It was announced that a two-year window would be provided to SPA partners to develop an integrated development plan that will be included in Nairobi’s city development plan. But the SPA does more than provide a legal basis to a slum upgrade: it represents an evolved approach that goes beyond the county government’s planning department to incorporate all departments of the county, as well as a multidisciplinary consortia of non-state actors ranging from academia to non-government organizations to community based organizations such as the federation.

Thematic consortia are assigned the role of contributing to an inclusive master plan, with robust community engagement being managed by Muungano. Each thematic consortium develops a solution that encompasses the community vision, financing, legal, and spatial dimensions. This process is aimed at producing policy briefs that offer a representative vision and range of solutions to be consolidated through a series of planning studios. This innovative, large-scale, community-based planning is inspiring cities throughout the SDI network.

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Communities profiling, mapping, and documenting conditions in Mukuru to ground the SPA planning process. 

SDI’s Basket Fund represents a commitment from SDI’s partners to join a global network of slum dweller organizations in their long-term struggle to combat poverty and exclusion in cities. In a development sector dominated by consultants and specialists, SDI adds value as a unique organization channeling resources directly to the poor for the development and implementation of their own strategies for change. This arrangement represents an understanding by SDI’s partners that systemic change won’t be projectized or fall neatly into a funding cycle, but requires long-term multi-pronged collaboration to continuously garrison the gains and push the boundaries.

On both fronts SDI made substantial inroads during the 2013-2017 period. Download the full publication here.

Community Planning Studio Addresses Sanitation Challenges in Nairobi

Kiandutu Community attend a studio session at the School of the Built Environment, University of Nairobi

*Cross-posted from Centre for Urban Innovations*

By James Wanyoike, CURI

On 23 May 2014, members of Kiandutu community from Thika attended a whole day joint urban planning studio at the School of the Built Environment (ADD), University of Nairobi.  The participants were community planners collaborating with a team of planning students from Department of Urban and Regional Planning and a grassroots non-governmental organization, Muungano Support Trust (MuST) in the upgrading of Kiandutu informal settlement. The studio, which started in March this year is sponsored by Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Association of Africa Planning Schools (AAPS).

Urban informality still remains an urbanization phenomenon that is insufficiently addressed by urban policy and planning in the Global South.  This stems partly from the observation that traditional and contemporary education and urban planning practice do not resonate with the realities of urbanisation in the region. Both SDI and AAPS have committed to transform urban planning education, and by extension its practice in Africa, by equipping upcoming urban planners with the relevant skills to address the challenges facing the African city, notably – informal settlements. The theme of the Thika urban planning studio is titled ‘An integrated sanitation studio for Kiandutu Settlement, Thika.’

The focus of the studio is to address a critical problem faced in all informal settlements in Africa: the absence of adequate sanitation services. Through earlier surveys and enumeration done by the University of Nairobi and MuST, the community of Kiandutu revealed that their priority problem is sanitation. The understanding of integrated sanitation evolved from community participation for a better appreciation of sanitation as a broader concept and function whose intervention calls for an interconnected understanding of settlement characteristics.  It is strongly believed that such an understanding will lead to more responsive and durable interventions. Specifically, it is hoped that the approach shall achieve the following: appropriate facilities designed and built well at the right locations: optimization of level of use and sustaining number of users; co-production – “doing it together” – in design and construction; collective responsibility in operation and maintenance;  community ownership and good will to make things work; improvement of overall sanitary situation  –  water, sanitation, and hygiene – and a healthier and more productive community.


The studio is based on a cluster concept. Three clusters were selected, two of these – Biashara and Molo – are project-led, where SDI/MuST are piloting one sanitation project in each and are close to the proposed trunk sewer, creating the possibility of future connection. The third cluster – Mtatu B – is isolated from the proposed sewer line, making the possibility of future connection to the trunk sewer inconceivable due to distance and gradient limitations. The first few weeks saw the planning teams conceptualizing the studio’s scope and objectives. This was followed by primary and secondary data collection and data analysis, to be concluded by planning and designing of integrated sanitation solutions for Kiandutu settlement.

To welcome the Kiandutu community to ADD was the Dean of the School of the Built Environment (SBE), Prof. T.J.C Anyamba, and Dr. Samuel Obiero, the chairman of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP). The introductions were made by Prof. Peter Ngau, who warmly received the guests to the University of Nairobi.  Dean praised the university-community collaboration as a big a step and part of university policy. This was something the University valued and encouraged as part of the university engagements. It would not only benefit the community involved, but also expose students to the reality of the situation on the ground.

Prof. Peter Ngau expounded on the rationale for the studio and its importance to the university and the community, not forgetting the partners Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS). Arch/Planner Charles Karisa, the studio coordinator and Mr. James Wanyoike, his assistant both organized the day’s presentations and discussion sessions. In the presentation the teams highlighted the objectives of the studio, the methodology used in the studio, the existing conditions in Kiandutu, emerging issues and the recommendations. This was also backed up by the community planning team validating the facts provided in the presentation as the reality of the situation in Kiandutu. Mr. Karisa highlighted the principles underlying the studio. They include sustainability, environmental design and management. The presentations marked a mid-stage in the studio. The next phase will be formulation, design and building of the proposed sanitation facility at the three cluster points.  The conclusion of the joint studio presentation was marked by kikuyu – traditional community singing and dancing at the façade of the ADD building – a performance never before witnessed in the University.

CURI, 26th May 2014


Learning Differently: Community Planning Studio with AAPS in Namibia

AAPS Studio in Namibia

**Cross posted from Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia blog**

Following the first studio the community was anxious to embark on the second studio.  These studios have increased in importance considering the introduction of the Mass Housing initiative of the Government of Namibia; NHAG-SDFN proposed the participatory planning process of communities to be a cornerstone for informal settlement upgrading.  The second studio took place from 7 to 10 March 2014, involving the same group of town planning students from the Polytechnic of Namibia that participated in the first studio during September 2013, now doing layout planning as third year town planning students.  The learning during this studio was not limited to academic participants but included officials from the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, the Opuwo Mayor and Property Officer representing team members from the UN-Habitat Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, a Community Development official from the City of Windhoek, and officials from the Gobabis Municipality.  Federation members from South Africa and all regions of Namibia, as well as a staff member from CORC with previous studio experiences in the network also participated in the weekend’s activities.

During the opening session of the second studio in the settlement, the students presented the proposed layout plans in the form of posters based on the findings of the site analysis.  The CEO of the Gobabis Municipality welcomed the participants, stressing the importance of settlement residents and the Municipality to start doing their homework to prepare the settlement for Mass Housing Programme that will benefit the settlement in the coming months.

’’The site analysis helped the community to look at improving the settlement.  We have to change the living standards in Freedom Square.  We wanted water, toilets and electricity and land.  During the feedback discussions with the municipality, it was indicated that water lines can be extended in the settlement.  Waste management was also an important issue that was identified by the residents.  Since the last studio, we have more people migrating into Freedom Square and settling with family members, but not a lot of new shacks are being built.” Rufus Mbathera, community participant as part of the Freedom Square overview of the previous studio during the opening session. 

The community experienced flooding the Friday night and requested a visit to the affected areas.  A walk through the settlement therefore preceded the planning session by inspecting the recently flooding area, which was indicated on the map using GPS.  The town planning lecturer explained the drainage pattern on the settlement map, which the community needed to consider when looking at the drainage pathways and proposed road layout for the settlement.

AAPS Studio in Namibia

Thus for the design, participants had to take the current roads and water catchment areas into consideration.  During the site analysis of the first studio, community members discussed how the water runs southwards from Block 9, which is on higher ground, down to Block 1 and 2.  One of the barriers to the natural flow of rain water in the settlement was the weir stockpiled by the municipality to prevent cars from taking a shortcut through the area.  This restrained the natural flow of the water, causing the water to collect at the lower parts in Block 1.  This was identified as a huge problem as the area is occupied by households which are normally flooded during the rainy session.  During the previous studio the community members also talked about the seasonal migration that takes place within the settlement when houses relocate to avoid flooding and as it was very heavy rainy season the damage caused by the rain was evident and some households already relocated their structures.

AAPS Studio in Namibia

Maureen, a federation member from South African emphasised the importance for a proper layout: ‘’ambulances and police can get easier access into and out of the settlement if there are problems , this is important for safety and security of the residents” she said.

Sanitation options were explained by the Gobabis Community Development Officer, when sharing the Local Authority’s experience with alternative sanitation in Kanaan, the informal settlement bordering on the north-eastern side of Freedom Square.  Due to high water tables in the area and the absence of proper management the dry sanitation installed in this area was not found to be feasible.

The need for major access routes, social spaces and stormwater management and the needs of the elderly were discussed within the various smaller block groupings formed during the site analysis (first studio).  The initial exercise considered the entire settlement to establish a broader development framework.  Some groups were eager to verify of the structures in the blocks, whereby the need was emphasised to start focus on how the individual block design will fit into the larger settlement.  Community members indicated major access routes and roads, meeting areas, hazards and major flooding areas in the settlement.  Each group presented their outcomes on the bigger settlement map.

‘’We should put ourselves in the shoes of the elderly, they should point out the routes they use to go to town, clinic or to the shops, so that when the roads come, they maintain the current movement routes in the settlement.’’ Student participant

Urban agriculture was raised by Block 8 and 9 on the northern edge of settlement and Block 1 and 2 in the south western corner, when considering the planning for the establishment of community gardens, in response to the natural flow of water in the settlement.  In Block 9 this will act as a catchment area for water flowing from the high part of the settlement located on the foot of the hill, and in Block 1 & 2 the garden will be located on the lower side of the settlement prone to flooding.  The produce from the garden will be used to feed the elderly and the orphans in the settlement.

The location of shebeens in the settlement caused heated debates covering aspects of registration, ongoing noise through all hours of the day and night, while acknowledging it as a source of income and hence the need for suitable locations.

Reblocking and layouts continued on Sunday in the teams comprising community members, town planning students and professional staff according to the demarcated blocks in the settlement.  Due to threatening weather conditions it was decided to move the “community office under the tree” to the Epako community hall after lunch.  All was amazed that even more community members turned up to complete the designs for their blocks.  Each group presented its layout in preparation for presentation at the official closing session on the Monday morning. 

AAPS Studio in Namibia

The second studio was closed on Monday in the presence of various dignitaries, including the Ambassador to Spain, Regional and Local Authority Councillors, while the keynote address of the Deputy Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development was delivered by the Acting Director of Housing, Habitat and Technical Services Coordination.  The community presented their layouts and designs to the guests. 

‘’You, as members of the community, are key in the successes of the programme, without you it would not be possible.  You are the ones that guide the process with the support of the implementing agencies.’’ Spanish Ambassador, Her Excellency Diaz Orejas

‘’It is important that we came together to do the planning as the community, but it is also important to share what we have learnt with the rest of the community, those not present at the meeting.’’ Charlie, Freedom Square community member

Future sustainability through income generation and recycling: Community shares experiences with South Africans

Sunday morning started off with a frenzy of discussions and demonstration of income generating projects, with the focus on bead making using paper and urban agriculture and planting of herbs.  Maureen informed participants of the many herbs that can be used for healing – mint in tea, cinnamon and lavender to help with sleep.  ‘’All this different types of herbs can be planted in a small space in your yard’’.

To learn more about SDI’s studios with AAPS you can attend our event at the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, “Planning Differenlty: Community Based Slum Upgrading Studios” on Wednesday 9 April from 2:00-4:00pm in the Yellow Pavilon, Room 12

Better Measures for Urban Quality of Life: The View from Below

**Cross-posted from Development Progress**

By Sheela Patel, SDI Secretariat & SPARC India

The current debates around the post-Millennium Development Goal development agenda include a vital focus on measuring change and — hopefully — progress. But there is an unspoken tension: the reality of local contexts is becoming less and less visible to increasingly globalised development agendas.

Social movements of the urban poor find themselves caught in the cross-fire of such debates. I have dedicated the past three decades of my professional life to working with the leaders of many such movements around the world, and this has been my experience. Real people, real families and real lives are subsumed into aggregated figures that mask local variations.

Almost all countries in the Global South, especially in Africa and Asia, are undergoing historic urban transformations. Yet many have national leaders elected from rural areas, and political parties whose leaderships persist in 19th- and 20th-century perspectives principally addressing rural development. We need measurements to assess whether politicians and administrations’ development policies are pro poor in urban areas.

International-development investments are focused on rural development, based on theories rooted primarily in rural experiences. Cities are seen by many as locations of economic growth, not locations for aspiration, opportunity, equity and inclusion. We need measurements that can inform indices for desired ends such as equity and inclusion.

I am not advocating that we throw out all existing poverty indices. Rather, I am absolutely convinced that these indices need to be adapted to meet the challenge of linking traditional measurements of poverty with new approaches to measuring urban quality of life. The prevalent informality of habitat and livelihoods in developing-word cities mean it is crucial to develop both measurement benchmarks and practical policy initiatives that make cities work for all who live in them. We cannot benchmark what is not comprehensively measured.

Another flawed global measurement concerns the universal dollar-based poverty line. This measurement has barely any relevance to the experience of people who contend with the twin challenges of poverty and inequality. Measurements of urban subsistence must be linked with macro-economic and financial trends such as inflation. Just one example is food inflation. In my country, India, the sudden quadrupling of potato and onion prices, due to an increase of fuel prices and speculative practices, has had a significant impact on what and how much the poor eat. The increasing number of malnourished children in urban areas makes this clear. However, universal poverty lines do not capture this very real effect.

Informal shelter strategies in cities are also invisible to such universal measurements. Those who live in homes with insecure tenure, under the ever-present risk of demolition and eviction, often use soft, impermanent material for house construction. These may have to be rebuilt after a monsoon, or on a seasonal basis, depending on the local climate. Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), the global network of grassroots urban poor federations, estimates that over 25 years, a family could build one good-quality home with those labour and material costs. This indicates there is an urgent need to measure the impact of evictions and of the destruction of habitat and livelihoods, often brought about by government agencies.

The global economic order is based on upfront capital investments that sit uncomfortably with urban-poor strategies to upgrade their lives incrementally from survival to stability. Households consolidate their home structures and upgrade them, especially those who have de facto security of tenure. In the absence of state support, this is how almost all informal households create shelter to meet their needs. But almost all government standards for habitat and all capital-investment strategies of accessing subsidies and finance for households needs, require capital to be ‘collected’ upfront and then repaid over 10 to 20 years. This is only possible if lending institutions feel secure in the applicant’s financial situation; and they are never satisfied if the applicant is employed in informal livelihoods.

Basic amenities such as water, electricity, sewerage and sanitation remain a major problem for most urban households. As long as informality renders urban populations invisible, data will be skewed and investment delayed. In some cities, the poor only began to receive water and electricity once state and private-sector companies realised that the poor were ‘purchasing’ these amenities from informal cartels at higher rates.  The Department for International Development and the World Bank have begun to incentivise electricity providers to reach the poorer consumers .

Measurements of sanitation access for the poor are incomplete. Further, aid agencies and foundations have worryingly chosen to focus on technical solutions to deficits in access to adequate sanitation. In so doing they ignore the primary drivers of the financial and political relationships that determine the extension of services.

More and more urban workers are employed in the informal sector. Where are the measurements of their impact on GDP, or to demonstrate that most poor people end up working from their homes? Furthermore these informal entrepreneurs are often vulnerable to a city’s punitive anti-hawking rules and can lose their capital investments when their goods are confiscated.

Governments are almost completely unaccountable to their poorest citizens. This is because they are disenfranchised in an underground system and the logic of cities is not easily accepted and measured. Corruption in high places is measured and quantified quite well. But the extent to which the poor pay for this in order to survive is rarely calculated in measures of governance.

Thankfully, I see practical seeds of hope every day amongst the communities in which I work. The poor survive often through collective processes, while governments and external investments in development overwhelmingly target individuals. Social movements [add link] of the urban poor are emerging mainly because urban changes are not impacting their lives. All over Asia, Africa, and Latin America, those fed up with systems are exploring different ways to seek change. Many have been patient for too long waiting for their national governments to wake up. Others, especially young people, are getting impatient. The poor may increasingly turn to violence as the only way to get the attention of their governments.

What the world needs now — and urgently — are new ways to track these processes, and to develop new paradigms of development that work for the poor, their communities and their cities.

Sheela Patel is the Founder-Director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), a Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation that has been working on housing and infrastructure rights for the urban poor for the past two decades. She is also chair of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI).


Namibia’s First Community Planning Studio: Preparing for Slum Upgrading in Freedom Square, Gobabis


*Cross posted from the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia blog** 

Students and community members share their experiences on the site analysis exercise in Freedom Square Informal Settlement in Gobabis.

The planning for the Freedom Square informal settlement came about as a result of an exchange that took place in March 2012 to Cape Town and Stellenbosch with Municipal councillors and officials from three local authorities (Gobabis, Grootfontein and Keetmanshoop) to learn about how communities and local authorities use enumeration and mapping information collected by the community to upgrade and plan their settlements. Following the exchange, the municipality proposed the re-blocking of the Freedom Square informal settlement in collaboration with the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) and Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG). The exercise was sped up by the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the municipality and SDFN-NHAG on 15 August 2013. With the assistance of SDI and the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), the re-blocking exercise involved the Land Management and Architecture Departments of the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) based on the MoU signed between PoN and the SDFN-NHAG in February 2012. 

The exercise started off with feedback by residents on data collected and structures mapped through the Community Land Information Programme (CLIP) that was carried out between February and June 2012 in the settlement, with the support of NHAG and HabitAfrica, assisted by the Spanish Cooperation.

With assistance from the community and guidance from the lecturers and NHAG staff, the students carried out the site evaluation – community members teamed up with the students visiting each structure in the nine blocks, employing local knowledge to clarify the use of structures, accessing of services in and outside the settlement and explain the way of life of residents in the blocks.

Feedback on the exercise was given to the community and the municipality. The importance of community participation in the whole exercise was echoed and appreciated by many of the students, who were able to get a better understanding of the cultural dimensions of site planning and settlement layout through an insider’s perception.


The students gave us their cooperation, we worked well together and through the whole exercise I improved on how to do mapping in the community. (Ludwina, CLIP team member from Block 4),

The site analysis brought light to how I see my surroundings. I learned how to use a GPS as we were doing the mapping. I also got to see which areas are suitable to build my house on and which aren’t, in order to avoid flooding, during the rainy season. (Loraine, Community member Block 5)

The students gave us cooperation during the mapping exercise, usually we just hear of GPS, but don’t know how to use one, through the exercise I learned how a GPS works. By using the GPS we learned that we can update our information of the people that moved. (Rufus from Block 2)

Maria gave feedback on the layout to the community and was very excited about the whole process “it was a wonderful weekend, we showed the students everything in our block, and I learned more about the water flow“. Diana added that in block three, working with the students they mapped out the unsafe areas, which gave more light on the dangers in the area.


Nina from Block 6 had this to say, “Through the exercise I learned more about my community and their needs, members in my community who did not join the exercise were very grateful that I assisted the students. I learned about the different trees in the community , and that we should not cut the protected trees. It was a wonderful experience; I had the opportunity to see my house on the aerial photograph. The people in our block are very excited and ready to start saving, we have already selected a tree under which we will have our meeting on Saturday”.

Eunice a student from PoN: ‘’Awesome!  During the exercise I learned that it is important to strengthen the community, this experience helped me have a different perspective on informal settlement residents, that they have a willingness to see change in their surroundings.

Hilaria: Previously believed that working with the community is difficult, the exercise showed me that it’s an easy process and a planner’s job should not be desk bound. I hope to work in more informal settlements.

Janine: It was fun, I loved the experience, the community was eager and willing to participate in the exercise. The elder people in the community were among the ones committed, I believe it was that they have hope for a better environment, as they have been living in the area for a long time. Through this exercise more community members I have observed are starting saving groups. As a future town planner, the experience showed me the importance of community participation in planning.

Adriano observed that using the local vernacular helps open participation and that the community do want to stay in a planned settlement.
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Laina: People here are in need of water, toilets and clear roads for vehicular access, this exercise gave me a clear picture on how to plan for informal settlements.

Martha: Advocacy planning, I believe, works better when consulting the community , bottom up planning is better than the conventional planning approach , as planners get to know the needs of the community and plan according to their priorities.

Sacky: The whole exercise confirmed my career choice as a future town planner; this showed me the benefits that may come out of a planning exercise, and it can change the lives of the community for the better.

Eva: There is always the belief that informal settlers are not willing to participate in their own development. This exercise showed me a different picture, as there were community members who actively participated, I call them the brave hearts, as we worked the whole day and they stayed with us until the end. Planning from the office is not as important as planning from within the community.

Gerson: Am very interested in seeing the final outcome of the exercise and hope to come back.

Participation of municipal officials  

Municipal officials were present during the preparation meetings and the activities during the weekend.   Two dedicated meetings with the officials took place, one on Friday before the studio started and one following the activities in the community.  Mr Mbala, the new Strategic Executive for Local Economic Development, Urban Planning and Health indicated that the Council should not continuously resettle communities from one location to the other, but should aim for proper planning which can result in secure tenure for the residents.

The urgent issues identified by the community include waste in open spaces  and the need for more  water taps.  The officials are looking into addressing these issues with the community. The community, students and other stakeholders will participate in the layout planning and re-blocking studios during the first six months of next year. 

Slum Dwellers Drive Informed Planning in Kampala

Surveying in Kampala

By Laura Guzman, AcTogether Uganda

Photos by Maria Carrizosa 

Collecting information in partnership with communities about their needs and priorities is a tenet of the work of ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU). By helping collect this information, analyzing it, and presenting it back to communities and their municipal officials, projects can more specifically respond to community needs and desires. In June, as detailed in an earlier post, international and local interns, ACTogether staff, and Federation members surveyed slum dwellers and municipal officials in the five divisions of Kampala in order to learn more about the needs of slums in the city. The surveys were intended to gather information on the slum dwellers’ and municipal officials’ opinions on the state of governance, data and information, sanitation, and livelihoods. The survey was only an exploratory one, meant to identify potential trends and patterns throughout the city. The survey is a first step in a process including enumeration, mapping of settlements, and in-depth conversations between slum dwellers and municipal officials. Based on the findings of the preliminary survey, further enumerations, and multiple stakeholder conversations, NSDFU and ACTogether are investigating replicating Municipal Development Forums (MDFs) – which have demonstrated great promise in Ugandan’s secondary cities – in Kampala. The information will also be used to guide Federation-led, low-cost sanitation facilities and finance facilities to support communities to build their own projects. 

Surveying in Kampala

In July, after analyzing the results, the information and lessons learned were presented to municipal officials and federation members from each division. Overall, the results of the survey given to slum dwellers show a high level of dissatisfaction with opportunities for interaction with municipal governments – 61 percent reported meeting one time per year or less – and a desire to meet more often. Slum dwellers also showed a high degree of willingness to participate in new forums of interaction with municipal officials. If forums like the Municipal Development Forums were to exist, 86 percent of slum dwellers would be willing to participate. In terms of sanitation, the surveys showed a dissatisfaction with current toilet facilities. There were not enough toilet facilities, and those that did exist were not adequately maintained. The results on sanitation showed that 83 percent of slum dwellers report sharing toilets, 73 percent lack access to a waterborne toilet, and 78 percent would be willing to pay for a well-maintained waterborne toilet facility. In terms of access to loans, 69 percent of slum dwellers interviewed reported dissatisfaction with access to loans for livelihood projects, and 74 were unsatisfied with the terms of loans. In terms of capacity to save and to increase quality of life, 73 percent and 78 percent, respectively, were unsatisfied with their capacity.

Surveying in Kampala

For slum dwellers, these trends were fairly steady across gender lines, but vary in key areas such as satisfaction with opportunities to interact with municipal government (males, at 83 percent, were more unsatisfied than females, at 56 percent), perceived ease of access to data on slum settlements (58 percent of males found data difficult to access, 32 percent of females reported difficulty), willingness to pay for well-maintained, waterborne toilet facilities (females, at 92 percent, were more willing to pay than males, at 88 percent), and satisfaction with loan availability (males, at 87 percent dissatisfied, were more unsatisfied than females, at 60 percent). 

In the breakdown across municipalities, slum dwellers in Kawempe were consistently the least satisfied in terms of governance and information on slum settlements, and those in Nakawa were consistently the most satisfied. In terms of loans for livelihood, residents in Makindye were the least satisfied with availability and terms of loans, and those in Nakawa were the least satisfied with the ability of savings to increase savings and quality of life. 

Surveying in Kampala

On the whole, the results of the survey showed that municipal officials and slum dwellers had similar perceptions of the current situation with regard to information on slum settlements, and – to some degree – with regard to loans for livelihood. However, municipal officials reported that they met to discuss issues of development considerably more frequently than slum dwellers (with only 31 percent reporting meeting once per year or less, whereas 61 percent of slum dwellers reported meeting this infrequently), and more municipal officials found the opportunities to meet together with slum dwellers to be adequate. In terms of sanitation, municipal officials believed that fewer slum dwellers share facilities (reporting that 75 percent of slum dwellers share a toilet), and that a much larger proportion used free facilities (with 79 reporting that slum dwellers use free facilities, whereas slum dwellers reported that only 48 percent do use free toilets). Significantly, municipal officials believe that slum dwellers are much less likely to pay for clean, waterborne facilities (44 percent willing) than the slum dwellers themselves report to be (78 percent willing).

By taking this information, sharing it widely, and informing future projects with the new knowledge, NSDFU and ACTogether can get an idea of the situation faced by slum dwellers. It is important to continue the process with careful enumeration and mapping of each slum settlement in order to identify specific needs for each community. In order to address identified needs and problems, it is key to develop a dialogue between municipalities and slum communities. By using survey information, enumeration data, and dialogues, interventions like MDFs, sanitation facilities, and finance facilities can be developed in a way that involves all stakeholders.


Taking Academia to the Slums: AAPS Attends the 5 Cities Seminar

Langrug Site Visit

Langrug informal settlement hosted an SDI-AAPS studio this past year.

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

Last week’s 5 Cities Seminar focused on building relationships; relationships between urban poor communities and government, between federations of the urban poor in different cities who face similar, yet unique, challenges and between the formal and informal worlds that shape rapidly urbanizing cities.  Throughout the conference, urban planners from the African Association of Planning Schools (AAPS) have joined communities and officials to learn about incremental informal settlement upgrading.

Partnerships with university planning schools can produce tangible results and leverage resources for urban poor communities. Over the past year, AAPS and SDI have facilitated a number of planning studios (In Uganda, Cape Town and Malawi) with various outputs (e.g. settlement-wide upgrading strategies, circulation and infrastructure designs, and detailed maps of previously undocumented settlements). The studios have started to remove planners from the comfort of their offices and challenged antiquated norms and standards, ensuring a serious engagement with urban poor communities. These engagements need to be sustained and not once off interventions so that their value is not significantly diminished.

On the third day of the 5 Cities conference, planners from across Africa held a separate reflection session where they received a detailed brief on the Cape Town planning studio which took place in the beginning of 2012 and discussed the other studios that had taken place in Kampala and Malawi.  The Cape Town studio, a partnership between the South African SDI Alliance and The University of Cape Town has taken place for the last two years. The 2012 studio was a 6-month engagement with Langrug, the informal settlement that the 5 Cities delegates visited on day 1 of the conference.

Langrug Site Visit

Students with backgrounds in urban planning and architecture worked with the community to produce upgrading plans for the settlement to be used by the local municipality with whom the community already has an MoU. A significant challenge is what actual impacts such long terms plans have, and if more immediate short or medium term plans would have led to more immediate results for the community, rather than grand scale long term visions.

Further discussions ranged across a number of studio related topics, including what type and level of students have worked on the studios, how studios should become sustainable permanent fixtures in the curriculum, the importance of drawing in government officials to maximize political capital and momentum and how the studio, in a dialogic engagement between community leaders and students, should set community priorities and have tangible outputs.  

An important point raised by Professor Mtafu Muanda from Malawi was about working in communities that do not have a large SDI presence. He related how the planning studio in Salisbury Lines, Mzuzu had worked with a much larger community and there was a relatively insignificant SDI federation. He explained that for a studio to be effective it had to draw in the whole community and not just a select group of federation members as this fragments the community and might undermine traditional leadership structures. In the case of the Blantyre studio, the Federation used the studio to mobilize the larger community and make them aware of their activities. The traditional leadership structure, and their buy-in into the studio, also assisted greatly with making the studio a community wide process.

Mzuzu Studio-Salisbury Lines-Sanitation Mzuzu Studio-Data collection-Developing Strategy

Images from the SDI-AAPS Studio at Salisbury Lines settlement in Mzuzu. 

In addition, new studios were mooted, especially outside of South Africa, for the upcoming year. In Tanzania preparations are already underway for a collaborative studio between the SDI affiliate (CCI – Center for Community Initiatives) and Ardhi University; a Namibian studio will take place later in the year and the possibility of a studio in Zimbabwe was raised. The point was stressed that such studios need to become a part of the curriculum and not singular events.

Just as planning does not occur in a silo, separated form local contexts of informality, neither does the shaping of a city. The links between legislators, planners, implementers and communities are evident, although all too often not given enough consideration.  Because of these links, it makes sense that AAPS planners form part of the 5 Cities programme and learn about informal settlement planning and upgrading, themes that are relevant to experiences and conditions of informality in South Africa and across the African continent.

Building relationships between planners and urban poor communities is an important part of SDI’s ongoing efforts to link the formal with the informal. There is certainly a space for planners within such partnerships, as long as they are positioned not as “top down” professionals but as co-learners who work with the community to produce tangible results based on community priorities and grounded reality.

Pineapple Studios: SDI at 2012 AAPS All Schools Conference in Nairobi


By Skye Dobson, SDI Uganda & Secretariat 

There were a number of comments from professors at the AAPS Conference in Nairobi (October 16-18) about the name that should be given to Urban Studios. Should they be called practical planning studios? Reality studios? How can they be distinguished from the studios to which planners are accustomed? For SDI, as one programme officer pointed out, “they could be called pineapples for all we care, as long as they do the work and have productive outcomes.”

This reality check was, in many ways, the reason SDI was invited to this gathering of planning professors from across Africa. A partnership between AAPS and SDI is working to make planning more responsive to the realities of life in developing cities by bringing planning students into partnership with slum dweller federations in SDI’s network.

Sheela Patel, one of the founders of SDI and chair of the organization’s board, gave the keynote address, which undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of a few professors who questioned the focus on slums, informality, and even the urban sector.

Sheela didn’t sugar coat her relationship to planners either. “I used to love to hate planners”, she said. As the years passed, however, she came to realize it is necessary to examine the reasons why planners were not serving the needs of the urban poor and work to change it.  She said her blood would boil as a young professional when she would be forced to sit across from a planner who ordered eviction after eviction, but she focused on finding the cracks and the loopholes, that would enable a critical mass of urban residents to generate solutions. For the critical mass, finding solutions was easy. The city could not plan for what it did not know.

She urged participants to work toward disconnecting planning from 19th century principles and recognize that planning is deeply political. Despite endless platitudes to the urban poor, she argued, the judiciary continues to uphold deeply exclusionary urban planning systems. This, she warned, could have terrible consequences for the cities of the developing world where she doubts young, impatient, and aspirational populations will not be prepared to wait for years for their cities to recognize them. She said the time has come for African planners to move away from Eurocentric models and generate their own.

AAPS is deeply cognizant of this need and the conference highlighted the urban pineapples conducted by SDI affiliates and AAPS member schools. The studios highlighted were conducted in Uganda and Malawi and the Kenya federation shared its experience working with students. The presentations highlighted the benefit to students and communities through such partnerships. The sense that the university is an ivory tower with little to no relevance to the urban poor was turned on its head. Each studio aimed to infuse Africa’s future planners with the knowledge that planning developing cities simply cannot ignore the reality of life in the informal settlements where the bulk of the urban population resides. As student Sam Nuwagira, a studio participant from Uganda, remarked, “As planners we are taught that we are gods. The studio helped me to see that the gods are the community as they have the knowledge about their areas.”

This point was reinforced by federation member and “community professor” Katana Goretti, “In communities we know the number of settlements, services and origins of the people. We know how they spend their money and how they would like to develop their areas. You cannot plan from the office but if you go to the ground and speak to people and learn from them it can help you plan better.” As part of the urban studio in Uganda, Katana delivered lectures at Makerere University, took students on transect walks through Uganda’s slums, and helped student planners understand the necessity of planning with communities. 

Critically, the studio work will need to impact upon the planning curriculum. There was much discussion about how this might be possible and also much concern about the bureaucratic barriers within universities. This discussion will continue within the AAPS community. Many professors present expressed interest in conducting similar studio to the ones conducted with SDI and countries such as Nigeria, Mozambique, and Rwanda expressed interest in starting SDI affiliate federations.

For SDI the vision is to see organized communities become the drivers of pragmatic and inclusive urban planning. Building partnerships with actors typically charged with urban planning – such as municipal and city councils, urban ministries, and academic institutions – is seen as the most viable strategy for incrementally generating systemic changes to the practice of urban planning. Critically, partnerships – like pineapples – can look good from the outside, but be brown, mushy, and useless at the center. True partnerships involve negotiation and engagement between equals. Community professors still face challenges being perceived as such, but SDI believes it’s headed in the right direction.


The New School & Makerere University Partner with Communities on Urban Studio in Uganda

Urban Studio Uganda - Makarare

By Mara Forbes, SDI Intern, The New School, New York


“The municipality was very impressed with the report because it truly acknowledges the truth on the ground and the Town Clerk repeatedly mentioned that they would use this tool to ensure that services reach the community.” 

Sarah Nandudu, Federation Member, Jinja


“This [enumeration] report is an opportunity to make demands for quantity and quality of services. If someone denies basic services, they need to be held accountable.” 

Community Development Officer (CDO) of Arua


The four-month SDI/Makerere University Urban Studio project has come to a successful close. On July 5, Makerere and New School students along with Federation members traveled to Arua, Kabale, Jinja, Mbale, and Mbarara to deliver the final published Enumeration Reports to the municipalities.

As discussed in earlier posts, through partnerships, negotiations, and precedent setting projects, federations have attempted to create new spaces in which community knowledge can influence development decisions. The Urban Studio partnership is one example of how these new knowledge regimes are being developed. As part of the studio, students from Makerere University accompanied federation members into the informal settlements of 5 Ugandan municipalities to learn about the challenges faced by slum dwellers and the ways in which the federation is combating the lack of information available for planning in such places. At Makerere University and in the municipalities, the federation members became ‘community professors’ teaching the students the importance of knowing their communities through different community-driven data collection methods and processes.

The Makerere students, in conjunction with New School graduate students, cleaned the federation’s enumeration data and disaggregated it at the settlement level. They then used the data to compile easy-to-understand reports to be presented back to the community and municipalities. The enumeration reports are designed to be used as tools by community members to negotiate and lobby with government for more responsive urban interventions and partnerships. The reports fill a major gap in the urban sector, giving up-to-date and comprehensive data on the informal settlements which make up around 60% of Ugandan cities.

The reports present enumeration data on issues of education, income and savings, tenure status, land ownership, and access to services such as water, sanitation, and electricity within the informal settlements. The data was collected by the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda and its partners in 2011 as part of a national slum upgrading agenda being spearheaded by the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development. With these reports the slum dwellers now have concrete information on the informal settlements in which they live. They have ownership of the information because they collected it themselves, and they have the organizational capacity to ensure the reports are used as tools for negotiation and planning.

In July 2012, the final reports were launched in each municipality. At the launches both community and municipal officials praised the reports. Approximately 100 federation members attended the enumeration launch in Arua and the Deputy Mayor and CDO represented the municipality. The event kicked off with songs from the community about savings and empowerment. The regional chairman of the federation, CDO, and Deputy Mayor all gave speeches commending the community and students for their work and urging the community to use this report to hold government accountable. The Deputy Mayor stated that “it is now time for top leadership to bend down and start cooperating with the community and this report is a tool that will make it easier to address issues and problems faced in the settlements, such as cholera.” The Deputy Mayor officially endorsed the report and promised the council would start using it immediately for budgeting and planning.

Urban Studio Uganda - Makarare

In Jinja both the Town Clerk and Deputy Mayor attended the launch. Like the Aura officials, the municipal representatives expressed gratitude to the federation and the students for their contribution towards a better understanding of the urban situation in Jinja municipality. They expressed that the reports would be used to start planning for toilet and water projects within the communities highlighted in the report to be particularly underserved. The Town Clerk pointed out that the report not only shows the challenges faced by the community but also the strengths and what the community is doing well. According to federation member Sarah Nandudu, “the municipality was very impressed with the report because it truly acknowledges the truth on the ground and the Town Clerk repeatedly mentioned that they would use this tool to ensure that services reach the community.” The Municipality was also impressed by how the federation had already used the information they collected to negotiate for sanitation interventions.

In Kabale, federation members emphasized the importance of settlement-level data and commended the students for accurately presenting their enumeration information. The Deputy Mayor promised to review the report thoroughly and endorse. “Before the federation came to Kabale, we had undermined the issue of slums in our municipality and we thought ‘they’ should go back to where they came from but this enumeration exercise enlightened us and we have to include slum dwellers in our plans” said the Deputy Mayor. Federation member Sarah Nambozo, who attended the Kabale launch, explained that “the report showcases information gathered by the community and the municipality must use the report to incorporate community challenges into the budgeting and planning process.” In fact, the municipality is already using the report to identify projects that can be implemented within the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor Fund (TSUPU) program.

A municipal strike in Mbale meant that most municipal officials were unable to attend the enumeration report launch. However, the Regional District Commissioner (RDC) and Assistant Town Clerk represented local council and the LCIII of Industrial Division, represented the mayor. Each acknowledged that the enumeration report “not only shows the challenges faced by the community, but also the opportunities that exist within the slums.” The enumeration report was later signed by the Mayor who expressed eagerness to use the report as a planning tool.  Semanda Twaha bin Musa, the regional chairman of the Mbale federation, said “the event went marvelously and was very successful.” He described how excited the federation was at the event because of the work they had done and how it had produced a report that was recognized and praised by the municipality. He said that, “because of the report, the municipality now respects the community because it shows the quality of work the community is capable of.”

The reports were also highly praised in Mbarara. The Deputy Mayor was impressed with the work of the community and how well the report depicts what is happening on the ground. The CDO was also present and highlighted the issues of sanitation and water as areas that need more attention from the municipality as revealed by the report. The Deputy Mayor officially endorsed the report by signing it during the launch and agreed to use it in future planning and budgeting at the municipal level. The CDO challenged the community to use the report as a way to define the roles of the community and municipality and to work together to identify possible development projects. Federation member Brian Manzi explained that because of the report, the town council is already identifying settlements that are in need of water and sanitation units. The CDO hailed the Mbarara slum dwellers for the role they are playing in the slum upgrading campaign and told members who attended the launch to try and get copies of the enumeration report and find the role they will able to engage themselves in towards the development of Mbarara.

Critically, the enumeration reports and the community gathered data they contain must slay ‘alive.’ The reports are not automatically useful and will not, on their own, improve service delivery and targeting of programs and projects. The communities that compiled them must continue to use the information to guide negotiation, partnership formation, planning, budgeting, and advocacy.

Much was learned during the Urban Studio. Through the cleaning and analysis of the federation’s enumeration data, both Makerere and New School students gained a deeper understanding of the realities faced by Ugandan slum dwellers, which they discovered are unique to each settlement. They learned that understanding these realities is integral to inclusive and effective planning and that authentic community involvement must be central to collect accurate information in slums.

Federation members deepened their capacity to generate information and to engage with the traditional institutions of knowledge production in a very different manner. The municipal councils have witnessed the capacity of communities to drive applied urban research and make local academia more relevant to domestic demand.

Stay tuned for a full report of the entire SDI/Makere Urban Studio to be posted soon.

To read the previous studio blogs posts follow this link: https://sdinet.org/tags/Makerere/

The Beginnings of Enlightened Planning?

Focus group discussion in Arua

By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat

In a previous piece on the Makerere/SDI partnership in Uganda, Noah Schermbrucker, questioned the sources of knowledge that guide urban planning. In this second installment I would like to continue that discussion. When considering the planning profession I am often reminded of Michel Foucault’s account of the clinician and the evolution of scientific empiricism in The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (1963).

The “gaze” of the planner these days is often perceived to possess the same objective and rational wisdom as that of Foucault’s clinician. In urban development circles urban planners are believed capable of revealing the city’s hidden truths and taming urban unruliness through a classificatory kind of wisdom, which enables them to identify nodes of dysfunction with supposedly enlightened and absolute objectivity. The planner, like the medical clinician, is believed to possess no agenda and seek solely to maximize efficiency.

Such scientific empiricism, Foucault explains, abstracts knowledge from the subject. This, I believe, is the danger of modern urban planning and the reason SDI, with support from AAPS, is eager to ensure the planning profession reconnect with the subject of analysis.

In this, the second phase of the partnership, Uganda’s future planners ventured into the field with their community professors – placing the “knowers” firmly in the realm of the “known” – to use Foucault’s terminology. Groups of approximately 10 students boarded buses on the 5th and 6th of  March bound for the 5 secondary cities in which NSDFU works. From Arua in the country’s north-west, to Mbarara and Kabale in the south, and Jinja and Mbale in the east, the students secured a rich exposure to the urban challenges facing Uganda.

These 5 cities, part of the Cities Alliance-funded Land Services and Citizenship (LSC) program (called TSUPU in Uganda), have a strong federation presence that is driving community collected information gathering, forging deep and productive partnerships with municipal government, and launching community managed development projects in slums. This new partnership will certainly contribute toward strengthening and deepening this ongoing initiative.

When the students arrived in each of their respective cities they first met with federation leaders who debriefed them on the urban reality in their municipality, the work of the federation, and the enumeration process. The students asked these members many questions and engaged them in rich discussions on issues of land tenure, services, and housing.

The groups then paid a visit to the Municipal Council to meet with various political and technical municipal officials. The federation introduced the students and partnership to the municipal officials and its links to the LSC/TSUPU program. In each city the officials, most of whom had been part of the enumeration effort, praised the new partnership and expressed commitment to supporting the initiative as well as incorporating federation enumeration data into the municipal planning process.

Following the visit to the municipality, students ventured into the settlements in which the federation members live. Armed with the enumeration data the students were able to interrogate the data and enrich their understanding of its meaning. In focus group meetings and one-on-one interviews life was breathed into the data. The stories of members about eviction, lack of services, and housing conditions ensured the students would see the data for what it is: an account of life in slums and an essential ingredient for effective urban planning. They also came to see the local community for what it is: the best resource for local knowledge and the most invested in the urban development agenda.

For most of the Makerere students it was their first time to visit these cities and as the country’s future urban planners they expressed gratitude for the opportunity to see that Kampala’s urban planning needs are not the same as those of secondary cities.

In Kampala, each of the capital’s 5 municipalities (formerly divisions under Kampala City Council, these are now municipalities under the newly formed Kampala Capital City Authority) played host to a group of about 10 students as well. The federation first took the students to the Municipal Offices in Nakawa, Makindye, Rubaga, Kawempe, and Kampala Central. Like they did in the secondary cities, the Kampala students were able to meet officials from the Division and introduce the program as well as ask questions.

The students then split into smaller groups in an effort to verify federation profiling data on each of the parishes within the 5 municipalities/divisions. This was a massive undertaking and one that involved the students covering great distances each day. Though they live and study in Kampala, many of these students had not ventured so deeply into the city’s slums nor examined so closely the socio-economic realities therein.

With their community professors leading the way and the blessing of municpal officers, the students were able to move freely in the slums, ask questions, make notes, and take photographs to enrich the profiling data collected by the community. These observations were critical for the students as it enabled them to problematize the certainties of planning they have learned in the academic world.

The students will now take the data – hopefully no longer abstracted from the subject – and analyze it further in order to compile reports that will be returned to the federation for verification in the next phase of the partnership. After verification, the students will finalize the reports in a uniform format that will be published. In the final stage of the program students will return to the municipalities in which they worked and assist the federation to present the information to local authorities and discuss the critical contribution such information should play in the planning process. They will also share lessons on the way their conceptualization of what it takes to be an effective planner has changed during the program.

In Noah’s blog post he correctly pointed out the power that comes with knowledge. Foucault argues the reason the myth of the clinician’ s objectivity survived for so long is because, “the gaze that sees is a gaze that dominates.” In this first field visit as part of the urban studio, the gaze of the planner was brought closer to that of the subject, which we think is a positive step toward making the planning profession more responsive and more capable of executing its duties.

SDI will keep you posted as the workshop in Uganda unfolds.