A special approach to slum upgrading: the Special Planning Area in Mukuru, Nairobi

***This blog originally appeared on UrbanARK's blog on 12 October 2017.***

By David Dodman

David D Blog.jpg

More than 100,000 families live in Mukuru, a densely packed informal settlement squeezed between factories to the south-east of Nairobi’s city centre. But despite people having lived here since the 1980s, housing conditions are extremely poor and there are no formal water or sewerage connections. The 647 acres of land are divided among 230 different owners – which has prevented utilities from making connections. Discussions with community members highlight a wide range of threats: ranging from poor sanitation, inadequate access to water, flooding, and fire outbreaks.

But all this might be about to change. In August 2017, the Nairobi City County (NCC) officially declared Mukuru as a Special Planning Area (SPA) – putting a stop to any further development in the area for a two-year period until a Mukuru Integrated Development Plan is produced. Urban planners often designate areas as being “special planning” or “special development” zones when there is a need for substantial redevelopment – for example, to revitalise an inner-city or for comprehensive redevelopment of a waterfront area. But taking such an ambitious and comprehensive approach to upgrading informal settlements is novel and exciting.

The use of an SPA clearly indicates the significance with which upgrading Mukuru is taken by a range of key stakeholders, notably NCC. It provides a sound legal basis for the planning process, which in turn strengthens the case for the plan’s eventual implementation. And it provides a rallying point for an alliance of actors to work together in identifying challenges – and the solutions for these.

Muungano wa Wanavijiji – a social movement of Kenya slum dwellers (www.muungano.net) – has a long history of mobilizing in Mukuru’s neighbourhoods, collecting data through member savings groups, and lobbying for investment in basic services. A report on living conditions in the area (https://www.muungano.net/publicationslibrary/2017/4/6/mukuru-studio-report-inclusive-upgrading-frameworks-for-nairobi), which also drew on a research project (involving SDI Kenya, AMT, the Universities of Berkeley, Nairobi and Strathmore, and the Katiba Institute) challenged Nairobi City Council to upgrade Mukuru. The County had been working closely with Muungano in other pro-poor urban development projects in Nairobi and responded positively to the documented concerns.

Central to the SPA has been the creation of consortiums to address different issues within Mukuru. These consortiums echo the internal organisation of NCC – ensuring that all the actions identified fall within the responsibilities of local government departments and their budgets. These thematic consortiums cover water, sanitation and energy; finance; land and institutional arrangements; health services; education, youth and culture; environment and natural resources; housing, infrastructure and commerce; and community organisation, coordination and communication.

The planning for all these areas follows a similar process – and is brought together through regular coordination meetings between the different consortiums, and between the consortiums and NCC. Mukuru has been divided into 13 segments, each composed of about 8,000 families – within which there are “cells” of 10 households, and “clusters” of about 100 households that form the basis for community engagement and planning. Each consortium has committed to holding 3 consultations in each of the 13 segments – all of which are coordinated through one of the consortium teams. This helps to ensure that the vast reserves of community knowledge inform the planning process, and that the proposed solutions meet the needs of Mukuru’s residents. The views of children and young people are treated as particularly important and are being gathered through approaches that engage with them in interesting ways – like an essay competition with the topic “The Mukuru We Want”, and training in film-making. 

The Urban Africa: Risk Knowledge Programme (Urban ARK) has been working with SDI Kenya, the consortium lead for “community organisation, coordination and communication”, to help provide approaches to understand the nature and scale of risk in Mukuru. Community engagement, led by Mtafu Manda from Mzuzu University in Malawi, demonstrated the use of community-centred methodologies to identify risks, prioritise these, and develop action plans to address them. It will help to ensure that expert-led and technical assessments or risk do not over-ride those that are the priorities of residents. This approach to risk will be incorporated within the cluster planning process in the coming months.

The SPA process is still in its early days, and faces many challenges. Not least among these is the need to ensure that the lives of all community members are improved – recognising the different needs and concerns of business owners and informal workers, of house owners and tenants, and of women, men, boys and girls. But the level of interest and excitement point to the potential for transformative change – and to new directions and approaches to improve the conditions of low-income and informal settlements around the world. 

Mukuru Film Festival, 4 October

Know Your City (KYC) TV Kenya is releasing its first films tomorrow at the Mukuru Film Festival on the 4th of October in Nairobi. Watch some of the trailers below.

Full films available online soon!


Trailer: Unchecked Justice—a story by Peris

Trailer: The Alternative—a story by Julius

Trailer: Whom to turn to? A story by Susan

Trailer: Nyongwa (smoke choke)—a story by Joseph

Know Your City TV Launches in Kenya

Photo: Nicera Wanjiru

Photo: Nicera Wanjiru

By Jack Makau

Art has always been central to the struggle of the Kenyan slum dweller for a place in the city. From the prayer associated with the ‘theatre of the oppressed’, to puppetry, traditional and contemporary music, graffiti, film making, and, more recently, social media action, the Kenyan slum dweller story has a rich tradition of art expression.

This year, building on this tradition, Muungano is investing—alongside its perennial search for slum upgrading solutions—in film making and new media, working with Know Your City TV.

Muungano sees that the slum upgrading narrative can benefit from taking pause and engendering an understanding... What does it actually mean to live in a slum? What is it about the slum that makes it such a stubborn development challenge?

Photo: Nicera Wanjiru

Photo: Nicera Wanjiru

It started with a prayer

Sometimes, in the 1990s, when the opportunity presented itself and slum dwellers had occasion to meet local chiefs or government officials—and knowing full well that piety is an assumed quality of the poor—an opening and closing prayer would feature prominently.

Ordinarily, beyond the prayers, Kenyan slum dwellers in the 1990s had their rights to association and expression severely curtailed. And so the opening prayer became a skit, a safe way to set the agenda for a meeting.

The prayer would go, “Our blessed Lord in heaven, we pray for the success of this malaria awareness workshop, we thank you blessed Lord that because of this workshop there will now be an alternative to demolishing the homes by the river. We worship you because those families, your prayerful children bowed here before you, are saved from malaria and demolition. We exalt you for touching the heart of our dear chief, your child that you chose to lead us, to bring this workshop instead. We pray that you continue to give her great wisdom …

And the closing prayer then became another skit—a way to redirect the conclusions of the meeting.  “Dear blessed Lord, maker of all things possible, we thank you for allowing our dear chief to sit and discuss with us. We pray that you give her the strength and show her your way to intervene with your higher leaders on behalf of your lowly children, blessed Saviour. We know precious Lord that you allow the writing of demolition notices and you can in your grace unwrite those notices, even without us having to visit those higher offices. Let your will be done through her hands …

Twenty years on, and the civil space for slum dwellers is markedly more open. The slums are no longer condemned to demolition, and slum dwellers are instead enjoined with the state in a frustrated endeavour to upgrade housing, infrastructure, and livelihoods. It is no longer a question of whether the slums have a right to the city, but how that right can be achieved in settlements of seemingly intractable complexity.

The prayer is no longer necessary. Yet art is still indispensable as a way in which difficulty in the slum discussion is managed.

Photo: Nicera Wanjiru

Photo: Nicera Wanjiru

Using art to make planning possible

In June 2017, Muungano launched a local chapter of SDI’s Know Your City TV project, known as KYC TV Kenya.  Supported by Cities Alliance and GIZ, the project equips youth with video documentation resources to tell stories of the lived experiences of the urban poor, and make media that contributes to the transformation of slums and cities.

The project began with recruiting, equipping, and training 20 youth from Mukuru slums in Nairobi. The Mukuru slums sit on 647 acres and are home to 100,000 households. Earlier this year, in March, the slum was designated as a 'special planning area' of the Nairobi county government. This designation is a first for slums in Kenya: it recognises that existing city planning laws and procedures cannot be used to address the slums' complicated land tenure arrangements, improve on very low levels of provision of services like water and sanitation, and upgrade the largely iron sheet housing stock.

The initial focus of KYC TV Kenya is to bring the reality of Mukuru to the fore—to be able to reach, and, using short drama and documentaries, give insights to the planning process. Using art to make planning possible.

The first set of films are supported by Swiss Caritas, SDI, and the Stockholm Environmental Institute, all organisations that are part of the County’s special planning effort in Mukuru.

Early in September, KYC TV Kenya announced that it would release its first five films at the Mukuru Film Festival, to be held on the 4th of October in Nairobi.

KYC.TV Kenya's first few offerings. In the fight against global urban poverty, youth from Kenya's informal settlements are using the power of film to share the fabric of their community with the world and to give voice to slum communities. 


What is KYC.TV ?

Know Your City TV puts the power of storytelling into the hands of urban poor youth. By equipping youth with video documentation skills and resources they are able to share stories of the lived experiences of the urban poor with the world by making media that contributes to the transformation of slums and cities.

Young people are at the forefront when it comes to technology. The expansion of smart phones across the Global South has made it much easier for urban poor youth to capture their surroundings and start conversations about the issues that need to be addressed when transforming slums and cities. The KYC.TV project is bridging the north-south tech divide by creating space for urban poor youth to share the stories of their communities with the world.

The KYC.TV process starts with workshops that provide basic gear, filming, and editing training to groups of youth from the slums. These skills are put to use in making short informational or music videos that allow the youth filmmakers to practice and perfect their skills. Through the filming courses, youth gain a set of skills and equipment that they can use to act as advocates for their communities, and improve their livelihood opportunities.

Photo: KYC.TV

Photo: KYC.TV

Bridging the Affordability Gap: The Nairobi Special Housing Fund

This post originally appeared on SDI's blog

14 June 2017

The Kenya Federation has the second oldest Urban Poor Fund in the network: Akiba Mashinani Trust. Based on its experience with community upgrading fund management, the federation and its partners in government have developed a detailed proposal for the establishment of a Special Housing Fund for Nairobi. The Special Housing Fund will establish a long-term source of affordable housing finance at the county level.

The Nairobi affiliate identified sources for financing the Special Housing Fund and recommended the use of subsidies and various incentives to help bridge the affordability gap for housing and services for the urban poor. Based on the analysis of profiling and enumeration data, the affiliate illuminated how funds currently circulating in the housing, services, and land markets of Nairobi’s informal settlements could be harnessed and leveraged to provide housing at scale for all citizens.

The Nairobi federation’s profiling and enumeration data made this case in a compelling way, by quantifying the poverty penalty faced by Nairobi’s slum dwellers. In Mukuru for instance:

  • Electricity: Households in Mukuru pay 45% – 142% more than the formal electricity tariff when connected to informal connections (called Sambaza).
  • Water: the penalty on water provision is especially high as residents can only access small amounts of very low quality water, at a cost that is 172 percent more per cubic metre than the water utility tariff.
  • Housing: a 10 by 10 foot shack, constructed using iron sheets, with inadequate ventilation costs more per sq meter than the equivalent space within Nairobi’s middle class housing.

Based on a conservative basket of services (electricity, water, toilet access, and rent) Mukuru’s annual economy is estimated at 7 billion Kenya shillings, much of which ends up in the hands of informal service providers. Beyond the monetary value, there is a far higher indirect cost associated to safety, security, time and even the indignity of accessing these services.

And while this poverty penalty presents a huge challenge, it also demonstrates the latent capacity of communities to make significant contributions for the upgrading of their housing and an ability to pay for better quality services.

Critically, much of the land in Mukuru is in the hands of owners of the slum shacks, often referred to as structure owners. Muungano’s research shows that up to 94 percent of Mukuru’s population are tenants to 6 percent of structure owners. There is also evidence that with a court injunction in place against the eviction of residents, some private landowners have resorted to entering informal agreements to transfer land ownership to structure owners in order to recoup the value of the lands.

By unlocking land value, rental incomes and the poverty penalty for water and energy suffered by the informal dwellers, the affiliate has shown how to finance informal settlement upgrading at scale.

SDI Kenya & Ghana Evictions Solidarity Exchange to Nigeria

This post originally appeared on SDI's blog

07 May 2017

An SDI delegation from Ghana and Kenya are in Nigeria this week to share 20+ years of experience negotiating successful eviction alternatives. The Nigerian SDI affiliate has been fighting ongoing violent forced evictions for nearly three years.


Yesterday was the Ghana & Kenya team’s first day in Lagos. They started the week with a solidarity visit to the Otodo Gbame evictees, accompanied by the Know Your City. TV documentation team.

On day 2 in Lagos workshops were held on methods to prevent evictions for Nigeria federation members, facilitated by Joseph Kimani of SDI Kenya.

On the last day, the teams from Kenya, Ghana & Nigeria shared years of experience and strategies preventing and developing alternatives to evictions that work for the urban poor.

18th East Africa hub meeting: Reconsidering community participation, performance, and building inclusive cities

By Shadrack Mbaka


The 18th East Africa hub meeting took place in Mwanza, Tanzania last week (21-24 September 2016), the hub coincided with an internal reflection of SDI’s theory of change, and the meeting provided a huge opportunity to enrich the discussions with regional inputs from the other affiliates. The Mwanza meeting follows the last one held in Kampala, Uganda in May earlier this year.

Proceedings from the first day of the hub meeting revolved around the spirit of cooperation between the federations through sharing knowledge, capacities and lessons for inclusive city development as well as partner with government institutions for mutual collaborations and scale up of community projects. This was broadly reiterated in the key note address by the Deputy Mayor of Mwanza Hon. Mohammed, who officially opened the 18th session of the East African hub. The meeting opened with a performance from the host country Tanzania to bring about the right mood into play.

Subsequent conversations on profiling and enumerations indicated an emerging trend by the three affiliates of going beyond counting slum communities to effectively using the information collected for action through precedent setting projects.

All affiliate narratives demonstrated growth towards making effective use of the data and maps generated through profiles, household surveys and spatial analysis of slums. The experience of the Ugandan affiliate in the city of Kampala is an example of how affiliates are using the information – translating the figures from the surveys to tangible results for the urban poor in Uganda.

Applying Theory of Change in Cities

Mara Forbes of the SDI secretariat, introducing the Theory of Change concept to the different affiliates

Mara Forbes of the SDI secretariat, introducing the Theory of Change concept to the different affiliates

The hub meetings, which have been employing the SDI Learning Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework as the basis for the reflections, which often is a tool for facilitating and deepening learning processes and instilling values in the community  processes. However, in this round of the hub, the affiliates dedicated time to conceptualize SDI’s theory of Change.

The concept of theory of change was introduced to the hub by Mara Forbes of the SDI Secretariat. The objectives of community-based programs and projects in the model of theory of change is to empower federations to carefully work with urban poor communities to naturally find units of solutions to their problems through practice, engagement and agenda setting thus creating an enabling environment for intervention at the city level.

However, for this to be achieved, necessitates a careful assessment of community structures and processes, in advance, of any intervention. It also requires an insider understanding of the community to identify and work with the solutions to address community and city challenges. This approach may include strengthening community through neighborhood organizations and network linkages, including informal social networks, ties between federations and the governments that serve them, and connections among community organizations to strengthen their ability to collaborate.

The recent review of theory of change highlighted that differences can be observed in the form of outcomes produced by different affiliates. For example, SDI’s learning, monitoring and evaluation tool identifies the federation activities—and the when—to be undertaken in any change process and their links to expected intermediate- and longer-term outcomes.

In three groups, federation members discussed some of the changes at the city scale influenced by federation rituals, engagements and activities. They also collected ideas on how to make the theory of change more successful and sustainable in the context of their cities.

It was appreciated by the hub members that the Internal evaluation of the three federations that the theory of change is invaluable for spelling out the LM&E sequenced activities and mechanics that provides little understanding of the how and why—the underlying process, dynamics and conditions under which community change takes place.

Country Initiatives and Insights

A biofill sanitation project in Mwanza

A biofill sanitation project in Mwanza

Prior to the field visit to one of the federation model of Biofill sanitation project in Mwanza, the hub meeting first tackled the remaining issues on its agenda. The latter included country report presentations, which largely highlighted the affiliate’s initiatives on mobilisation, moving from data collection to action and deepening of partnerships and growing collaborations with governments through precedent setting projects.

Affiliates narrated the range of efforts and initiatives that had been started in each country to strengthen relationships with government. All of the three affiliates have made considerable milestones towards institutionalizing engagements with their city and national governments. In most cases this was being realised through the signing of Memoranda of Understanding that not only target formalising relations but also provide a clear framework for meaningful co-operation around concrete pilot activities.

In Kenya, an MOU with the Kiambu County government has led to an agreement on the Kiandutu upgrading framework as well as co-production in providing a sanitation solution for the city. The federation has also made inroads with the city of Nairobi to prioritize the creation and legislation of a Nairobi Special Housing Fund to enable the poor access financing for upgrading.

In the case of Uganda, an MOU set the stage for strategic sharing of enumeration and profiling data with the Kampala Capital City Authority and through precedent project setting coined an approach to Community Contracting process with various municipalities to utilize community skills in urban development. Interestingly, progress was also being registered by the Tanzania federation in terms of developing strategic links with government. The affiliates stressed the need for support from the hub to guide these engagement processes.

Slum dwellers are faced with a paradox, however. By their very nature, they are drawn to be part of the city decision making process, owing to the informative data gathered on informal settlements However, the real story – the scale opportunity just waiting to be cracked – is in the partnership between the poor and their governments. Can slum dwellers and city authorities do it? In 2016, this is a very real focus.

Of course, the challenges are not insignificant. But increasingly, slum dwellers, governments, investors and developers are noting that the potential benefits outweigh the risks. And, as governments come to appreciate the potential that this interest offers, their efforts to streamline development processes through inclusive participation of the urban poor to grow through creating new opportunities that are beginning to change the face of African cities.

The session discussions conducted by the three affiliates making up the East African Hub proved to be very informative. The presentations highlighted how the different affiliates had seriously considered both internal and external challenges that could potentially threaten the Federation processes and projects.

Typical internal challenges shared by most affiliates included leadership and governance, broaden the capacity of the members through exchanges and capacity building. Strengthening accountability systems around governance, finances and projects was cited as one way for dealing with such problems.

Moving Forward

Day 3 of the hub meeting started with a discussion on upcoming exchange visits, and a reflection on the federations´ partnerships with governments. At the end of the hub meeting, the federation members were satisfied with the achievements and the learning outcomes of the meeting as well as the elaborate refinement of theory of change. The next regional hub meeting will take place in Kenya.

Slum dwellers' engagement in city planning: an approach worth taking


Members of five settlements in Kitui Town interact with data they collected during the Kitui Studio data collection process at the University of Nairobi.

Members of five settlements in Kitui Town interact with data they collected during the Kitui Studio data collection process at the University of Nairobi.

The 2nd August in Nairobi saw an achievement for slum dwellers from Kitui communities across 5 settlements in Kitui. The implementing partners held a workshop to mark the end of data collection and mapping in the two-year project funded by Cities Alliance. Over that time, we have seen remarkable changes in both levels of empowerment and living conditions of Kitui slum residents.

Between January-January 2016-17 the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), the University of Nairobi and Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI)-Kenya made a commitment to jointly hold a planning studio in Kitui towns, Kenya. This studio is incorporating five different informal settlements; Mjini, Mosquito, Kunda-Kindu, Majengo and Kalundu, and being coordinated by SDI-Kenya, Muungano wa Wanavijiji and the University of Nairobi.

A group of community members from 5 settlements in Kitui and two officials from the County government visited the University of Nairobi for a feedback session of the previously collected data in the settlements. In addition to the Kitui communities participated in the data collection and mapping as well as the data feedback workshop, the Nairobi workshop studio had officials from the Kitui County governments specifically from the department of physical planning in attendance; who have been working with the federation in Kitui in various water and sanitation projects.

Kitui town is in Kitui County as the administrative county headquarters and largest town in the County. According to the 2009 census report, the county has a population of 1,012,709 (2009 census) and an area of 24,385.1 km². The town has a population of 109,568 people, according to the Kenya 2009 Population and Housing census (most of who resided in peri-urban and rural form of settlements). The second largest urban centre in the county is Mwingi town, which has a population under 15,970 people. This clearly indicates the position of Kitui as a significant intermediate city, and the only major urban centre in a county.

The purpose of the workshop was to foster discussions around the ongoing studio in Kitui town by SDI-Kenya and Center for Urban Research and Innovations, University of Nairobi. The objectives of the meeting were: to share the data that had been collected in Kitui town, critique and discussions on way forward for the studio and for Kitui town. The students from the University of Nairobi conducted the presentation with support from the research assistants and technical officer from SDI-Kenya.

At the same time, Muungano wa Wanavijiji and SDI-Kenya worked to support the County government to engage with the settlement based processes so they could understand and trust the information being put forward. Women have frequently been at the forefront of these processes: a remarkable achievement in situations where women previously did not feel it was their place to talk about needs for themselves and their community publicly.

At the inception workshop, a slum-dweller from Mjini, Hellen Munyao put it simply by saying “today I came here to the University of Nairobi to speak in this gathering composed of professors, county officials and students” – for me this is a greater shift where society demanded that a woman rarely went outside her community never mind travelling to a large venue in the capital city and speaking about her experiences in front of senior officials.

The practices of participatory planning have now been entrenched in the regular business of county governments. The communities attending the workshop were highly motivated to set up slum and markets improvement committees, with elected leaders and a smooth hand-over process in place. The communities have experience of not only a one-off planning exercise, but of reviewing their plans on an annual basis, and presenting them to the county at the relevant point in the planning cycle so they can be considered in the annual budgeting cycle. The Kitui county government as well as other counties has put significant funds towards supporting community priorities.

Chris Vundi, an urban planner with Kitui County government intimated, “We are clear that planning is never enough. More is learned again when actions are jointly implemented. So in every case we worked jointly to introduce appropriate technologies for service delivery and to facilitate linkages to support communities in aspects of their plans that were beyond our scope”.

Kitui community workshop held at the University of Nairobi.

Kitui community workshop held at the University of Nairobi.

Where infrastructure was built such as public markets, bus terminus, pathways and drains, the communities ought to identify improvement priorities and take lead in the development of such infrastructure to ensure good quality workmanship.

The community appreciated the information from the presentation approving it as true. They therefore thought some things would be done to reduce challenges of water access and quality. Key challenges highlighted include vandalism and destruction of water infrastructure. However, water harvesting was considered as a strategy to addressing the perennial water shortages.

The community members observed that there is a challenge with sewer infrastructure in the county and the county officials acknowledged the nuisance of the high levels of pit latrine usage in these settlements. They therefore proposed connection of sewer in all households

Heaps of garbage was reported as a norm in all the settlements. A resident from Mjini suggested central collection points or bins within the settlements where everyone disposes their waste. Some responded that there may be no space for this but the suggestion was approved by the majority.

Community members from Kalundu raised the issue of the location of dumpsite besides river Kalundu. They were then asked what they thought should replace the dumpsite where they proposed: a recreation site, a school and dispensary which are lacking in the settlement. A resident from Mjini who was highly objected by those from Kalundu suggested that it remains a dumpsite but should be constructed and managed in a way waste doesn’t get into the river.

Waste management has been a common thread across all five settlements and the community has demonstrated exciting new innovations in waste treatment technologies such as the production of biogas, plug-flow designs, establishment of new and rehabilitation designated waste sites. By working regionally Muungano wa Wanavijiji has been able to share experiences across other counties, and between community peers at the national level. This has created opportunities for the more widespread uptake of the technologies in settlement upgrading.

The workshop itself included speakers from the Kitui communities, County government, the University of Nairobi, Centre for Urban Research and Innovation and SDI-Kenya. Jack Makua the Director, SDI-Kenya, praised the project for its effectiveness and reiterated the SDI’s readiness to keep supporting this kind of initiative in future.

At the end of the workshop, Dr Musyimi Mbathi from the University of Nairobi’s department of Urban and Regional planning summed up the three messages key messages from the day as:

  • The importance and power of participatory planning
  • That by bringing voices of slum dwellers together it is possible to leverage significant resources from a range of different stakeholders far beyond the funds available in the project itself
  • That urban issue remains complex, which emphasizes the importance of regional peer-learning to share experiences and encouragement widely.

Solution to the housing crisis affecting the poor in low income areas in Kenya

By Shadrack Mbaka

Building a commitment to improve the housing sector

A section of Mukuru kwa Njenga slum in Nairobi.
A section of Mukuru kwa Njenga slum in Nairobi.

Four million people who make about 60 per cent of the cities’ population live in the capital Nairobi’s overcrowded urban slums, and are on the brink of a massive housing crisis. Because they are already so poor and their living conditions already so bad.

Cases of rent increases are in the rise and becoming the new normal. The number of low-income units is dwindling with the market having shifted to focus on the middle class. And efforts to address this issue in the country have been met with little success, while the number of slum residents, particularly in the city continues to surge.

In the early 2000, Kenya witnessed the largest forced eviction crisis in informal settlements more so in the considered prime privately owned lands. The sobering reality is that this “tragedy” –may merely be a sign of what is to come. Several trends are likely to amplify rural-urban migration. Today, more than 30 percent of Kenya’s’ populations live in cities. From now on, most of Kenya’s population growth will be urban. According to a World Bank report, 'while the total population will double by 2045, the urban population will more than quadruple (see figure). By 2033 the country will reach a “spatial tipping point”, when half of Kenya will be residing in the urban areas'.

Source: World Bank

Source: World Bank

Stop-gap emergency responses are vital, but they do little to address root causes of inadequate housing

Since then, there have been numerous obstacles faced and countless challenges overcome by slum dwellers. But one of the main barriers remains to be housing. Kenya’s new constitution prepared the ground for substantial devolution of power to 47 counties, which provides opportunities for better accountability and local service delivery.

According to the World Bank, despite rapid urbanization, 42 out of the 47 Kenya’s new counties will be predominantly rural.  At the same time, there is a risk that Kenya’s medium-sized cities with 100,000 to 400,000 people, will not receive the autonomy and resources they need.  Kenya needs a separate urban tier to help manage rapid urbanization successfully.

A proposal made by the Slum Dwellers International -Kenyan Alliance to the Nairobi and Kiambu County governments respectively is on the establishment of a City Fund. This is just but one of the solutions to address the city’s housing crisis. This fund may be used to help developers finance new buildings that include units for low-income residents.

The Kenya SDI Alliance and partner contributions (Katiba Institute, University of Nairobi, Strathmore University) aims to engage and partner with local county governments to enhance participation in city development. The City Fund concept borrows vast models of community based savings as a tool of co-production between governments and their subjects, which bolsters inclusive and sustainable city wide growth. It suggests the need for an innovative co-finance instrument that fuels collaboration between urban poor communities, intermediary organisations and local governments to inspire informal settlement upgrading projects.

The Nairobi City County government may build the fund through taxes on real estate deals, annual budgetary allocations and grants from development partners; but the fund may also be built through voluntary contributions from poor communities through their daily savings, which then bears the collective ownership of the fund between the city authorities and their subjects. Of all the alliance’s suggestions, this one is the most direct: The way to build affordable housing in the major cities is to direct and inject more money for the building of affordable housing.

SDI recognises how much can be achieved through strong liberalized local democracies and organised urban poor groups. We acknowledge a form of governance where local governments work in partnerships with civil society that can be rooted in local needs and possibilities as well as being more accountable and transparent.

Many city governments have in place the County Integrated development plans (CIDP) - laws that moot affordable developments. In the national slum upgrading programmes for instance, The Kenya Slum-Upgrading Programme (KENSUP), more so in the Kibera upgrading sites that have historic designations, have led to a development of new housing units and basic infrastructure, continue to become unaffordable to the targeted communities living in Kibera slums.

Kibera Slum Upgrading Housing Units. Photo: nairaland.com

Kibera Slum Upgrading Housing Units. Photo: nairaland.com

The Kibera upgrading site became a national model for inclusion zoning and upgrading efforts, upgrading thousands of affordable units. But those units remain affordable for a couple of years. After that, prices climb out of reach for the poor. The City Fund model, suggests tightening existing laws to prevent so many exemptions, while extending the period that affordable unit must remain affordable.

Another issue: Security of tenure, the lack of it doesn’t help the very poor. The model suggests that for cities to ably sort out the housing issue, addressing insecurity of secure tenure, more so among communities squatting on either private or public lands which would allow poorer residents to be included in the cities’ vision. Therefore, the declarations of informal settlements as special planning areas, Is just but one of the avenues to implement successful slum upgrading projects.

For those of us in a position to act, it is high time to look beyond the headline-grabbing crises of today to the brewing crises of tomorrow. We need to tackle challenges before they become threats. Stop-gap emergency responses are vital, but they do little to address one key root cause of in affordable housing and the economic poverty penalty that the urban poor continue to face. Without economic resilience, poor and fragile communities are more vulnerable to health epidemics, environmental disasters, and civil strife. Everyone strives for a promise of life in dignity.

Open up space for Private sector participation and Investments

This conspicuous silence reveals a simple yet often overlooked truth: prosperity rests on increased value-added production that generates more and better jobs. And this will require harnessing the power of trade and investment to accelerate economic transformation.

To meet the aspirations of those yearning for a better life – and to avert the humanitarian catastrophes of future rural-urban migration and housing crises – we need to reboot the economic conditions for prosperity in the poorest and most fragile neighborhoods.

Jane Weru, considered to be affordable housing’s loudest voice in the civil society and policy reform agenda, is not easily dissuaded, however, and vows to press for a permanent source of funding. She asserts that housing affordability is at the heart of all of Kenya’s most important issues.

“It’s going to require some political goodwill to make enough affordable housing a reality,” said Weru. “It takes local state and non-state actors and city resources, banks, private money, and public money. What’s often lost in that conversation is the human beings; women, men and children who don’t have a place to live and call home.”

We must reignite the engines of growth by stimulating private sector participation particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, productive domestic and foreign investments, and international trade to come on board and address this crisis. What is needed is an urgent and comprehensive response to tackle the missing development opportunities that not only occasionally fuel social and political instability, but also drive the urban poor to be self-sustainable and to convert what is considered a burden into an asset.

Placing a slum’s identity in the hands of its slum dwellers! 

A section of Mukuru kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi.

A section of Mukuru kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi.

Communities and networks of the urban poor movement-Muungano wa Wanavijiji- have been collecting and collating data with the ultimate goal to build onto existing knowledge about their everyday lives in the slums.

Twenty years later, families in informal settlements in Nairobi and elsewhere in the country have come to internalise and appreciate the value of settlement profiling, enumeration and mapping. The city of Nairobi, capital of Kenya is one of the largest cities in Eastern Africa, with a population well over four million; unfortunately close to 60 per cent of this population reside in the informal settlements.

Joseph Kimani, a technical support officer with the federation’s support organisation SDI-Kenya recounts the urbanization spread in pre-independent Kenya, “With the hallmark of Kenya’s independence in 1963 and the abolition of colonial controls on migration to urban areas, the formerly segregated economic and political zone- Nairobi used to prefer ‘class rather than race’ with regards to city planning and service delivery. Rapid rural-urban migration was at its peak, fuelled by the industrial revolution which enhanced sustained pressure on existing available land.

With land being a factor of production continued to get scarce, and soon there was no more land to occupy and soon there was no official recognition or response to their existence in the city, the poor took to the occupation of ‘riparian reserves, undeveloped private and public lands, refilled quarries and garbage dumps, services reserves such as railway corridor zones, high voltage power lines and on road reserves’. In the early 1990s the urban poor especially those living in the city of Nairobi would come face to face with forced evictions. Land grabbers, beneficiaries of the corrupt patronage system by which ‘land was used to purchase political favours’ moved in to claim their ‘allocations’.”

Kelvin supporting a recent settlement profiling in Mukuru Kwa Reuben.

Kelvin supporting a recent settlement profiling in Mukuru Kwa Reuben.

Kevin Kinuthia gives a sneak preview of his life as a resident of Mukuru Kwa Reuben. “I was born in Mukuru Kwa Reuben slum, in a neighbourhood made up of factory workers, twenty six years ago. I was exactly twenty 23 years old, in 2013 when we helped stop a second attempt of an eminent eviction that changed the way Muungano wa Wanavijiji came to organise communities. The Cooperative Bank was in the process of selling a piece of land where we lived to offset a loan owed to them by a faceless developer. The bank recognised the strategic importance of the land, and started planning an auction of the land to recover its monies, not knowing the land was occupied by slum dwellers. Women and youth organised protests and wrote petitions, but initially we were failing on all fronts. We did not have any information about the settlement.

Luckily, other than picketing, Muungano wa Wanavijiji had moved to court to seek a court injunction for the courts to stop any demolitions of all informal settlements. The High court put a caveat on all looming evictions. Mukuru as currently situated lacks security of tenure and infrastructure, more so basic sanitation. A common bond was founded and we have come to realise that there is no need for another settlement to go through what we went through. We started thinking about ways to assist communities in similar situations, through building community awareness through advocacy in key Kenyan cities.”

Doris Moseti, a Women leader in Muungano wa Wananvijiji, explains the federation’s vantage point with regards to city wide settlement profiling:

“In 2013/2014 we started counting all the slums in six counties augmented in 17 towns. When we compared the numbers the state put forward in its 2009 census report, and that what we collected, we saw a large discrepancy: the state was always undercounting and downplaying the informal urban crisis.
We categorized the city by land ownership (private, state owned, county, etc) and identified the slums on those pockets of lands. For instance, as residents of Mukuru Kwa Reuben, first we needed to have the information before we start talking to the Nairobi County government. We have started organising communities around the data, and so begin creating settlement forums. For us, we have learnt that information and savings have real power in engaging with government.
The Know your city campaign aims to ensure that data collected by slum dwellers is suitable for urban planning.”
An overlayed cadastral map of villages in Mukuru Slums

An overlayed cadastral map of villages in Mukuru Slums

Occupying 500 acres within the heart of the industrial district, Mukuru is home to over 137,000 residents. Mukuru is one of the largest informal settlements in Kenya divided into two main areas by a rail line – Mukuru Kwa Ruben to the west and Mukuru Kwa Njenga to the east. Each of these settlements includes several smaller villages.   
The name ‘Mukuru’ literally means dumping site in Kiswahili. The neighborhood is the site of an old quarry where most of the stones used to build the surrounding factories were excavated. Parts of the area later became a dumping site for industrial as well as household waste. The history of this area can be traced back before independence when Ruben, a white settler and farmer used the area of Mukuru to keep livestock. Mukuru Kwa Ruben is named after this settler. Ruben employed a few Kenyan workers including Cucu Gatope, who built shelters on the land 1979 with her three daughters. The village Gatope within Mukuru kwa Ruben is named for this original settler. As the area grew, many individual villages were formed, each with their own particular history and name. Source: nairobistudio.blogspot.co.ke

Fast forward to post independent Kenya, Kilion Nyambuga, an urban planner with Muungano wa Wanavijiji, explains some of the practices in place that are aimed at addressing the challenge of security of tenure in the city, and proposing ways of pre-colonial planning practices that segregated the planning of informal settlements:

“The federation, an affiliate Slum Dwellers International (SDI) employs three simple SDI data-collection methods, that is: settlement profiles, household surveys, and mapping. These three processes are led and managed by the communities themselves after undergoing a mandatory technical data training, which on average takes two days, after cognitively identifying the settlement boundaries.
The value of the data they collect is well recognised and understood within the settlement. The Mukuru slums data collection is reflected in the numerous working partnerships with the Nairobi City County government and agreements with Muungano’s networks across other cities such as Kiambu, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru have formed with local governments, international bilateral agencies.”
The Mukuru Kwa Reuben profiling team, maps out structures and services in the settlement.

The Mukuru Kwa Reuben profiling team, maps out structures and services in the settlement.

Muungano wa Wanavijiji and its city/county networks use data collection to produce social and political information for themselves that aims to symbiotically link their communities together and build relations with their local county authorities and other government agencies. With daily savings and peer-learning exchanges, urban poor communities mobilise and organise to effect real change in their settlements and everyday social lives.

The data produced as is the case of Mukuru becomes the basis of building and sustaining social and political relations with the Nairobi City County government. The initiative runs under the auspices of the Access to Justice and Basic services in Informal settlements. The project has seen the leveraging of goodwill form city authorities, more so on the proposal to create city housing fund as a substantive way to improve the lives of thousands of slum dwellers in Kenya.

The access to justice and basic services in Nairobi informal settlements project was implemented by cluster partner organizations: Akiba Mashinani Trust (urban poor fund), Katiba Institute (legal) Strathmore Business School (finance and economics), Nairobi University (planning), University of California Berkeley, SDI-Kenya (community organizing and settlement profiling), and Muungano wa Wanavijiji (urban poor movement). Broadly, the project aimed to activate and engage the urban poor to work closely with city governments  in activities that will improve security of tenure for poor urban communities. The program is funded by the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC).

“The settlement based profiles are collected by means of household-surveys, structure and services tallying tools and community-led mapping. This data captures and realistically portrays the informal settlement dwellers everyday lives and living conditions and visually communicates the scale and extent of informality and service deprivation in the spaces they occupy in the city,” says Vane Cathy Kerubo a resident of Landimawe location in Mukuru Kayaba.

Kerubo is one of the federation’s data team members from Mukuru Kayaba who joined hands with their Mukuru Kwa Reuben to profile their settlement.

Kerubo goes on to shade more light as to what are some of the benefits of settlement profiles: 

“There are multiple benefits from community-led data collection. The three levels of data collection- settlement profiles, household level enumerations and mapping of structures and services serve to mobilise communities and is crucial for the people of Mukuru Kwa Reuben to know their settlement inside out, from the population, existing services and resources available in the settlement, to inform on planning. The data also serves as an advocacy tool and for opening doors to initiate dialogue with city authorities.”

The completion of the survey questionnaire used in profiling is key for community members, since it gives the residents an opportunity to actively debate the information gathered. Settlement stakeholders from settlement and community leaders, regular residents, community based organisations and interest groups like women’s groups and youth groups, are invited to attend the focused group discussions.

Upon completion of the profiling, the federation returns all data collected to the community at a follow-up meeting. The data returned include a digitised copy of the survey questionnaire, a copy of the boundary and services map produced, as well as a basic first report on the distribution of basic services and the development needs of the settlement as prioritised by the community.

During the follow-up meetings the community will have the opportunity to verify the data, reflect on it and begin the process of collective development planning based on their information. With a now-concrete understanding of the location and extent of land and access to basic services, the community as a collective may engage in informed planning for their settlement.

The profiles build a sense of settlement ownership as communities identify with their borders, enhance advocacy for change and lastly begin to inform community planning strategies for housing and infrastructural development.

GIS maps of the boundary and services maps of these settlements on the other hand support Muungano’s city settlement profiles. The profiling tools – survey, tallying and mapping forms – remain closely connected to the settlement maps that do not allow any margin of error but enhance accuracy.