By Irene Karanja – Executive Director, Muungano Support Trust

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

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


(Night caption a slum in Nairobi)

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

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

Minolta DSC
Minolta DSC

(A cargo train passing though Kibera)

In order for government -upgrading programs to successfully run in Kenya, many things have to change in major affiliated agencies in government. This task will not be a comfortable or easy. In Mukuru belt of slums for example, the land ownership patterns are a maze of confusion. Land is owned by layers of owners who may or may-not be known to residents. In major slums in Kenya, thousands of families have lived on the same parcels of land for more than 40 years.

New generations, up-to the third generation, have been born on these parcels of land. For upgrading programs to take place, security of tenure for these Kenyans must be resolved sooner rather than latter. The poor must be freed from the insecurity of the tenure situation.

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

Mukuru Pipeline neighbourhoods
Mukuru Pipeline neighbourhoods

(A portion of Mukuru slum – Muungano wa Wanavijiji mapping work)

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

A group of slum upgrading experts comprising of the Community, sociologists, lawyers, engineers, Surveyors, architects and community organisers, sat with the local authorities and the Kenya Railways Corporation to design a solution for resettlement. The resettlement project has been approved by government and the financeer (Worldbank). It will await implementation starting this year.

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