Rectifying Extreme Perceptions-1Oth East African Hub Meeting

By Shadrack Mbaka (Muungano Support Trust)

Reflections from the 10th Slum Dwellers East African Hub, Held in Mombasa, Kenya

In November(17th -21st ) 2013 marked the 10th East African Regional Hub, which under one roof brought together SDI-affiliated urban poor federations from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The member states met in Mombasa, Kenya. The meeting, often held on quarterly intervals annually, gives an opportunity to able affiliates to report on the federation status progress and challenges faced in the purview of various processes. With the end in mind, community representations in the ‘hub’ after sharing experiences and probable strategies, federations begin to brainstorm on possible strategies and action plans, bearing in mind regional dynamics.

Key matters deliberated upon included Community led profiling and planning for sustainable urban development, harnessing regional partnerships for improved infrastructure development of informal settlements, leadership and governance and the role played by slum dwellers in city planning and development. As well and simply defined within the Slum Dwellers International global networks, hub conventions offers the urban poor a platform to think collectively about challenges which they all face and propose actions at a regional level. “This scale of engagement enables strategic cross-pollination of knowledge and planning to address challenges that cut across geographical boundaries.”

Most ‘draconian’ government policies, especially on secure tenure and affordable housing over the past 50 years in Kenya and many other developing countries have been to ignore slums. Worst case scenarios have been the wrong expression of “cities without slums”, this has seen rampant evictions of the urban poor.

Repeatedly slum dwellers have been meditated upon by governments and international conventions; unfortunately this has been precariously based on exclusion in city urban planning processes. Governments pay millions of dollars to urban development consultants who go ahead to develop 3D impressions of how cities would look like in the next 20-30 years.  In the face of all this exclusion, the urban poor are left with no option, but to design and plan their own future within the very spot they are bound to face evictions.

The 10th East African Hub meeting resolved that the voice poor need to have a say in the development of their cities. This is not actually mere talk, but the urban poor are actionising these sentiments through the development of community development projects in the scope of sanitation, housing, service and infrastructure delivery. Through partnership the Ugandan federation through the community led Municipal Development Forums; communities have reached out to Municipal Councils and are working together in developing joint projects in sanitation and infrastructure in cities such as Jinja and Kampala.

These widespread exclusions need to be transformed into policies and plans so as to improve the plight of the more than 2 million slum dwellers in Kenya. The federation through its lead Advocacy teams is engaging government and the supreme law making organ, parliament on the need to reach a truce that would see urban poor communities make a difference. The constitution also calls for the development new legislation to govern the distribution, planning and management of land. Among these are a community land bill and a land registration bill, the national land commission bill. These changes necessitated focus on lobbying by the Kenyan Alliance in 2012/13. In the course of 2012 two of these bills were drafted and presented to national parliament. The Kenyan Alliance, with support of a number of civil society organizations including the Katiba Institute, and Kituo Cha Sheria actively lobbied the Parliamentary Committee on Land and Natural Resources.

The Kenyan SDI Affiliate is closely working with University of Nairobi’s Department of Urban Planning, Strathmore Law School and Katiba Institute, with support from the office of Nairobi Governor. The four institutions have partnered to develop a comprehensive Nairobi City wide inventory supported by GIS Mapping, more so targeting to capture and document the existing scenarios on security of tenure and basic services and infrastructure within the settlements. This research process is on course and seeks to inform government on the need to provide basic infrastructure to the settlements as well as influence policy on community land and Eviction and Resettlement guidelines. The research is ongoing in Mukuru belt of slums as a pilot.

In Tanzania, the federation has ensured that enumeration and mapping plays a crucial role in slum upgrading. The information gathered has provided a basis for planning slum upgrading; all projects implemented in Tanzania are by- products of the data gathered through enumeration. Another key aspect of enumeration is information for negotiation with the Government. Two city wide settlement profiles which have been done. The plans are underway to update the Dar es salaam citywide profile where the settlement mapping using GPS and other technology will be applied. In collaboration with Ardhi University, the federation has done two studio works. The Government support is not at the level of what the Federation wants to see, the establishment of quarterly meetings with Municipality is a good sign which the Federation has to keep pushing to see the Government understand, agree and work closely with the Federation in upgrading informal settlements.

With the support of Slum dwellers International members of the East African Hub (a Forum of slum dwellers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) have continued to build its relationships with planning schools since 2008. These partnerships have been inspired by the challenges slum dwellers from these countries have faced in actually achieving upgrading success when collaborating with poor peoples’ associations. After much experience working with technical officers, initially planning schools did not sufficiently build the capacities of their students to deal with the realities of slum settlements and informality, and therefore when the government hired these planners, it was unable to cope with such areas.

Since the formalization of these partnerships with members of the academia in 2008, planners have begun to understand many issues that underpin informality. One significant lesson learned was that the current planning standards do not necessarily enable slum settlements to be planned given the realities on the ground, making it impossible to upgrade. For example, the planning codes only allow roads to be built in certain stipulated sizes. However, in order for accessibility in a slum settlement to be provided, the stipulated sizes of the roads may consume too much unnecessary space, and subsequently displace many more poor people.

The process of transforming the curriculum of planning will take a long time. However, belief rife in all city changers is that the consistent relationships and joint planning experiences with the universities will soon begin to redefine the discourse.

The partnerships have also gained interest from other universities on the continent. The University of Nairobi (KEN), Makerere University (UG), Ardhi University (TZ) and the University of Cape town (SA) are members of the African Association of Planning Schools (AAPS) which includes all planning schools in Africa. Recently, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Association to work with the slum dwellers in settlement planning.

Slum dwellers are excluded from many of the attributes of urban life that are critical to full citizenship but that remain a monopoly of a privileged minority. A bundle of essential components for adequate urban living includes both quantifiable and unquantifiable factors, including social, economic and political voice.

Recognizing Slum dwellers as facilitators of development

Informal settlements may be an eye sore to many government agencies endowed with the responsibility of making slum free cities. However, what remains unknown to most office bearers is that the urban poor living in these settlements have a myriad of solutions to the dynamic problems that they face on a daily basis. In shifting the “technical mind” to an “In-formal” mind definitely aggregates the need to formalize political relations between government and the urban poor. Most governments hold dear the article to right to community participation, the issue of tag of war on matters development exists no more, governments and urban development stakeholders must agree to work with communities to upgrade slums and negotiate planning decisions and the use of public resources with those whom these decisions affect.

A catalytic approach to such an arrangement can only be realized if East African governments as well as global governments acknowledge organizations of the urban poor, wherever they exist and work with their strategies. Such social change movements are principle crusaders for the needs of the urban poor. Proposals that lead to best tailor made solutions are best solidified in agreements between, national/county governments, local municipalities, duty bearers and slum dwellers.

Community-led projects in modern day slum environments draws on a variety of strategies and processes. Of fundamental to the growth and sustainability to community incubated projects are savings and loaning schemes, innovative programs that are purely based on their strategic plans, city wide profiling and mappings in order to assess their situations, the construction of model housing, and exchange learning visits with other federations. Even in the poorest countries the poor save. The value of savings among the poor is, in fact immense. In his book, The mystery of capital, Hernando De Soto argues that the poor save to the tune of forty times all the foreign aid received throughout the world since 1945.

A Muungano aided housing project in Kiandutu under the SELAVIP house project in Nakuru
A Muungano aided housing project in Kiandutu under the SELAVIP house project in Nakuru

City-Wide Profiling

City wide profiles and GPS configured maps help communities evaluate their situations, which in turn supports then to set right their priorities, strengthen their organizations, and create the capacity to articulate their knowledge to government agencies and other organizations.

Muungano wa Wanavijiji crew trains Kididima settlement in Kilifi on Settlement Profiling
Muungano wa Wanavijiji crew trains Kididima settlement in Kilifi on Settlement Profiling
One of the hub delegates tries her hand on GPS remote mapping
One of the hub delegates tries her hand on GPS remote mapping
Hub delegates practically undertake the settlement profiling exercise in Kididima settlement in Kilifi
Hub delegates practically undertake the settlement profiling exercise in Kididima settlement in Kilifi

“The generation, packaging of such an information data base cannot be found in any government information vault. Organisations of the urban poor with the capacity to collect such impressive data are no longer gray areas to most governments. It is such data that can unlock the urban development puzzle, especially where informal settlements are concerned. Having these data allows community organizations and their federations to go into negotiations with government well prepared with detailed facts and figures”, said Anni Beukes (SDI)

Anni(SDI) responds by demonstration  to questions from the hub meeting
Anni(SDI) responds by demonstration to questions from the hub meeting

The standard procedure of community led settlement profile roll out is simple and straight forward which makes it easy for communities to interpret and administer without the risk of overlooking any settlement information. Edwin Simiyu of SDI, Kenya explains, “Information gathering process for slum enumeration and settlement profiles often begin with a household count. Questionnaires and other survey methodologies are discussed with community members and modified as necessary. All data collected are fed back to community organizations to be checked and, where necessary, modified. The repeated interaction with a community through structure counts, household and community resource surveys, and establishing settlement boundaries which also calculates the total acreage of informal settlements land is established. Settlement profiles establishes rapport and creates a knowledge base that the community owns and controls”.

Official Document recognizing Felistas as a bonafide resident of Marigoine settlement
Official Document recognizing Felistas as a bonafide resident of Marigoine settlement

Meet Felistas Ndunge Muia, a resident of Marigoine Slums in Nairobi, Kenya. “I come from Marigoine settlement in Nairobi’s South B Estate. The land on which Marigoine settlement is located belonged to a certain cooperative society, which has been an absentee land owner. Various evictions strategies including arson were used to evict us, but the resolve not to bulge was intensified by the urban poor living in Marigoine. However, through Muungano wa wanavijiji tools of enumerations and profiling, we got organized and conducted enumerations, whose report was shared with government that made a directive that communities living in Marigoine slum should not be evicted on the account that the settlement should be upgraded.Engagement with the land owner based on the data, has enabled us get organized and purchase the land for regularization and upgrading. The settlement is now waiting upgrading under the Kenyan Informal Settlement Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP). Above all this tool has not supported the community to adjudicate and advocate for land tenure but also for basic services such as sanitation, water, education facilities among others, this tool has be stalled upon communities “public engagement confidence” to attain and demand services”-Felistas Ndunge, federation member and community trainer on settlement profiling and mapping

Actions for prosperity

It is indeed interesting how organized organisations of the urban poor are wired to operate. “Set a precedent and regret later”, which in most cases ignites a positive change.  Actions by federations are setting precedents and changing standards. Precedent setting begins with the assumption that the strategies of the poor are probably the most effective starting point for meaningful improvement. Community organizations within each federation are supported to try out pilot projects and then refine and develop them within the learning cycle of inter federation learning processes.

Bothered by Criticisms?

Communities have continuously been accused for taking over the roles of national/county governments and Municipal authorities. The principle agenda of the federations is to show that partnerships between government and urban poor federations do really work. This strategy does release the foot of the federation from the gas pedal, as far as the bottom-up engagement is concerned.

Community processes and projects in terms outreach and spread has not been expansive, federations have been criticized the unit costs invested by the federations are generally far lower than those of government. Federations in the East African block have demonstrated breakthrough after breakthrough in going to scale. Where they have had more limited impacts, this is related mostly to lack of support from external sources such as government.

Supporting community-driven processes initiated and managed by slum dwellers in every slum allows the urban poor to be an effective developmental force at the level of counties and cities, as well as nationally and globally. The combination of community-driven processes at the neighborhood level and linked community organizations at the city level has demonstrated a capacity to promote changes within government systems that address the most difficult structural issues, such as tenure and infrastructure to urban poor organizations, changes in official norms and standards, and changes in the ways that government work with the poor.

Detail report of the hub can be downloaded @