My name is Nancy Njoki, from Mathare. I am a member of Muungano in Bondeni. This is where I was born and where I still live.
What motivates you?
My motivation is to see the communities grow and to change a life – because someone did something for me to change, to be what I am today, so my motivation is to see the community empowered, to see the community improved. Basically that’s what motivates me to go to Muungano.
And my motivation as family is to see a better life for my family, different from what I had. Being born from a single parent, struggling to raise us up, struggling to pay school fees – so my motivation is to have a family with a better future.
How did you first get involved in Muungano?
I joined Muungano in 2007. Back then, there was a need to secure better housing facilities – most of the houses and the available land were owned by the government or private owners – so when we found out about Muungano, we joined in order to secure decent and lifelong homes.
What were things like back then, before you joined Muungano?
At that time, the poor suffered at lot of oppression at the hands of the land owners. Sometimes, they would approach the District Officer for help, only to get their structures destroyed later and then be forced out. The poor did not have a voice. They couldn’t build their structures, because the land owners would come and claim the land. The land owners would approach the chief or the District Officer, and later, we would be evicted. These were the main things that prompted us to join Muungano, where we were made aware about different techniques we could use to fight for our rights.
Right now, we still haven’t been able to acquire the land; but we have been able to minimize the demolitions, especially on government-owned land. There are houses that were built on government owned land, and we have been able to reduce the settlement demolitions on these lands – but we haven’t succeeded in reducing demolitions on privately owned lands. On top of that we, the residents of Mathare, have learnt that most of the available land is privately owned. So we have teamed up together in order to be able to purchase land; this is what led us to join the Katani greenfield project, to be able to purchase land.
How have things changed over time?
Over time, a lot of things have changed because we have learnt a lot. We have become aware of our rights: in the past, we couldn’t approach the area chief to express our concerns, but in Muungano we were urged to stand up for our rights and fight for them. Now, whenever we go to the government offices, we can express ourselves and voice our concerns without fear.
What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years?
I think Muungano has achieved a lot. It is the voice of the poor and the voice of the community. It has given the people a platform to express themselves. For example, when we faced challenges while trying to access water, through Muungano we could learn the advocacy skills which helped us negotiate for water. And in the long run, the community is still able to access water – right now, in Mathare, we have 14 water kiosks, and about half of them are owned by different groups in Muungano. So Muungano has brought different stakeholders on board, who have then brought us services like water. Also, we have been carrying out advocacy in other villages: for example, in Huruma they have been able to get houses thanks to Muungano. So Muungano has enabled the people to acquire houses and water, it has given the people a voice, and it has made them aware of their rights.
What have been Muungano’s biggest challenges over the years?
Muungano has been progressing well, despite instances where other organizations came up and tried to use Muungano for their different agendas – this brought about confusion within the movement. First, there was Pamoja Trust which started with Muungano, then later Akiba Mashinani came up, followed by Muungano Support Trust. This brought a lot of confusion which brought about division: for a while we did not bring our thoughts together and focus on addressing our challenges.
What have been the strategies that really worked?
Mainly, Muungano has used advocacy and has urged the people to unite together. At different times it has also lobbied. For example, we lobbied for water in our settlement, and it worked. The government took notice of our requests. We also lobbied over the sanitation facilities in Mukuru, and they heard us. We also carried out advocacy on housing, a strategy which got us a meeting with the Minister of Lands. So lobbying and advocacy have really helped us out. If we wanted the government to listen to us, we would come out in large numbers to support our cause, and eventually they would listen.
In Muungano, we had a strategy of advocating for sanitation facilities [in Mukuru]. We lobbied for the construction of the facilities as a way of acquiring the land tenure and title deeds. The land had belonged to rich people who had not lived on that particular land for almost 20 years – the previous government had given them the land illegally.
So we were using sanitation as a strategy to get to land tenure, and its working because now the county government is trying to pass a bill to make Mukuru a special planning zone, and after they do that they can build houses. I don’t know if they will build low cost housing for the people of that area, but they have to pass a legislation first.
What didn’t work? What did you learn?
There were a lot of expectations within Muungano. Some people thought Muungano would build them houses for free, and once those high expectations weren’t met, some decided to leave Muungano. There have been other misunderstandings, especially with the leaders, which have prompt others to leave Muungano.
I have learnt the importance of uniting: once the community is united, they can make great progress. Unity is important. Unity will lead to progress, because it allows people to bring their thoughts together. I have also learnt that it is important to save, however little it may be. Savings will give you the chance to grow and succeed in future. In Muungano, savings has been our pillar; it has been our foundation. A ten shilling coin can enable you to have a great future.
Women’s leadership in Muungano
In 2015 we started the women’s leadership campaign, involving women in the leadership issues of the Muungano. I think many are the driving force, because for women, when they even go for demonstrations, they are heard. It’s easier to hear a woman than men. Maybe it’s the men who are demonstrating – they can even be beaten, or by teargas. But for the women, I think men have a bit of a soft spot for women, so if you use a woman to agitate for something, it’s easier to get what you want.
I think it was very important, because before that, men were the ones in leadership. Mostly, in Muungano, we had a big percentage of men in leadership. And it came as an initiative from SDI: women must take a lead in all activities. And also going by the new constitution of Kenya – it's empowering women. Even the SGDs, they are all empowering women. So I think it has been a good initiative.
Through that, we are able to mobilize groups. Women in the settlements are the ones who can easily join saving groups, and when a woman is in a saving group [and] gets a loan, that loan can be used for the whole household. If a man gets the loan, he can only use for himself – most of them will use that money for himself. So when you empower a woman, you empower the whole family.
[We need to] continue with the empowerment, continue with capacity building, and give them space. Space to make decisions, space to do the activities, with little supervision.
How does Muungano learn?
I think the way Muungano is structured, it’s a networks of groups. And what Muungano does is, one group visits another group – like a learning exchange. When you go to another group, you learn what they are doing, [then] you come [back] with what you've seen, and do it in your group, or even make it a bit better. So Muungano learns through seeing: when you go to another place, you learn what they are doing and bring it to your place; when they come to your place, they learn what you are doing. Basically, in the settlement we learn through doing, and it’s easier.
For example, one day our group went to Nakuru. They went to see about table banking, a system of microfinance. And after the group went there –10 members of our group went to Nakuru, and they saw what the members were doing with table banking, they are investing, and they have a lot of money from table banking – they came back to our group, and we started that initiative, with a bit of improvement. Now, where we are, in one year we can save up to 700,000 [shillings]. So that was a learning experience which brought us benefits.
I think the Kenyan federation is a bit older in Muungano than most of the [SDI] federations. For instance, the Kenya federation is the one that went to Uganda to train them about Muungano. So, Muungano, I think in East Africa it started in Kenya, so they have trained other countries on the importance of people in the settlement having their own groups, deciding on their destiny, and helping them to be empowered – to ask for their rights as citizens. We taught some countries, and they have surpassed us, they are on top of us. I think [in Uganda] they are doing very well in partnership with the government – they are ahead of us now. In Uganda, they are ahead of us, even their mode of documentation is a bit better than Kenya. So it’s also: we go there to learn what are they doing, how are they partnering with their government, how can we do it too? What can we copy there to bring to our country?
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
Looking forward, is to continue with empowering communities in the settlements to be able to plan their way forward, to be able to agitate for their rights – rights of services from stakeholders, especially the government. And also Muungano as a federation, to be self-sustaining. Going forward it should be self-sustaining and be a movement that is a big movement – and a movement that can be recognized even by the government. Even though we are recognized, we should be a movement which can make changes even in the policies of the country. Already we have started, but we want our voices to be heard more.
For example, the issue of housing: there’s the county housing fund, we are already in that process, but we want Muungano to be one of the biggest stakeholders in that process. When something is being is done for a settlement, we want Muungano to be the first stakeholder to be consulted.
A story about unity
I remember an episode in 2008, here in Mathare, when we had fought for some space to build our toilets. Then, someone claimed the land and said it was his, and so he reported us to the ward manager. He had some letters that said the land was his. We decided to go to Nairobi City Council, where we met with a planner called Odongo who gave us a letter saying that the space was ours. It got to the point where we had to go to the area chief – who wanted to arrest us. So we decided to unite as Muungano, and go to the chief with as many of us as we could, and we told him if he wanted to arrest us then he should go ahead and do so. So Muungano has taught us to be brave and committed: it taught us that if you want something badly enough, then you should be ready to fight. Sometimes, what we do might mean someone gets arrested, but you have to be willing to dedicate yourself.
What must we remember from the history of Muungano?
I think the struggles. Those people who started Muungano, the struggle they went through, the endurance, the self-sacrifice. They did a lot to make Muungano what it is. They did a lot to empower the communities, those who started Muungano. I think they should always be remembered for what they did to empower the communities and remove them from the dark ages.
A message for the younger generations of Muungano
Perseverance and persistence. And also focusing on your goals. I think unity is the key, unity is the key for all people in the settlements. To be able to make a change you have to be united. Speak many, speak in one voice for it to be heard. If you are many [and] you speak with one voice, it will be heard.
Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Muungano federation we wish you 101 years.
Muungano in the SDI network
[SDI] are the ones who have been helping the federation financially, fundraising for the federations, and helping them to have exchanges – international exchanges and local exchanges – to learn from each other. Basically, they are a platform for the federations to learn and empower the federations. So Muungano has benefited a lot from SDI trainings and exchanges and bringing the voices to the international platform.
I think the relationship is still growing, it’s becoming better. Because what the SDI wants is for the federations to be self-sustaining in future. So they are creating space for the federations, and also empowering the federations to be able to stand on their own in future. They can stand on their own with more empowerment – they will stand on their own. I think they are training the federations to be self-sustaining in future. They will still support the federation, but they also want the federation to be self-sustaining, with or without them.