By Shadrack Mbaka
Slums may be a testament to the failure of Kenya’s political and policy elite to come to terms with the material realities of urbanization, especially its infrastructure, service and human well-being imperatives. There is little acknowledgement that a weak economic base, rapid population growth over last 40 years, collapse or rural economy, high levels of income inequality and a lack of affordable stocks of quality land and housing creates a fertile substrate for slum proliferation.
But slums are also the hallmark of incredible social response by the poor to catastrophic political, policy, and market failure. For the poor, nothing is expected from the state. Nothing is anticipated from the formal private market. In slums, poor urban residents club together in various assemblages, leveraging social capital and ingenuity to stretch their meager incomes.
Places like Kibera are not fetid ghettos of discontent. They are a furnace of white heat of resolve and indomitable entrepreneurship. The narrow and squalid street corners of slums are a complex interchange of retail and services – one-chair barbershops and three-bench bars interspersed with racks of used clothes and stalls of groceries. For hundreds of thousands of families, life in the slums is an opportunity to partake of the humblest yet most grace-filled benediction; an opportunity, through hard work, to join the ranks of the urban working class or to start a business.
Kenya's capital city Nairobi has some of the most dense, unsanitary and insecure slums in the world. Almost half of the city's population lives in over 180 slums and squatter settlements within the city, with little or inadequate access to safe water and sanitation.
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. Kibera houses almost 1 Million of these people. Kibera is the biggest slum in Africa and one of the biggest in the world.
The average size of shack in this area is 12ft x 12ft built with mud/iron sheets/timber walls, screened with concrete, a corrugated tin roof, dirt or concrete floor. The cost is about Ksh 700 per Month (£6). These shacks often house up to 8 or more, many sleeping on the floor.
Too many Kenyans lack access to decent housing. Every Kenyan has the fundamental right to a warm, safe, secure home with access to clean running water, sanitation and electricity, and this is true as well for those who currently live in a remote villages and urban slums.
The Jubilee Coalition, on whose mandate Uhuru Kenyatta, ran for office aims to guarantee all Kenyans a decent home by 2020 by introducing a range of measures to upgrade the slums around Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and other urban areas, and to supply affordable loans to low income Kenyans to enable them to build their own homes and to facilitate the new counties to provide new low-cost housing for rent.
On March 4, Kenya held its first presidential and parliamentary elections since 2007. Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was declared the winner five days later with 50.07% of the vote. Outgoing Prime Minister and main rival Ralia Odinga, who was awarded 43.31% of votes cast, has vowed to challenge the election result in court.
Kenyatta is expected to take office on March 26. While he did not address any specific policies towards slum upgrading in either of Kenya's presidential debates, his manifesto (p. 61) reveals some of his administration's likely attitudes towards the issue.
So far, Kenyatta has promised to:
- "Pursue a policy of waivers and graduated stamp duty fees for first-time home owners, with special consideration for youth, women and persons with disability."
- "Devolve responsibility for housing construction to the new counties."
- "Require the counties to formulate 5-yearly Housing Plan proposals that ensure new homes are built in their area with an audit follow up. These will be funded by grants from the local CIF and National Housing Corporation."
- "Continue with the proposed slum clearance programs, replacing them with decent housing."
- "Provide micro-financing loans for new home construction to low-income Kenyans."
- "Encourage the establishment of local housing co-ops and savings unions to give all Kenyans better access to credit."
- "Pursue a policy of lowering mortgage rates following similar successful models in other emerging economies."
Of particular interest to slum dwellers is Kenyatta's interest in housing co-ops, micro-finance loans, and savings unions, as well as his commitment to carrying out slum evictions.