Joseph Muturi

Joseph Muturi

My names are Joseph Muturi. I'm national leader with Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, I also sit on Slum/Shack Dwellers International which is a global network of poor people federations – I'm in the management committee. I'm also a coordinator for SDI in East and West Africa.

What were things like, back when Muungano emerged?

Nationally, those were very hard time for Kenyans – especially for people living in informal settlements, for poor people. We were under a one party rule, it was sort of a dictatorship, and it was difficult times. And the state at that time didn't like people to be organized. The state, though the provincial administrations – that is from the PCs [provincial commissioners], the DOs [district officers], the DCs [district commissioners], to the chiefs – were very ruthless in dealing with people who they thought were anti-government. In the same time, a lot of forced evictions, a lot of demolitions were happening in the late 1990’s. Those times it was very difficult for Kenyans, not only for slum dwellers. 

How did you first get involved in Muungano?

I first got involved in Muungano in 1996, and it was by chance. I was fresh out of school. My mother was working in Toi market, situated in one of the biggest informal settlements in Nairobi. I used to hang around when I was free from school and at that time I was doing my community organizer diploma. So, what happened in 1996 was there was an eviction in Toi market. And it was not only an eviction – it was a forced demolition. Where the market was situated there was a lot of land grabbing, and I think the people who were allocated to the market were very important influential people – the political elite, I remember one of the names that came up was the former President's son – so they wanted to take the land. So there was a forced eviction, a lot of demolitions, and that’s why I got involved in this work. So when people met, I became part of that team – I was one of the few people who could write well, so I got myself involved at that time. That's when I got to know Muungano, from – I can say he has been my friend, teacher, mentor – Ezekiel Rema.

So that’s when we started moving around, looking for solutions, looking for people who can support us, looking for anybody who could offer any kind of assistance. But the good thing that happened that time, after the evictions: we went back again after two days and reconstructed our stalls.

In terms of the movement, I was mainly involved in the Toi market fight, I was not involved at the national level, in terms of organizing the movement. So for me, my main fight and my main struggle started in Toi market. But one of my leaders, Ezekiel, was more involved in the larger mobilization of Muungano. For me, my first encounter with the national work was the year 2000, but that is after as Toi market we had won the struggle to be in the market. What happened [at Toi] at that time: we were taken to court. So we lost the case, but what happened: we had hired two 25-seater matatus, and people were waiting for us in the market, for news – so we just turned the story, and we went back to the market saying that we won. But we had actually lost the case. Meanwhile, there was an adjacent market which was constructed to host the Toi market traders, so that these people could be comfortable getting their land. So when the chief was still allocating [the new market], we went back to [Toi] market – singing, dancing – and we reconstructed the [Toi] stalls, and we have been there ever since. Toi market has been there ever since. So those were the early days – we just ignored [them], we couldn't prove we had a right because they just said this is private property; it was very clear this is private land. 

After the Toi market victory is when I got fully involved. And I remember, it was the same time that Pamoja Trust came about, with Jane Weru as the director. (I first met Jane in 1998: she was the director of Kituo Cha Sheria and she was the one who was handling the Toi market case.) It was around 2000, that's when I got involved in the larger Muungano. Savings were introduced to us by Indians and South Africa, and that's when we started [savings] – I started in Toi market. At that time I was fully a trader within Toi market, and I remember, before then, there was a lot of ethnic divisions within the market. And we started the savings as a way of bringing everybody together, and as a way of the market having one voice – because even at the time, the threat of eviction still existed, there were people who owned titles to these parcels of land. So Ezekiel and I, what we started doing is to bring people together. In the same time, we did the market elections, and luckily enough I was elected as the treasurer of the market. And so we started moving around, Ezekiel took me to around to all these offices – Kituo Cha Sheria; we went to Operation Firimbi, that is Mazingira Institute. We knew that we had not won the war: it was just a small victory, a small battle that we won. We started working on the rights to secure the tenure of the market forever and ever.

So we started the saving scheme, and we started with nine people, and Pamoja Trust was supporting us at that time. We started collecting savings, and within six months we had raised a capital of 100,000 Kenyan shillings, and we started our own internal lending. Two or three years after we started the saving scheme – in terms of access to credit – the market was self-sufficient. In the entire market we had a membership of around 1,300 members, and we had an operating capital – in savings alone – of around 15 million Kenyan shillings which was circulating within the market. Part of the success [was that] we had managed to lock out all the formal microfinance institutions, and in fact some of them were requesting we work with them. And in fact we were looking at how to start lending to other groups within Muungano. Although, at the same time we had different teams which were following up on advocacy issues. They were still following up on the land issues, on secure land tenure – and I was part of that team. And my first data collection, we did it in Dagoretti – my first enumeration. At that time I had become fully involved in the federation. I remember we also mobilized Nakuru: I was part of the team that started savings in Nakuru; I was part of the team that started savings in Nyeri; I was part of the team that started savings and organizing in Timau. I remember I was also part of the team that started savings in Kisumu. So that's when I got fully involved in daily savings.

And the good thing: Toi market became a learning centre for all federations – in terms of how we do daily savings, how you give out loans, how you collect savings. And it was basically to bring people together: our main goal at the market at that time was just to have one common voice. We had a common problem – that is tenure – but then again, [by] addressing the tenure issues, and bringing cohesion within the market, we addressed the issue of credit, the issue of security, the issue of organizing youth and women around income-generating projects.

Learning from Toi market

In Toi, what we did when we started our savings: some of the things we looked at, we wanted something that can bring [together] everybody in the market. We had very rich businessmen in the market, where people who had their stalls were operating a capital of over a million shillings. But then we have that old lady who is daily selling vegetables, selling onions. So we wanted something that can bring these people together. So what was the least amount? So we pegged our daily savings at 10 shillings. At that time 10 shillings was just a cup of tea. I remember, I started as the only collector. I used to collect: I started with nine [savers]; nine people became 20; 20 became 30; it became 50; it became 100. Then I trained two more people; then I trained three more. By 2007, I think we had 15 collectors, then we divided the market into clusters.

So the difference between us and the other – let's say residential, non-market – areas is that for us it's easier to collect. In the slums, people leave for work in the morning, some come late in the evening; that's the difference and the challenge of daily savings. So over time, we have come to realise daily savings work very well in a market; but in these other areas they do weekly collections, some of them do monthly collections. But it's a way of just bringing people together – it was not only to collect money or resources, it was also a way of collecting information, passing information, and collecting people.

Every week, from 2002, we used to have visitors to coming to us – just to learn about the systems. Every week. At that time the group mobilization within Muungano was happening rapidly, and it was spreading – and the first point for them to come and learn savings was Toi market. Even within the entire SDI network: we had people from South Africa, we had people from Malawi, we had people from Uganda, Tanzania… all these people were just coming to learn how to do daily savings, daily collections. And for us, I don't think it was more important – the savings bit. For us it was a forum for people with a common problem to sit and share the experiences. 

I remember, Jack and I went to Vancouver, Canada, in 2005, and in one of the sessions I just talked about the market, what we do, how we organize. And there was a lady from the UNDP. So we started talking … And it was a very high level delegation, the former Secretary of State for the US Madeline Albright, there was De Soto – he is an economist – there was this lady, she was the Prime Minister of Ireland, Mary Robinson. So they came, and part of it was a study – and they did a book and I think I'm mentioned in the book – they were looking at access to tenure, access to credit, access to markets. So they took Toi market as a case study, and that's when we hosted Madeline Albright in the market. 

We had attracted a lot of banks: we had all the banks pitching-tent in the market. If I can show you pictures of Toi market before was started the saving and after: what used to happen is that when the microfinance institutions started working, giving people access to loans, the conditions were very tough. They give you 40,000 KSH, [to re]pay within six months. A lot of people were actually closing up – you could find a lot of stalls empty, because they were defaulters basically. So what happened at that time is that we looked to what the micro institutions were offering, and we said, what are these challenges? Number one, you are given a lot of money that you don't know what to do with. Your operating capital is KSH 10,000, but you are given KSH 50,000; you are given five months to pay, so every week they are expecting you to pay more than 5000 shillings, which you can't afford to pay. The other thing: in terms of savings, there's a fixed amount, and what we realised is that poor people don't work very well with a fixed figure. So we wanted something flexible in terms of repayment. And we realised: telling someone to pay KSH 1,000 every month, it's going to pose a challenge for him to give a thousand – so what do we do, how do we make it flexible? And we sat down in the market and we said, what can people afford? ‘In a day I can pay KSH 20’ – and that's how we started, we started at a very basic level, and we graduated. By 2007 we had people taking loans up to 150,000 shillings.

And people now started moving: withdrawing their savings from the microfinance institutions and bringing their savings to the saving scheme. We had a system that worked, we had a team that collected, we had a team that approved loans, we had a system where they banked. In fact, we had started to work with – our account was [with] Cooperative Bank: we had started discussions with them on, instead of just withdrawing money, [to] give us cheques, so instead of giving people liquid cash, because of security we give them cheques. After one year of the savings operating, the market was full, the market was very robust. And it was also a way of marketing the market.

How Toi was affected by Kenya’s 2007–2008 post-election violence

It was one of my lowest, lowest [times]. Because we had managed to build this very solid, cohesive thing. You know, it was something: this a place you can go, people from different ethnic communities can sit, they have a common agenda, they have common problems, and they have common solutions. I was part of creating – it’s like a small child: you raise it, you see it grow, you see it run. You know, within a market you can find all communities within the republic. So it was in a way a small republic. At that time, ethnicity was not there. You could not feel it, you could not sense it. And come 2007, you couldn’t you couldn’t sense that these things were there. I have never figured out: was that an illusion? How can people just turn, overnight, and something that you have taken so long to work on you destroy it within two or three days? So that what happened. It’s not even the businesses, it’s not the amount of money – it’s the social capital. It was the social fabric that we had woven, for me that was the big thing. It is the cohesion. I don’t care I also lost a lot of money in the market – people lost thousands – I don’t take it. But the social capital we had invested for almost eight years was gone – poof! – within a matter of weeks. And it’s not something that you are hearing of, something that is far away, this is something happening live, it's happening to people you know. So for me, I think that was one of my lowest moments. Even when the fire started when the elections were announced we were still in the market – so they were saying ‘Muturi, you can come, but the rest now the Kikuyus who are unwanted at that time can go and Kibaki can give them’ (Kibaki was the then the President.) 'We don't have a problem with you, but we have problems with the others’. But what kind of problem? What happened at that time, we tried. We went everywhere, we were trying, Ezekiel and I were trying. But the external forces now within Kibera, there was so much pressure it became even now a matter of life and death. We were just worried about our own personal safety. So my people now, the Kikuyu, we are going now with Ezekiel towards this, they are looking at me as a sell-out, Ezekiel the same. We couldn’t even walk together. And I remember there was a lot of pressure from the ODM youths. There was also pressure from the Nubian community, they were saying, 'We want to claim Toi market was part of our land’. 

So we even met some people had offered to pay off the gangs, but – stupid enough – they were paid lots of money, then another group would come in. So we tried, we went to everywhere, we tried to solve. But even Ezekiel was under a lot of pressure. Even when the market was burnt, when it was rebuilt it was a free-for-all, people came from all over Kibera. And that time, they used to say the population of Kibera was half a million. So it was a struggle, it was a scramble for Toi market, for people to get stalls. Even the market people had to align themselves with a certain group so that they can reclaim their stalls back.

After things had cooled down a little bit, the market was reconstructed by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I had a list of 800 people who were displaced. And the problem at that time was also, all these Kikuyus were evicted from the market and even from their houses within Kibera. It was that bad, so some of them used to sleep [there]. 

So I was moving from my home one day, and I found people at Adams Arcade, the Shell petrol station – there were over 500 people behind the Shell petrol station, it was a very nice field. I said let's go see what is happening. When I went there, it’s when I realised, these 500 people were actually waiting for me to tell them what to do. I said ooh shit. It’s when it hits you: I was 33 at that time, and these are people who are older than you, who have got more money than you, these are people you can call mother, father – and these are people sitting waiting for you to provide a solution. 

We sat down where now the Woodley market is. So we are still looking at where do we go. Because there was no way of going back, because all the stalls had been taken, so what do we do? And I think something just clicked. Woodley market was an open field, it was a park. I realised, this can be a market. So we went to the ward manager and asked him, ‘can we just do temporary trade here when we are trying to look for solutions?' The ward manager took me to the division manager; the division manager took me to City Hall; we saw the Director of Markets, we saw the Chief Revenue Officer. And I remember at that time I had a lot of money left from the campaign – I used to be on the payroll of a few people so I had a lot of money – so everywhere I went I gave them something, and they agreed. So [the agreement] said every week we shall be paying 50 shilling, just put on the floor, you don’t put structures. So the next thing I went, I bought chalk, I bought a tape, and we allocated stalls to the 800 traders. 

Then, what I realised is that a market is not a market without food. People come to the market because of [food], and the wholesalers were still taking things to the Toi market. So we sat down with a group of young men – these young men have a reputation, so you don’t cross them – and I used to give them a 1000 shillings for food. What they used to do at Adams Arcade: they could wait for the lorries, the pickups which are bringing fruits vegetables from upcountry, the wholesales, and they would deviate them and tell them, ‘This is the new market’. And that’s what happened. And within no time – within a month – the market was operational, the market was running. Then that’s when the clothes, all these other businesses started coming in. So that was part of it, it’s a long story. So the next thing: I went to the Equity Bank in Kawangware, and we showed them how we do it within Muungano – these are our books. And they like the idea, and without any security they gave us a credit line of 18 million shillings. All the traders got a loan without any capital, I negotiated everybody got 30,000 KSH. And the system worked very well, where we told them you don’t have to bring your officers, we are the ones who are going to do the appraisals, we are doing the collections for you – in fact not the actual physical collections, we will be collecting receipts – if there is a problem and somebody has not paid you, just call us. And within one year, we had managed to repay the entire 18 million shillings. And now all the traders could access individual loans from Equity.

The issue of tenure was still [there]. You know we were told to be there temporarily, but it has been temporary since 2008. We still continued working on the issue the tenure. First, it was for the council to recognize this is a market. So number one was to give us a market code. We managed to get a market code. So when we were paying the market fee – which we each used to pay 50 shillings – they were giving us receipts written ‘hawkers’. We said we are not hawkers, this is a market, so we want our own receipts – so they brought us new receipts written ‘Woodley market’. 

What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years?

Talking about what Muungano managed: I think up to today it’s not just the things you can see and touch – the houses the toilets, the loans. For me, Muungano is about just bringing people with a common problem together; sitting and finding solutions to their problems. Muungano is a forum where people get exposed and change their attitude from waiting. We have been independent for the last 50 years and people are all waiting for all these things that they were promised. So Muungano is a forum for changing people’s attitude of crying out to the government, of waiting for handouts, of waiting for somebody to come out and bring solutions. It’s a forum of people sitting, finding solutions. Muungano is changing attitudes, and realising that nobody will do this for me – I have to do this myself. Muungano is a space where we have to recognize: for us to achieve this we have to work together; for us to achieve this we have to put our resources together; for us to achieve this we have to knock in the right places. It’s being more proactive in terms of setting our developmental agenda – fighting for our rights, fighting for justice, fighting for secure tenure, for services. It’s just a forum. 

Our clarion call used to be ‘land and shelter’. But then we realised, we have been talking of land and shelter for a very long time; there are other immediate issues within the settlement. Housing seems like a very long-term dream, but what do we do? People are still queuing just for basic services. One time, somebody asked me, ‘for a common Muungano member – for a common slum dweller – what are just these things that he aspires for?’ And I said just three: shelter; food and water; and a place to shit. Just three basic [things]. So when you are addressing the bigger issue of water, what are these immediate [needs]? People are still using flying toilets. People are still queuing 20 minutes every morning for things we take for granted. So for me, it's just, how do we start working first of all, bringing people together to talk about issues, what are the immediate problems – is it toilet, is it water, is it food? And to forget about the bigger things. There is issues of changing government policies, and I think Muungano has participated a lot in changing – we didn’t have a housing policy, now we have a national housing policy, we have a national land policy. And I think we have been part of pushing for that.

Muungano's influence on the Uganda SDI federation

I got involved in building the Ugandan federation in the year 2000. I was part of the second team that went to Uganda. It’s been a struggle, I think we struggled for over eight years. And for me the biggest struggle was a change of attitude. Uganda is very patriotic – it’s government is a big thing and government provides everything. And people hold government in very high regard, there's nothing you can do without the government officials. And for us to change the attitude that, actually, you don’t ‘need’ government – there are things that you struggle for and you'll bring in government. So I remember, the first time, I think I went to Uganda in 2002. And part of my challenge, the Ugandan federation was mobilized around projects – it was not mobilized around a struggle. And I usually say there’s a difference between the Kenyan federation and these other federations of these other countries. And why do I say that? The Kenyan federation was mobilized around an issue, and that issue was evictions and forced demolitions. So the activism and the struggle came from pain, it came from suffering. As opposed to these others which are, you organize, you save, you'll get a house, save, you'll get a toilet. So that's something that I usually see in these other federations, that people just federate around projects. It’s not a struggle. So Kenya has been very instrumental in building the Uganda and the Tanzania federations. I used to travel every two weeks by bus to Kampala and just to meet the leaders. If you compare the struggle of Kenya, our fight used to be with the provincial administration, the chiefs, the village elders, so we had to organize outside that structure. And for us we took that same thing to Uganda, to separate the administrative structure and the saving structure. We wanted them to be separate and to give women a bigger role.

Muungano's 2012–13 Jubilee Campaign in Mukuru

Something also I forget which has been very personal – I term it as a success – in 2012 when we were doing the Mukuru Jubilee campaign. We were looking at a situation where the entire Mukuru, 500 acres, already we have 20 evictions notices. The whole Mukuru Jubilee campaign, the story of Leviticus, says: after every 49, on the 50th year it will be the year of jubilee; if you have slaves you set them free; if you have somebody's property, you are supposed to forgive them. So the whole campaign was inspired by that Leviticus – the year of the jubilee. So for us, the message was: in the 50th year of this nation – and the 50th year was 2013 – how do we set our slums free? So we started mobilising, organizing.

At that time we had received 20 evictions notices within Mukuru. It was imminent – even people had started moving in. So how do we get these people angry enough not to move? How do we get people angry enough to start fighting these evictions? So first thing we did was to organize. Then we got all the documentation, there was a legal team Katiba Institute which went to court, we got an order – a conservatory order that says everything stays as it is. In the meantime we were just creating awareness: we were having meetings every day with religious leaders, with schools, with churches, so we were able to groundswell to a point where if you were to call for a demonstration, people came out.

What we did then, in 2012, I usually say it's the reason Mukuru is there today – if we could have just kept quiet and left it at that, Mukuru now will be gone, all of it. We also did a research on who owns Mukuru. We have disrupted auctions. There was a school which was sold within Mukuru – we have disrupted auctions, we have stormed into offices of these land grabbers. Even when we were serving them court papers to appear, we used to mobilize even 500 people just to present [the papers]. I think that’s a success for Muungano, but it’s something that doesn’t come out. But Mukuru is there because of what we did in 2012, 2013.

Women’s leadership in Muungano

For women leadership, I think it’s been a challenge. Even in Kenya it’s male dominated – it’s not [just] a struggle for Muungano, it's also a struggle nationally. If you look at all the 47 governors, there’s no single women governor. If you look at their representation in parliament, their representation at the county assemblies – it’s a national struggle. When we were working at Pamoja, at that time, the issue of women leadership it was being forced. For us, it was something that we wanted – for the women leadership to come out. For me to be where I am, I came out. I stood to be counted. But, looking at where we are now and where we were 5 years ago, there's been an improvement and that improvement has been sort of slowly-by-slowly, opening up space, and forcing more women into meetings, and creating activities that they take charge. We started the women sanitation campaign: strategically, it was to empower women: this is your space, do your thing, come out. A lot of women leaders we are seeing [now] emerged from part of the sanitation campaign. And what we are realising is that the power that comes with organized women. But they are also still struggling.

I don’t want it to be very cosmetic, we just put women in leadership for sake of it. I don’t want to do because that’s what we are supposed to do. No. And I've been telling them, you don’t just come wave a your skirt and the next thing you are a leader – all this you are seeing, the Dorices, the Nancys, the Anastacias, they have earned it. They have come through the runs, they have earned it, you know. There are some issues that you are not given on a silver platter. And it is to fight for their space within.

How have things changed over the years? 

There have been tremendous changes, both good and bad. I think Muungano has contributed a lot to the changes. In fact, if you look, we have managed to reduce evictions and forced demolitions to zero levels. 

I think there’s been recognition that the informal settlements exist, whereas initially they were ‘not existing’. And through our mapping, our profiles, I think we have also given Muungano – not Muungano, slum dwellers – we have equipped them with the right information that they need.

I think we have also managed … for people living in informal settlements to be more aware of their rights as far as tenure is concerned, as far as services is concerned. And generally, through other partners, I think there has been a heightened awareness in terms of rights.

In terms of city-level planning and national-level planning, there’s a recognition that there’s this constituency of people. And also we have managed to put Muungano at the negotiating table: it has become able to position itself as a player in urban issues in regards to land, services, general poverty issues, health, sanitation. Muungano has become a major player at the national level and at the city level – [and] even at the settlement level. By the number of invitations we get, as Muungano, to national conferences where they are discussing house issues, land issues – even international conferences – I think there’s a recognition that Muungano is a player in this sector, Muungano has the knowledge in the sector. And part of that, for us to be taken seriously, is the kind of information that we possess in terms of mapping – the profiles. I think Muungano's database is even richer than the national [one] in terms of the information we hold on informal settlements. If you look at the Mombasa case – which is as early as last year [2015] – Muungano worked with the county government to develop the maps that the county government didn’t have. So, in a way, we have managed that.

What has brought that credibility, what has brought that recognition, is the kind of information we possess. It’s also the daily savings: in Kenya, if you have more money you tend to be taken more seriously than if you come empty handed, and I think that’s another thing. 

The other thing is that the network that we have built – working with academia, working with professionals, working with recognized international institutions like UN Habitat – it has brought that credibility to Muungano and for Muungano to be taken seriously.

What have been Muungano’s biggest challenges over the years?

There have been challenges, of course, within Muungano and outside; some are internal factors. It was Muungano which was created first – Muungano as a movement, that’s what came first – and at that time people realised, for this movement to thrive and grow there needed to be an organ that supports the movement, and that is the professional organ – hence the creation of Pamoja Trust. But initially it was the professionals who were always setting the agenda and telling the slum dwellers what to do, where to go, what to say. Even in meetings: before we go to a meeting Jack would give us the 411, ‘this is what you are supposed to say’.

And that has shifted over time, so that even without the support of the professional staff, Muungano can [now] go to the county offices, can go to the national offices, they can sit with ministers, they can sit with governors, they can sit with county officials and national officials. I think that has been positive. But, on the other hand, there has also been a struggle within Muungano: Muungano feeling it has grown, it has come of age, and it can be able to set its own agenda. And there are things that they can do very well: we can go to a settlement, we can mobilize, we can organize, we can collect information, we can negotiate with structure owners, we can negotiate with city and national officials – that we can do very well. But then the other things [where] we know we have limitations in terms of the professional capacity – that’s when now the professionals come. And I think part of struggle has been both ways: Muungano fighting for its space and the professionals still wanting to hold onto control.

It’s like when you have a baby: this baby can walk, it can do its own, then you realise there’s no role for you. So part of the power struggle that has existed in the last, let’s say 5 or 6 years, is the professionals still wanting to be in control and Muungano saying, ‘no, now we have grown, there are things we can do together’. The other thing is that I think Kenya is an example within the SDI network: there has been that recognition over the last one or two years [that] Muungano can make its own decisions, Muungano can prioritize in terms of what they want or do, where they want to do it, and how much they want to spend on that particular activity. So that’s something's that recognized internationally, which other countries are struggling with. 

Also, within Muungano itself now, in terms of transitioning from the leadership, it’s been a struggle. First of all we stayed over 10 years without having a national structure, because always when we planned to do that, there will be a lot of push and pull, and people angling for positions and jostling for positions. And eventually we had our structure in 2008, and we had a very strong, very powerful chairman. Unfortunately he passed away. And then during transition, where Muungano decided, ‘no, we can do our own thing’ then, again, Pamoja wanting to hold on, to still control.

There are still people, even today within Muungano, people who still want to be told what to do by the professionals. So part of that has been getting Muungano from the mind set of ‘the NGO is the decision maker, is the one who's going to tell me what to do’ – and then there’s this other group of people who are saying, ‘we can do things for ourselves’. So, when we did our elections in 2008 – and during the transition of Muungano moving away from Pamoja – there are still people who held on to Pamoja. So that also brought a split.

But the split was at the national level; if you go at the settlement level, people from the same community they are doing things together – but when it comes to the national arena, you can feel that split. And over time, we have been struggling: how do we start [bridging that gap]? And I think – it’s a struggle we are still continuing with – part of it is to consolidate. And then the other challenge is partly the team that we have now: the people who were left at Pamoja, they are reaching out, ‘guys, why don’t we work together?’ – but there is the fear that ‘if these people come, maybe we will lose our positions’, and all these issues. So it’s something that we are saying it’s not going away tomorrow or the other day.

I think part of the other challenge is that, nowadays, the leaders who were there before, they were activists. Nowadays, we just have leaders. You find yourself in a group: the next thing, you are in the leadership position. But for us at that time, the leadership there was more of activism, there was that selflessness. And for me, at every Muungano forum, I remind them that Muungano spirit is lacking. It's lacking. 

So whatever they are doing now, we used to do it then, but for free. We used our own resources, we used to walk, we used to buy one loaf of bread and share, we used to move around to other settlements without even being facilitated transport. And for me the struggle was to return that spirit of selflessness: ‘I'm part of this struggle’. And the leaders then were coming from personal experiences, from personal pain – the motivation was that personal – ‘I have been through this, I don’t want anybody else to go through this; even if I have succeeded, so part of this is to make sure that, never ever, this will never ever happen to [others]’. For me, that spirit is lacking.

Part of it is also, resources came. Money came. And the NGO started giving us money, and there was an influx of NGOs with their seminars and their workshops. ‘I will go to this workshop, get a thousand shillings’. ‘I will go for exchanges, I get a little money, I save’. So part of that is what contributed, even to the leadership struggle – it’s the resources, basically.

I know as much as the issues have changed and we agree Kenya has transformed ­– over the last, say, 10 years it has transformed tremendously, there’s a lots of freedom of association, things have changed in the judiciary, at the settlement level, in terms of people being more aware of their rights – but, also, we are not saying we can just sit [still] because we have a National Land Policy, the National Land Commission. People still don’t have tenure. People still lack access. The same same things that made us federate then, the issues are still there. The issues have not gone away.

But in terms of the other struggle that is within Muungano, is that, [over] that time, the strong very charismatic activists, they also grew and morphed into something else. Part of them, they achieved: if you look at Kamba Moto, if you look at Toi market, whatever they were fighting for, they got it. So that kind of kills the fire down. So we have this new crop of leaders who are not coming from a struggle: they are more of, ‘yes, I belong to a group, a youth group, or a saving group, we are going to get loans’. So for them, if you ask them how they joined Muungano, it's through ‘AMT gave us a loan’, that kind of a thing.

We usually say: within Muungano, everything is a process. We don’t have projects. Everything we do is not a project, or the data that we collect is not a project, the saving – it’s something that has life its own, it’s a process that will continue. The current generation of leaders we have now, how do they get the history of this struggle? How do they know Muungano to be 20 and to be where it is? People sacrificed, people have died. People sacrificed their jobs, their careers, their families for us to be here. For me, part of returning that spirit is the connection between the old and the new. Let’s demystify the leadership at the national level. We used to do our things with Ezekiel in Toi market, that was our struggle. As much as we are focused on mobilising, ongoing everywhere and spreading the word about Muungano, there’s something that kept us grounded. If you look at my leaders now – our leaders – they want to go to this place, they want to backstop, they want to parachute somewhere ... [We need] something to keep us grounded? And for us, it's now we are trying to devolve the struggle back to the basics ­– where did we start? 

Muungano in the global SDI movement

I believe we are still, in terms of our data collections, within SDI I think we are just next to the Indians. In terms of data collection, Kenya is always at another level. And we were also part of the creation of the [SDI] West African Hub – pushing, starting this process within West Africa. And actually, if you go to these countries, you realise that, when they are asked ‘where do you want to go for an exchange?’ – to learn about housing, about savings, about data, everybody wants to come to Kenya. I think there was that recognition. 

You are part of creating something – but you don’t look back and look at the achievements, what you have been able to do. We are always focused on what are the challenges we are going to face and how do we overcome them? I remember, last year I had the privilege, as the coordinator of the West African Hub, to go with Kimani. So you find out that most of the federations federate around projects. There were a lot of evictions last year in West Africa, and they still didn’t get it. You ask them, 'how do you fight this eviction?' They will say, 'by using our data’. So how do you use your data? The bulldozers are at the entrance of your settlement. And I wanted Kimani to get them angry. For us, resistance starts at the community level. It starts with the people who are facing evictions – that’s the first point of resistance. There are many strategies of fighting evictions, but the most important is people being determined: these are our homes and we are not going to move. So, for me, it was for Kimani to incite them, to a point of people saying, ‘before I move, before my house is demolished, you would rather kill me first’ – that was lacking. And we started a campaign – it was called the Make Noise campaign – and for me the thing that came out was how that thing was able to be picked up by other news agencies internationally, and in a way it stopped the evictions – in Sierra Leone, in Nigeria, in Ghana –and that is something that you look back and you feel you are proud of – you were part of stopping that.

When you are always focused on the challenges ahead and how to overcome them, you don’t look back at what you have been able to achieve. And for us, Muungano, I think we have never looked back at our achievements, which have been tremendous. What have we gained, in terms of the space, the freedom. And in terms of housing projects, our toilet projects, our water projects – what have we gained? We don’t look at what we have been able to achieve. The struggles and challenges will always be there, but for us it’s: how do you handle them? And, from our experience, there are so many in case studies you can take looking at these challenges and how you handle them – so you look at all the solutions and the knowledge within Muungano. Part of the challenge is: how do you tap [this knowledge], because we do a lot of things, but we don’t document these lessons – these case studies, the good, the bad and the ugly. An outsider can see these things, but for us, we don’t look at these things. 

What has been SDI president Jockin Arputham’s influence on Muungano?

I first met Jockin – I think it was here, he came to Toi market in 2000 or 2002, then the next time I met him in Uganda. Every time you sit down with Jockin, you start looking at things differently. I remember we were very excited: Toi market had bought land, we bought for Mukuru, Athi River bought land. So he asked us, ‘so you have bought land, where? Forty km away from the city? Okay, so you are telling the city and the government that you don’t have a right to live in the city, is to take your shit somewhere else’. And from that day is where we realised: this land buying thing, we are sending the wrong message. We have to fight where it is.

So Jockin has been very influential in the growth of the Kenyan federation. He's been doing this his entire lifetime. And he has is a way of making you look at things in a differently. I think when organizing Ugandan federation, we had a meeting with the Ugandan leadership. They had been saving for three years so they started complaining, 'When you SDI came here you told us to save, you will give us houses, and now we have been saving for two years we still don’t have houses’. So Jockin asked him, 'How old are you?' 'I am fifty years old’. 'Okay, for fifty years you don’t have anything, but SDI one year, you want a house?’ 

And in a way, how he has helped the Kenyan federation grow is to move – shift from just land, housing, land, housing, to start looking at the immediate things. We were very lucky as Kenyans, because a lot of meetings have been happening here at the global level. SDI is part of the UN Habitat governing council, so a lot of meetings used to happen here, so we used to have a lot of challenges from the leadership of SDI. 

I was talking about the Kenyans now trying to bring a new crop of leaders who are very bold, charismatic leaders, who are selfless leaders, who are courageous leaders, who want to fight for justice. We've started building the second tier. SDI has also been going through the same stages, because the initial leaders of SDI, there's is Jockin, Sheila and Joel, they reached a place they recognized that, 'We are getting old, we need to’. So personally, for me, being identified as one of the second tier leadership within the SDI global network, it shows that there’s something that you have been doing right. And then it's also a realisation now you are playing advocacy at a more international level, where you are meeting presidents, you are meeting ministers, you are meeting popes. And you have to always up your game. And then in also upping your game you have to be grounded, know there are local issues that you are still struggling with.

It’s a struggle. And if you look at people who are in this and people who found themselves in this, nobody said, ‘when I grow up I want to be an activist, I want to work for zero, I want to fight for justice’ – nobody. We all find ourselves in this. And I usually tell people, if you want to make money go to business, get a nice job. But if you want to be an activist, you are going to die a very poor man. That’s part of the sacrifice. So also within Muungano, we are part of this bigger fight, but within there are also personal struggles, there are also personal struggles within the movement and personal struggle within you.

A message for the younger generations of Muungano

All of us are in cognisance that Kenya has changed tremendously over the last 20 years. Things that this young generation are taking for granted used to be a struggle then. And we appreciate, because we are part of creating that. So, we need a new kind of activism – we need a new kind of doing things – and for me it's not only a Muungano struggle, it is a Kenyan struggle.

We were young when we were doing that kind of activism, but I'm looking at also what Muungano is struggling with now – with the youth. We are struggling to organize youth groups. You look at the youth, between 18 up to 30: this is a young person whose priorities are different. Fresh out of school, fresh out of college: ‘what do I want to do? I want a good job. I want to move out of the slums. I want to marry’. So it’s very difficult to keep a youth grounded within the cause, within the struggle. He's also struggling with personal interests, he has to pay a rent, he has to do this. So what he would rather do? Would I rather go to Muungano house, spend the whole day or go to a community meeting? And in the evening I have to survive.

As I said, there have been tremendous gains but the challenges are still there – they have not gone away. Most of our slums are still informal, still lack tenure; most of our slums still lack services. They are still there. So I think we need to look at a different way of organizing and a different way of activism. Even at the national level, the activism that was there and then, nowadays it lacks… people used to come out.

What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?

Looking at the next 20 years for Muungano, number one is to re-engage in the process, where we started.

Things have changed: we have moved to the streets, we have gone to the negotiating table. And Muungano, it exists to offer alternatives to what exists. We had a lot of ‘we sold out’ because we are sitting now with the enemy. And for me it doesn’t always have to be a fight: if you look at what we have achieved for all those years, by sitting down negotiating, collecting information, it's more than just moving in the streets and saying ‘we don’t have’. And we usually tell people living in the informal settlements [who] we mobilize: don’t say the challenges you are having. The people you are telling, ‘we don’t have toilets, we don’t have sanitation, water, the roads are bad, insecurity’ – they know, so stop singing the same songs. Stop whining, get up, and do something about it. So that is usually the message. So what do you do about it?

If you look at all informal settlements across the world: the same challenges in Dharavi, in Freetown, in Mukuru, in Kibera, in the favelas of Rio, Sao Paolo – same. Lack of access, poor housing, unplanned, insecurity, no sanitation – they are the same. But something I'm proud about Muungano, is that there is this special group of people who have stopped whining, complaining, and crying, and begging. This special group of people who are saying, ‘yes, these [issues] are there, but we are determined to prioritise what are these problems, what are this challenges, and we are going to take action – and we are going to create partnerships with this person who has the key, and we are willing to meet them half way’. So that’s what differentiates Muungano from these [others]. It’s more of alternatives and telling government there is a better way of doing things.

If you go to all these government offices in their nice swinging chairs, they talk about poor people, slum dwellers. But then you realise they don’t talk to slum dwellers. Same in academia. A lot of research papers coming. But people don't actually take time. You talk about slum dwellers, you talk about problems of slums, you talk about challenges, you talk about solutions to the slums, but none of you have talked to the slum dwellers and asked them, 'What do you want? What do you need? How can we change this?' 

The next 20 years is to look how do we connect the old – keep us rooted, ‘this is why we federated’ – but then again formulate another way of doing things; a new culture of activism.

Muungano is twenty now. There's a history to the struggle, and it’s for the entire Muungano, me included, to re-engage with what made us federate. That history is lacking and they say a nation without its history doesn’t have a future. So if we re-engage, and every day we talk about these things – ‘this is where we came from, this is what brought us together’. Whatever brought us together is still there, it has not gone away, and we must keep on with this fight.

For 20 years for me, it is the struggle continues. The struggle continues.

What motivates you?

We find ourselves in paths that when we were young we never thought of. Nobody decided I'm going to do activism. But for me, I've looked at the struggle of where I come from and I've looked at the transformation. For me, its seeing that change – that change that comes to an individual, a poor person; that change that comes to the settlement. I've seen individuals grow, I've seen settlements grow, I've seen cities grow. It’s the transformation, as much as the fight for justice, the fight for equality – I can say all those nice things, but for me it’s just seeing that change and being part of this every day. You get addicted to doing this every day.

You struggle very hard, but you don’t notice that you are bringing positive change. When I used to be in Toi, even at Muungano level you realise that you earn that respect from your peers – your peers start calling you Mister. After Toi, I remember there was a lady who came and introduced me to her daughter, and said ‘you know, Muturi, when I joined Muungano she was joining form one – now she has finished, she is going university; it was because of Muungano that’s why she has been able to finish’. So it's those small things that people appreciate that motives you – the small things that you don’t see. Most people will see the houses, will see the kind of land we have been able to leverage, but for me daily it’s the small things, and you get hooked into this – and I usually tell people I don’t see anything else I'll be doing rather than this.

I think I've been very lucky. Nobody is self-made and Africans usually give credit when these people have died. I think I've worked with an amazing group of people over the years. I started with Ezekiel, Jane, there is Jack, there is Kimani, there is Scola, there is Salma. And then at the global level I have worked with the best of the best. I've been very lucky basically, working with… And I've been telling our leaders here: in development, in activism, in the struggle, you think you have figured out shit, then you realise you don’t know anything. 

It has taken me 20 years to be here and I still don’t know shit – everyday there is a new thing to learn. Every day. Be open. I remember the initial days of Pamoja: when they employed somebody, they used to bring that person to the community, they'd go to different saving schemes. These guys from the university, they think they know shit: ‘I'm here to help these slum dwellers’. I'd also tell them, you cannot go with that attitude in a settlement. First of all, when you enter the settlement's gate, surrender all that knowledge at the gate – you surrender all that knowledge. I'm going to take you on a process of de-schooling from everything you learnt at school. Everything you learnt is bullshit. Now, here, I'm going to teach you life – the real deal. So you walk with us, be part of us, be among us, feel us – you know, that’s how you'll change, and that’s how you learn. Your theories, your theses, and all these things won’t help you here. Because what you'll learn is [that] here, things work differently.