Nairobi slum residents to build homes without govt help


An excavator demolishes a building near Moi Airbase, Eastleigh in Nairobi. High Court judge Justice Mohammed Warsame issued an injunction stopping further demolitions of the houses November 24, 2011. WILLIAM OERI  


As hundreds of slum residents know all too well, nothing is safe or certain when the threat of government eviction looms.

Last month, machines rolled into Eastleigh to demolish a handful of long-standing apartment buildings deemed to be too close to the Moi Air Base. “They gave us no time. I couldn’t save anything,” said George Mwangi, who’d lived in his Eastleigh apartment building for 12 years before it was demolished.

The government’s recent crackdowns on dwellings have left thousands without homes in Nairobi.

But in the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums near Mombasa Road, a powerful collective will is fighting the problem one shilling at a time.

Mukuru Kwa Njenga is home to an estimated 75,000 people, and was formed in 1958 when farm labourers lived there on land then owned by white settlers.

Eventually it drew in thousands of urban poor who established makeshift homes, and today covers 80 acres of government-owned land allocated on long-term leases to private owners.

Land tenure is non-existent for tenants here, but they have a plan.

Over the past four years, a collective of Mukuru residents that has now grown to over 2,000 people have used personal savings to raise Sh60 million.

Their plan is to take over a plot of land adjacent to the slums and build permanent, affordable housing — housing the government can’t demolish.

“Most of the slums in Kenya have the same characteristics: Insecurity, people always in danger of their houses razed by the government or fire, being mugged or robbed or killed.

“They all live in danger of their daughters and wives being raped, and also their sons or daughters may be influenced by negative elements and become criminals themselves,” said Benson Osumba, national Chairman of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a slum advocacy group.

Muungano wa Wanavijiji was formed in 1996 as a loose collective of Kenyan slum dwellers who fought for security, land tenure and service rights. Today it has grown to represent tens of thousands of slum residents from Mombasa to Kisumu.

Its showpiece project is located on a muddy stretch of land next to the slums. This 23-acre plot, dubbed the Greenfield Project, sits next to an abandoned quarry and doesn’t look like much more than a field of mud and garbage.

But Mr Osumba said his organisation has worked with the Mukuru collective so successfully that Mukuru residents now have enough money to buy the plot from a private owner.

No one expected the power of daily savings to have such an effect,” he said.

Since 2007, members of the collective have received help from the Rockerfeller Foundation and NGO Akiba Mashinani Trust, working in partnership with Muungano wa Wanavijiji.

Mukuru residents contributed tiny amounts of money — as little as one or two shillings — each day for four years. Membership in the collective snowballed over time, with the group growing from nine members in 2007 to 2,200 today.

“The government officials were not happy at first. We were even arrested by the police. They did not want us to populate the area, but we didn’t stop,” said Robert Mironga, chairman of the Greenfield Project.

As its savings grew, the Mukuru collective negotiated the land price from Sh110 million to Sh81 million, and approached various banks to secure financing.

Now they have Sh60 million in capital, a land title, and a mortgage through Eco Bank, to make their dream of safe, secure housing a reality.

“Securing land tenure is the most important thing. Right now no one has documents to prove they have the right to live here. But the land you see here belongs to us. We bought it legally,” said Martin Mutie, a Mukuru resident and member of the collective.

The group plans to begin construction on a number of two-storey apartment buildings, which will eventually contain 3,000 units, early next year. Tenants will pay Sh10 per day towards their mortgage, with each home owner contributing Sh45, 000 in total.

If everything goes as planned, thousands of Mukuru residents will have permanent, legal homes within the next five years.

“Everyone is so excited to see the project become a reality. We want to show other slum residents that it is possible to pull themselves up and find their own security,” said Mr Mutie.