The plight of slum dwellers should not be politicized

By Nyasani Mbaka

According to international statistics provided by UN-HABITAT, close to 3.3 billion people live in urban areas, and by 2030 this figure is expected to add up  to almost 5 billion people. The steady growth of urbanization could trigger celebrations and ululation across the world, as cities are centers of economic excellence and cultural creativity. But when we take time to look at the bigger picture, fact remains that 1 billion people worldwide live in urban slums.

This not withstanding slum dwellers have limited access to water, sanitation, and housing and secure tenure.

Slum dwellers for a long time have been considered  a constituency of potential voters that can easily tilt the balance in an elections outcome. Politicians gathered at the burial ceremony of the Mukuru Sinai fire victims, at Uhuru Park on Wednesday 21, September 2011. They joined ‘fellow’ Slum dwellers in bidding farewell to the more than 100 people who perished in the inferno.

Politics took center stage and what caught my attention is the blatant and careless statements made by our politicians. Kenya Pipeline Company had earlier on made statements that they will NOT take responsibility for the fire that claimed 119  lives. Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi, took to the podium and contradicted the Pipeline Company demanding that slum dwellers affected by the Mukuru Sinai fire must be compensated. When the Vice president Kalonzo Musyoka rose to speak, he complained that the Ksh. 60,000 offered as burial assistance to the affected families by government is too little. This then begs the question who then is Government?

The Prime Minister, Raila Odinga assured slum dwellers that the government is exploring ways of developing modern low cost houses for the urban poor. But what we are not being told are the exact plans in the pipeline for the urban poor.

Kenya Pipeline, Kenya Airports Authority, Kenya Railways and Kenya Power have already issued slum dwellers with eviction notices asking those living on their land reserves to vacate with immediate effect or face evictions. What these government agencies are trying to do is to appear that they are averting future disasters, but the real question is where will the slum dwellers occupying these lands go to after the evictions?

Kenya’s slums are growing at an unprecedented rate. For instance in the year 2005, the Nairobi metropolitan region was inhabited by an estimated 6.76 million people. More than 70 percent of them live in slums under appalling conditions without  shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation.

The Kenyan government and local authorities are faced with the serious challenge of guiding the physical growth of urban areas and providing adequate services for the growing urban population. If the gap between the supply and demand for urban services, such as water supply, sanitation and housing, continues to grow, the social consequences of urbanization could be serious.

The goal of improving slums, tags along with the inseparable task of reducing poverty. This can only be achieved through a common vision. We have to be against poverty, not the poor. We are against slums, not slum dwellers. Slums and poverty would not exist if there were genuine commitment and political will to combat them. And this common vision can only be realized through genuine partnerships.This genuine partnerships will involve Government, Local Municipal Councils, urban planning experts, slum dwellers federation and other support NGOs involved in slum upgrading initiatives.

These efforts should go a long  way in improving the lives of  slum dwellers in the country and gear towards meeting the set target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals that are to be achieved by the year 2020. But this is just the beginning, lets all unite for a better future.

( Views expressed in this article are entirely those of the writer)