Forced Evictions in informal Settlements not the way to go

By Nyasani Mbaka

In the last couple of months, Nairobi informal settlements residents have come face to face with threats to their short and long term social and economic stability, this instability has been as a result of numerous threats of demolition and eviction from government and other private developers. At the moment, there are eviction notices from several government parastatals, which intend to undertake large-scale demolition of structures that purportedly present a risk to the occupants of railway line operational corridors and households living near or under electric power lines and way leaves or are in the way of planned bypass roads.

eviction 1
eviction 1

Residents of Kyang’ombe and Masai Village located along Mombasa road are facing eviction threats from The Kenya Airports Authority for having constructed their shelters on a fly path. Elsewhere residents of Mitumba slums are facing eviction for having encroached on land belonging to Wilson airport. The unfortunate of them all is the Mukuru belt eviction threats. This includes Mukuru Sinai, Mukuru Kwa Njenga and Mukuru Kayiaba. Thousands of slum dwellers are at the verge of losing what they call ‘home’ to possible evictions by government.

eviction 2
eviction 2

Stakeholders need to dialogue with Slum dwellers

The Kenya Railways had issued an eviction notice to slum dwellers living along the 30 metre railway stretch in 2003.In the spirit of dialogue and understanding the slum dwellers under the banner of Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, engaged the Railway company in an intense and fruitful discussions, this saw the two parties come up with the Railway Relocation Action Plan (RAP). This Action plan would see relocation of thousands of urban poor families living along the Mukuru- Kibera line relocated in a humane and peaceful manner. Such a pact can be replicated with the Kenya Power and Kenya Pipline Company who have issued eviction notices to those living under power lines and pipeline reserves (buffer zones) respectively in Mukuru slums.

According to data provided by the Muungano Wa Wanavijiji through its enumeration processes, there exists over 170 informal settlements in Nairobi that are home to over three million people. Residents of Nairobi's informal settlements constitute 58% of the city's total population and unfortunately they are crowded on 5% of the total land area in the city.

These statistics are shocking yet factual, basically these facts are majorly anchored on historical roots. Over time the State has failed to provide its citizens with low-cost housing. Many urban poor residents in the informal settlements of Nairobi have encroached on unoccupied land, belonging either to government or private undeveloped areas, including that set aside for road reserves, railway lines, forests and public utilities, where they have put up semi-permanent structures.

eviction 3
eviction 3

Most of these government agencies over the past few months have chequered the eviction threats as being advanced by the fact that it is dangerous for people to live near the railway lines and power lines. That position is indisputable. However, the current situation in the informal settlements is very complex because of its historical context. Any solution for the current problem must consider the origins of the informal settlements.

For years now, probably since post independence era, most structure owners in Nairobi slum settlements and other affected areas have paid a "fee" to the local administration including chiefs, village elders and the local police in exchange for the much sorted  "official permission" to occupy the spaces where they  currently occupy.

These “regular” allocations by the local administration are normal business in the informal settlements. According to a paper authored by Campaign Against Forced Evictions quoted that in February 19th 2004, Kenya Railways was issuing receipts for 'rent' paid by people occupying plots located on the railway line operational corridors. People have been increasingly occupying space near the rail line and under power lines for decades and they have occupied these places with the full knowledge and sanction of the Government. We are talking about four consecutive generations, in case of an eviction what will the second generation tell the fourth generation where their home really is?

Urban planning experts have expressed sentiments that it is time slums are done away with. That, I totally agree, for slum dwellers are entitled to better housing. Lets unite to fight slums not slum dwellers.

UN Habitat had offered to support slum upgrading in Nairobi slums. After an initial agreement with the former regime, the then Executive Director of UN Habitat entered into an official memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Roads, Public Works and Housing in January, 2003. The agreement was widely publicized and hailed as a positive step forward in improving the informal settlements.

With the combined efforts and agreement between Government and UN Habitat was specifically orchestrated to improve housing and infrastructure in Soweto village, Kibera. Since the signing of that agreement, however, the project has been marred by confusion caused by lack of proper and sufficient information and consultation. An apparent lack of coordinated thinking by Government, has frustrated initial good and worthy intentions that are now marred with plans of forced evictions by different government parastatals in the very area that was to be regenerated and adequately redeveloped.

These large-scale demolitions are being undertaken with little consideration of their disastrous effect on the residents. The internal displacement that will invariably accompany the forced evictions will lead to increased violence, insecurity, loss of livelihoods, community structures and consequently greater poverty levels for hundreds of thousands of people living in informal settlements such as Mukuru, Mitumba, Kibera, Korogocho, Lunga Lunga and Sinai.

The un orthodox ways and means of forced evictions of this magnitude are unprecedented in Kenya. To render millions of the urban poor, homeless and helpless in a matter of a few days is an unlawful slum eradication campaign. We should neither forget that their rights are well scribed in the newly promulgated constitution.  Furthermore, forced evictions of this nature are in breach of well-established international norms and laws which obligate the Government to provide the affected communities with:

(1) Adequate and reasonable notice,

(2) Genuine consultation and discussions,

(3) Information on the proposed evictions and

(4) Adequate alternative housing or resettlement.

There have been numerous announcements, meetings, press releases, press statements and counter press statements over the last one month indicating that different government ministries will undertake demolitions and evictions in designated slum areas within the Nairobi Metropolis.

These demolitions essentially pertain to structures located in three main areas:

(a) Within 60 feet of either side of the rail line,

(b) Under power lines and pipeline reserves

(c) The area earmarked for the new road bypasses.

These intended demolitions have caused unnecessary fear, panic and confusion among the affected communities. This is because many people were not given official notice or the actual parameters and dates for the evictions. In Mukuru, for instance, the Provincial Administration who are to effect the evictions have no maps, leave alone comprehensive information to identify which structures are earmarked. As a result, no one knows with certainty if and when they are likely to be evicted. This lack of information has created a vacuum that has been filled by rumour mills, speculation and exploitation.

In 2004 the Catholic Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana 'a Nzeki was quoted to have led an emotional prayer session for slum dwellers  and was keen to ask God to grant the government grace to fight slums and not slum dwellers. A well stated fact.

In the same year the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Miloon Kothari was in Kenya on the invitation of the Government. He was evaluating to what extent the right to adequate housing is being realized in the country. During his visit, Mr. Miloon visited a number of informal settlements and was apprised of the ongoing evictions that were taking place. He pointed out in his Preliminary Report that these evictions were done in flagrant violation of international laws to which Kenya is a signatory.

Citing General Comment 7 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, he specifically stated that: I am concerned that the Government is not following an adequate procedure keeping in mind the human rights of those affected by these evictions, thereby impacting on many innocent families and individuals.

Consequences of Forced Evictions

Based on the above facts, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji would like to stress the shocking ills that are unfolding right under our eyes. This Campaign acknowledges that the basic idea of slum renewal is a good one.

However, lack of coordinated thinking and respect for the rule of law and the dignity of the affected parties is alarming. To that effect, we must protest and point out the aspects that show just how dangerous the acts of the Government can be. Of immediate concern is that the planned evictions will render tens of thousands of people homeless. The effect of these evictions will essentially create refugee communities of internally displaced slum dwellers. Rents in various settlements have so far doubled and even tripled in some areas since news of the evictions. As a result, the evictions will force many thousands of people to migrate to other smaller slums or to create new slum areas, thus never fighting slums.

In addition to the short-term threat of violence and chaos, the long-term negative implications for the economic and social development of the slum settlements are very serious. The affected areas are not only dwelling places. They also have a large number of kiosks, dukas and open-air markets.

Ms Jane Weru says that if the eviction is allowed to go ahead, the lives of the residents would be grossly affected. “This forcible relocation would destroy the local economy, as the area is home to 23 institutions, among them, health centres, churches and schools,”

Thousands of people will lose their businesses and sources of income. The unavoidable result will be greater impoverishment and hardship to families who are already struggling to survive. Moreover, the involuntary displacement that will accompany these evictions is not limited to the physical dislocation of families, houses, businesses, schools and churches.

It also involves significant dismantling of the neighbourhoods, families, culture and the local community in the affected areas.

Possible Solutions

We respectfully urge the Government of Kenya to carry out the following acts:

Immediately suspend plans for any and all forced evictions in the informal settlements.

Disseminate information and carry out in-depth consultations with all affected communities to find a feasible alternative to the forced evictions.

If there are no alternatives, ensure that international standards related to forced evictions are followed including but not limited to the following:

Adequate and reasonable notice to all affected parties

Information on the proposed evictions

Consultation with the affected parties

Adequate alternative housing or resettlement and Provide immediate assistance to those people who have already been evicted.

Develop a comprehensive policy on evictions that is consistent with local and international human rights law.

The Provincial Administration should not implement any order for eviction. Instead, a coordinated and disinterested body should be made responsible for orderly and peaceful evictions.

Appoint an inter-ministerial consultative group to coordinate any and all plans related to evictions and demolitions that will take place in the informal settlements.