Being the change slums would love to see

By Shadrack Mbaka and Ben Osumba

NAIROBI - Devolution is one of the most momentous and far-reaching reforms in Kenya’s post independence history and it is one of the blueprints of the new constitution. At the heart of this transformation is the transfer of power to the county governments in aim of enhancing social equity, service delivery and citizen engagement. Although this is a great and impressive start from the outset, building a culture of accountability into the fabric of the new devolved county governments, will require early and sustained effort.

Devolution 3

Devolution 3

Revenue Allocation Structure

Revenue Allocation Structure

The Constitution mandates that a minimum of 15 percent of national revenue is to be transferred unconditionally to counties, but this would not be enough to finance the full set of devolved functions. There may be other fiscal stress to the counties and the central governments may have to oversee other functions especially in regions where the revenue is meagre.

Slum dwellers are aware of the very many injustices they have been facing for the last 49 years. In less than two months (March 4th 2013), Kenyans will be headed into the General elections with the aim of leveling the political arena with the aim of electing leaders that would spur socio- economic growth of the respective regions under the devolved governments. Gauging the mood of the Kenyan people, especially slum dwellers and squatters have been granted the opportunity to elect leaders who will handle the perennial problem of land Inadequacy and poor housing infrastructure bedeviling the nation.

Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Federation of Kenyan Slum Dwellers) feels obliged to share with you their concerns in the hope that they will enlighten, inform and enhance the developmental agenda of our beloved nation Kenya.

Real Situation

Major towns in Kenya at the moment are facing perennial housing crisis that for the past couple of decade has witnessed widespread economic, political and social implications, majority of the people affected by the venom of greed, forceful evictions and lack of adequate policies to address issues of land and housing, the most affected of all being slum dwellers.



There are approx 2.5 million slum dwellers in about 200 settlements in Nairobi representing 60% of the Nairobi population, occupying just 6% of the land.

Kenya ratified the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, where the state is entitled to provide housing for the urban poor, who are forced to live in deplorable conditions, this as a result of lack of land tenure.

Standing: Pauline Manguru

Standing: Pauline Manguru

Pauline Manguru, a resident of Kambi Moto and a member of Muungano wa Wanavijiji says, “Constant threat of eviction traps slum dwellers into slum a cycle of poverty-traps of the urban poor. Without a formidable strategy by the government to guarantee security of tenure, an innocent slum dweller has no initiative to improve or invest in permanent housing.”

Most residents in the informal settlements faceoff with dehumanizing poverty, thus so often giving rise to challenges such as  illicit brews, prostitution, hunger, drug abuse and trafficking, theft, domestic violence and insecurity.

In his response to this Jason Waweru, a resident of Mathare and a candidate for one of the political seats in Mathare,

Jason Waweru, Kosovo

Jason Waweru, Kosovo

Kosovo Village in Nairobi says, “Basic human urban infrastructural services are almost non-existent in most informal settlements. Lack of electricity and potable water must be purchased from vendors at prices up to 10 times higher than the rate charged by the local authorities. Collection of garbage is no longer done by the Local Authorities and thus garbage lies permanently in unsanitary heaps often blocking drainage systems, leading to environmental degradation and higher incidences of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. Corruption is rampant in the informal sector and hence a contributing factor to the cycle of poverty.”

Water Shortage in Slums

Water Shortage in Slums

Infrastructure is a key element in poverty alleviation. It is often a catalyst to development and enhances the impact of interventions to improve the poor’s access to other assets. Housing is a key issue and the dilapidation of housing for instance in Mukuru slums is wanting and needs recognition in the ongoing policy formulation by various tasks force on Land and Housing sectors.

Ben Osumba, the federations national Chairperson, in his appeal to the ongoing policy formulation process and the gazetted task forces to develop land and housing policies, said;  “We must commit ourselves to the development of efficient, sophisticated, realistic infrastructure policies. On matters of water and sanitation it is believed that close to 2.6 billion People in the world today are without adequate sanitation. Some of the worst affected populations are the slum dwellers of Kenya and we must voice out our advocacy if we really want to change the situation for better clean and safer cities.”

The cities’ majorities living in the slums have been somehow excluded from opportunities that the middle class enjoy and have been marginalized either, physically, politically and economically; slum dwellers are particularly vulnerable to crime and violence. They face an acute risk of becoming victims or offenders and live in a state of constant insecurity. It is our sincere hope that with the county devolution in Kenya, more cities would incorporate coherent components to prevent crime and mitigate violence in their urban development agendas.

Doris Moseti a resident of Mukuru Kwa Reuben and a mobiliser for women for Sanitation in the settlement says, “Tragedies and disasters such as fire outbreaks and illicit brews have infiltrated settlements and are claiming more lives. Many of our politicians have made it a habit to tour the slums during campaign season and using the slum dwellers as voting machines by making false promises as incentives. It is the pretense of the highest order when we see politicians or top government officials appearing in slums with the media simply for PR purposes. We must demand for pragmatic, accountable and scalable change.”

Merging the Top and the Bottom

The perspectives of actors working at the bottom of urban politics, such as community organizations, professional NGOs, legal organizations sustainability too often turns into small projects that appear sustainable, but that do not make major impact due to lack of adequate scale up strategies, large scales of financial flows, planning institutions and political processes( legislation). Without an articulation of precisely this sort of impact a broad theory of change to achieve sustainable urbanization in Kenya we do not therefore  expect to witness sustainable cities emerge from the urbanization process that is at the moment well underway. This therefore means that thebottom needs to be prepared to find new modes of working with large “formal” actors, especially the state.

From the “top”, the sustainability agenda demands the inverse of such a critical perspective. National and local governments in Kenya have struggled to build in the adaptive responsiveness required to deal with rapid change in populations, built environment and economies. Professor. Peter Ngau, an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Nairobi, Department of Urban and Regional Planning offers his views, “Those that are learning to develop and invest in partnerships with community-based groups and organisations, especially those that constitute themselves at the city-wide level are well able to deliver on the projects they engage in because they are community driven and success rates are almost 95 %. This is not the simple decentralized model of private-public partnerships, but an approach to partnership that leverages the strategic strength of the grassroots to strengthen public institutions in their ability to perceive and adapt to the rapid changes of urbanisation.”

Prof. Peter Ngau

Prof. Peter Ngau

This means investing in the capacities of communities, just as much as it means investing in the projects and programs that are geared towards achieving the physical outputs of inclusionary development such as basic services, land, housing, employment.

This also means investing in community organisations, and the networking of these organizations especially at the city-wide scale in order to build the political processes at the city and national level that can achieve such physical outcomes.


It is with no much ado that comprehensive legislative and constitutional reforms in the area of land rights must are already in place to solve the problem. Therefore it is important that the government should create the conditions that would allow the achievement of land and housing rights. The Draft National Land Policy is a good step in the right direction if at all it can get legal cover.

We ask those running for elective offices upon being elected to enforce proper legislation that would ensure land tenure of the residents of the slums are well catered for. The land and housing policies would then create a chain of positive investments which will improve the Kenyan economy and the lives of the slum residents, with no economic costs, only benefits for the government and the whole country.

To accomplish this, the Government must:

  • Draw up a proper Urban Development Plan together with all the major stakeholders.

  • Halt all processes that violate international and other legal obligations regarding human rights to adequate housing. Zero evictions!!

  • Hasten the slum upgrading project and free it from the politics of expediency.

  • Immediately cease all allocations of public land until a proper policy and legal framework can be put into place.

  • Pass the National Land Policy into law.

  • Provide security of tenure so that the residents themselves will create new avenues for investments and improvement of housing by converting these areas into community land trusts.

  • Recognize the official existence and tenure rights of those residents currently living in the informal settlements.

  • Work to create and implement policies and new plans to help slum dwellers work their way out of poverty.

The affected communities must:

  • Work together with the incoming Governor, local and city governments and city planners in order to identify, study, map and develop a new vision of these areas giving availability of services, affordability, habitability and other convenient facilities for the full benefit of that community.