I am Patrick Ochieng. I work at Ujamaa Centre, which is a non-governmental organization in Mombasa that has been around for the last 20 years. Essentially, we are about social justice, human rights, and, in particular, land rights has been our main forte since we started way back in 2000. As a person, I like being referred to an activist, because that what I do daily.
How did you start working on land issues in Mombasa?
I started doing human rights work here in Nairobi, and I was engaged with human rights and constitutional change for quite some time before I moved to Mombasa. And I went to Mombasa in 1999, November. Then, there was a project on urban governance that was being done by a former mayor, who had resigned from mayorship but was still very concerned with the state of city, the environment of the city, the planning; generally the outlook of life and the standards of living there. So I was invited to help implement this project: then, we were working for an institution called Citizens Barraza, which is a forum where citizens meet regularly to discuss the state of their locality, the services they are being offered by the municipal authority, and so on, and some of things they could do to improve their situation. This program was supported by the International Development Research Center, Ford Foundation, and a university in Canada.
We were holding discussions around ‘the Mombasa we want’, the kind of city we would like to live in, and the vision that we would have for that future. And a lot of that was inspired by the discussion of the UN – if you remember, what was called the Agenda 21, that was provoking cities to begin thinking about how they could become better cities. So me, who was doing human rights, I found myself doing a lot of urban governance stuff, and what it really takes to manage a city, and the whole challenge of garbage, roads, and housing, and a whole lot of things that a lot of us in the non-state sector sometimes don’t interact with unless you are in the sector that does this. Now, having done this work for two and a half years, when my stint there ended, I contemplated coming back to Nairobi to do the usual stuff that I was doing in Nairobi. Mombasa is one of those places in this country we go for holidays but none of us ever thinks that it is a place you can settle. In fact everybody goes there temporarily on visits, with the intention of coming back. Twenty years later, I am still there.
But that’s what led us to start Ujamaa, which, as the name suggests, is a concept we borrowed from Tanzania. Ujamaa essentially means solidarity, self-government, self-organizing, and really looking for communities as entities that could organize themselves and have their own self-reliance; so that they don’t have to depend really on state support entirely; that they could do things within their own capacities, develop their own local economies, and proceed with life without having to heavily rely on outside support. So basically, we thought that starting an institution that would challenge communities to think very seriously about alternatives to mainstream processes that they had been familiar with, was what inspired us to name it Ujamaa and to programme around community building. Essentially, for us, we had done two years and understood the context, and the context was one where everybody in the region feels alienated: it’s a place where people talk about marginalization and, in fact, the challenges that you see in the coast [region] are not the kind of challenges you find in the rest of the country. So we thought we need to do something very fundamental if we were to change the circumstances there. And so even naming the institution was important, so that it could be something that could inspire and interest people to want to have the curiosity to find out what does this institution do. And so each time people were curious, we found constituency, and therefore in a sense our intentions were beginning to concretize. So what we decided to do was then begin a very in depth understanding of what really were the issues.
History of land rights in Kenya’s coast region.
The coast happens to be a little different from the rest of Kenya because, one, it was invaded by early settlers much earlier than the rest of Kenya. Arabs and Portuguese traders settled there much earlier. And they came in to do slave trade, and so, in a sense, the experience of subjugation is much older there than it is in the rest of the Kenya. And so when the British set foot in the country to colonize, they didn’t colonize the coast in the same meaning as they colonized the rest of Kenya, because already the coast was a protectorate that belonged to the Sultan of Zanzibar. And therefore the Sultan and the British did some administrative agreement to agree on how to govern the area; but, then, rights to land and land tenure was entirely the Sultan’s business as the owner of the strip. So that’s what makes the coast very different from the rest of the country. Because what that did was that lots of people – indigenous people – had to run away for fear of being captured as slaves. By the time independence was through and they were coming back, a lot of lands which they owned had been appropriated by outsiders. And so, merely because of Islamic land tenure, they were allowed to settle – use the land – but they didn’t own it. So that’s what explains the incidence of squatters: you live on your land but you don’t own it, and you’re therefore what they call in English a ‘tenant at will’ – so you can only do temporary investments on the land, because the land does not belong to you. So that made the coast extremely weak in terms of injustice, because people there are struggling for citizenship at much more basic level than they are struggling for it elsewhere.
What were things like, back when Ujamaa started?
So our original program at Ujamaa was essentially a rural program, where we were going out there to challenge the context of natural resource exploitation, the conflict around human and wildlife, the lack of benefit from tourism, which is a huge sector there and that the locals were not gaining anything from it was a key concern to us.
So our decision was to organize communities first to understand issues, because one of the things we knew from the start was most of the communities there lacked political agency with which they could confront decisions. And we were lucky to get very generous support from Big Lottery in the UK that essentially made us look like we have been around for ten years – because I think there is a way money does some of these things. And so for three years we were able to work in 300 villages in Kwale County and Kilifi, and this started some kind of a very radical program never seen before in the region. And our approach was to look for community workers in each of those villages who live and who are life and blood members of those villages, and we were calling them community mobilizers. What we did was to give them very solid training. And therefore we needed folks who are in the village, folks who can wear gumboots and soil their fingers and make the kind of some noise that needed to be made. And for about two years, we were calling it inciting, because we needed to incite communities to really change perceptions and comfort for a large majority of people who were in the government.
Now, a lot of folks in government apparently also happened to be the landowners, and so we stepped on several toes. We landed into quite a bit of problems with police and the administration as it was then. But that was part of the delivery: that we knew there were dangers, there were difficulties we would face, and we prepared the group to be able to face those challenges. Thanks to the networking between the non-state institutions, those institutions that had lawyers came in handy whenever there were issues with the law. Because one of our strong theses was that the law as it was constructed and grafted in Africa wasn’t useful. And so we thought disobeying bad laws was part of what we needed to do. And so what that work did was to essentially pull the rural households out of the ordinary development work into advocacy and activist work.
How did you first become involved with Muungano?
But then, at some point, we realised that the urban was left behind and we were not moving in tandem with each other. And yet we were very sure that a lot of rural to urban migration was taking place in the region at a very unprecedented level, for also very good reasons that the rural economy was just not working. This is 2003, 2004, 2005 up to 2006, when our work was at its most intense. And so we then began to ask ourselves, in the rural households, we’ve been organizing them but we lack very specific tools with which we can analyse some of the household issues and some of the land right issues. We thought that the models that had been used in the urban setting – the mapping and enumerations that happens in urban settings – could be tailored for the rural work that we were doing. And that’s what inspired the meeting [with the Muungano alliance] that happened: to begin to ask the folks who were using these tools, how could these tools be applied in a rural setting?
And so we wanted to model this and see how far we can go with it, and introduce it as another tool that we could use for organizing the rural area. Of course, the areas were vast, much wider than what we were familiar with in the urban informal settlements, and the houses were dispersed. But we saw the potential that tool could have in helping our engagement, because at some point we realised we have to talk to the state and the institutions. It was very good and nice to oppose everything the state did, but at some point we needed to also make concrete suggestions and get into boardrooms and negotiate. One thing we realised: we didn’t have was the tools and the skills for that engagement, and invariably, whenever government invited us to the table, we didn’t have what it took to make those discussions useful. That’s what led Ujamaa to invite the team from Nairobi to come and think with us.
And so we couldn’t think about the tool only for the rural areas, because a small inventory that we did revealed that Mombasa alone had upwards of 100 plus informal settlements. And we thought, why don’t we start also doing some urban work and organizing, while we test the tool for some rural households at the same time. And that’s how we tried to use this mapping and enumeration, in place called Marereni, where there are salt farms, and a lot of the salt farms have displaced people from their original dwellings and driven them to road sides and so on. And then there are a lot of other issues with salt that I won’t go into now. But then we were able to map those communities along the salt belt, about a 50 km stretch, generate maps and a lot of data that could help to understand the issues, so that when we were speaking with the state about salt we were able to say: this salt company leased this amount of acreage; for the last 40 years that they’ve been around they’ve only used this much acreage; it means the idle land they haven’t used could be put to other uses because they don’t need it. Then that makes the engagement more focused and more critical. And after that, we used the tools elsewhere.
But then, in the urban setting, the work that we had started doing in the urban setting helped us to also begin saying, how can we launch Muungano – the type that we have in Nairobi – in the Mombasa context? Because I think we needed the poor to organize themselves and also have agency at the urban level with which they could use to engage politicians and development actors. Mombasa, of course, as a second city, had lots of plans: what they call slum upgrading, the need for us to provide services in these informal settlements became uppermost. For a long time, the informal settlements were ignored, but I think the discourse around cultural and socioeconomic rights was making the case that these people need services, they have rights. And when that rights discourse picked up, particularly with the enactment of the new [Kenyan] constitution, it was possible to make interventions on behalf of the urban poor in Mombasa to also be given the services that other people were getting. And that’s how we started to organize the city. And one of the things we did, Pamoja Trust needed two dedicated staff that would do the Mombasa work, and we were happy to second two of those individuals to conduct the work. We were also able to afford Pamoja Trust a desk at the same time, so that their work could be done with a lot of support. And we offered backstopping for everything, so that AMT can launch its activities and begin to support groups and individuals within the Muungano network to find resources with which they could make little investments to change their lives and their circumstances.
How have things changed over time?
When we look back, I think it’s easy for us to say that we planted some seeds and the seeds began to germinate. But of course, as with all issues of change, the growth has been cyclical. There will be moments when we are feeling something good is happening, but then very easily another moment comes when you take a lot of steps back because of one event or the other. And the reasons could vary and are diverse and dynamic. We have had instances where whole communities have been brought down in what we call evictions, and so you lose everything, including all the little investments that you have made, when that happens. And Mombasa has had quite a number of those forceful evictions that have taken place in quite a number of the informal settlements.
There are moments when Muungano has litigated, gone to court, and we’ve got rulings that are affirmative and positive and on the side of the poor. But when it comes to implementing the outcomes of these rulings, you rely on the same state to do this. And often the state is in bed with the rich, and somehow there’s a way in which they agree, and the outcomes, which you felt were going to come though, fall through the cracks – and what was victory becomes an extremely frustrating exercise of chasing government to do what it was committed to do by the courts. And what that does, it dampens the spirits of everybody else who is in the struggle. And so we’ve lost quite a number of people from the struggle who’ve then felt ‘it’s just not going to work’.
So all of our victories have somehow had this uncertain lining – that it‘s a victory, yes, but its short lived, it‘s not long term. When we passed the constitution in 2010, we were all extremely hopeful and we thought maybe now we have dealt with the structures and institutions and systems. Little did we know that when the constitution says ‘parliament shall enact legislation to give effect to this provision‘, that that parliament could enact that legislation in a way that actually takes it away. And so we‘ve seen a consistent behaviour and pattern in parliament, where legislation is made that defeats the very purpose of the constitution. And we have to run to court again for interpretation and all manner of things. And you know, there is a way English law works – it grinds really slowly and it‘s really never on the side of the poor. And so I keep taking people back to: let‘s go back to good old organizing. We‘ve got to fight this system and perhaps that will achieve something. So that, in a sense, has been our experience.
We have also made quite a number of strides. We can today very confidently say that the discourse around eviction guidelines is there. The country is aware that even if you were to evict, that there ought to be some humane approach to it. There are guidelines, and although the guidelines haven‘t been passed, that they are in the public domain and they have been debated is something we speak about. We also know that we have a bill that is articulating the issue of community land, and it’s a very specific legislation that talks to the issues around community land; and some of the urban communal settings would fall within that rubric. And so that, then, we are not going to alienate community land as if it was ownerless, as if it was idle, as if it didn‘t have people who manage it. And so notions of community land management and community agency in their land is something that is taking root. And if the bill becomes law, then there will be some useful steps that we will have made, and it will be steps that are arising out of this discourse that has been going on for some time both here in Nairobi, and Mombasa.
The changes that are taking place at the supranational level have had impact up to the ground, because we now have a county system that we didn‘t have before, where apart from the national government – that was a headache – you have also another government at the local level that you can fall back to and run to. And that government at the local level is also receiving quite a huge chunk of what we call local budget. And it has a very specific mandate: planning. It has a budget cycle, and it has staff who are supposed to deliver services to the community. And so that has sort of shifted us out of chasing Nairobi, into chasing, for example, Mombasa county and the six billion [KSH] that goes there. And, in a sense, it has added to our headache: that we are not only chasing one government that is led by Uhuru [Kenyatta, the president], but several other entities at the local level. Now, depending on the temperament of each of those county governments, sometimes things work, sometimes they don‘t work. Mombasa county, for example, is now going through a plan they‘re calling ‘renewal of the city’, or ‘redevelopment’, or something. And this intends to redevelop all the low cost houses that the state had built many years back, that have been offering some sort of relief to the urban civil servant and the worker at some very reasonable rent. Now, the county wants to redevelop them and modernize them and put them out there for tenant purchase. So we are debating with the county and saying, no, the concept of public housing makes sense and that’s where our constitution is, so you can‘t privatize public housing and purport that you‘ll be selling to these individuals these houses – even if you were to sell to them, these are just a few individuals. This city needs public housing for as long as it exists as a city. And so we are having that argument right now. Our argument is very difficult, now, because the movement has lost it ballast: the movement is weak. In the movement, there are people who think that‘s the way to go, because they‘ve seen drawings – and I think there‘s a sense in which architectural designs have glamour, and so it‘s glamorous for some people in the movement – and they think, really, that its important their county wants to develop the county, and so why do we want to maintain these old houses. So we have lost the intellectual resources, which I think the movement when it started was very strong about.
In the 1970s and the early 1980s, ideological discussions were very strong. Perhaps this is because of the cold war and some of the debates that went on in institutions of higher learning and so on. We generated a very conscious class then. But the numbers of those who are on the right is increasing. The argument that people want to get rich quickly seems to be the currency today. This discourse about the poor is not very fashionable, and so, like the rest of the world, I think we have suffered that gap in knowledge, which then makes it very difficult to explain and nurture the movement when the movement is divided ideologically. A lot of people want easy shortcuts and quick wins, and often quick wins are very difficult to find, especially when you are talking about things as difficult as providing services for the poor, subsidising, and doing all those sort of things that support the poor.
And then we have the overall reform frameworks: where there‘s a lot of push by the World Bank and a lot of the governments who support our government. That support comes with conditionality, and often that conditionality will be one thing or the other that pushes the poor further out of opportunity. For example, China is doling out a lot of money for projects – mega projects in the country – and our country in its Vision 2030 believes that you can develop by inviting foreign direct investment – which by the way is not new: if it was the thing that can generate magical development, then today we‘d be so developed. But I think that’s how our country looks at it. But what happens with these mega projects is that the Chinese give us commercial loans and then they take the contracts, and so the working class has lost out in that discussion. The people who benefit are the merchants in government who also double up as our leaders, and then the traders from China and other places. It‘s very difficult for national programmes – the types that we are looking for that can support the kind of sector that we are working in. There is a lot of disillusionment among members of the movement.
What message would you give the younger generations of Muungano?
I guess there are lots of implications for those who are coming up in Muungano, because they are coming up at a time when the supranational context is fluid and extremely unpredictable. There is a lot of disillusionment in the social movement generally. And I think we have to find a way of dealing with that, because if you are an activist it is almost written on your face that you‘ll die poor, and that‘s not very easy to sell; you are asking people to sacrifice and work and hope that they will be paid in the next earth. So I guess we have to repackage activism, in order for Muungano to again have another generation of people who would be willing to join it for very altruistic reasons – that it is something that is good for society and that is good for them as individuals, and it can link to their careers and support whatever it is they want to achieve in the world.
When I look at things today, I am almost scared for the next generation, because we have a country that is, for example saying, we will use all resources we have today. And Kenya is a good example: we are discovering minerals, we are discovering all manner of natural resources, and we want to mine today. And there‘s nobody who‘s discussing intergenerational equity. If we don’t have equipment or technology to do the mining, why are we in a hurry to do it? Can‘t we leave it for tomorrow’s generation who may be suave and savvy to do it? Because we don’t. Because when we invite foreign direct investment to mine and take it away, then again it doesn‘t make a lot of sense. So there could be things that could generate hope for the poor in these resources, if only we thought about the next generation of leaders. But we are not thinking like that. So, I think the thinking is one of the first places where investments need to be made now, because if we don‘t invest in the thinking then even the efforts we‘re putting in now may sink.
How did the role of Muungano’s ‘support professionals’ emerge and change over time?
I think his is an important point to document, because often social movements start and they go through different phases of development. And they mature, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they disintegrate, sometimes they dissipate, sometimes they disappear and re-emerge, resurge, and so on in the social theory of movement. But then, in our context, every other place had a different challenge – what you saw in Mathare is not the same thing that you saw in Mombasa, for example. There was too much activity going on in the informal settlements, too much engagement with development actors of various types, and instead of it generating [social] capital it was actually taking capital away from the communities in these informal settlements. Because you had too much going on, and they were not speaking to each other. Every other person came in, and whatever they thought works is what they implemented. In the fullness of time, I think a lot of the groups that were doing this started to have duplication, duplicity, overlapping programmes; and then a lot of fights, for turf and resources. And even then the politics then also became extremely difficult to navigate, because it generated now a class of gatekeepers in the informal settlements who were not now working for the community, but were keeping the gate for any one of the actors who were coming in. I think that’s what led us to the realisation that we need to do this in a systematic way, and so those institutions that have come up to support the movement had to put their act together and develop a very concrete systematic platform that then channels its support in a particular way. And this is how [SDI Kenya and its predecessors] came into being. Because, one, if you were a member of the movement, could you also be a member of the support institutions? There was a conflict of interest that sometimes didn’t allow work to proceed the way it ought to have proceeded, and so we then began to think, how do we make a clean break between those who are supporting and those who are living and doing the day to day stuff in the movement. And that really helped us, because in Mombasa, then, Ujamaa began to see itself not as a member of the movement in the strictest sense of the word, but as a support institution around which every other person who came in with any ideas around the informal settlements then bounced those ideas. So that we were able to make sure that there’s decency and there are no ugly fights similar to what had been witnessed before.
The other thing that this helped was to remove the movement from the fetters of programme. Because the support institutions come in with programmes and projects, and sometimes they want to make their project the most important thing for the movement. And we’re saying no, let’s not bog down the movement with our project baggage. Because your project will end, and certainly the movement needs to stay on. So, separating the idea of the movement from the support institutions was therefore useful, so that if you were doing projects you can go to the support institution and wax about your project there, but by the time its delivered to the movement, it is not supposed to tell the movement now, stop doing this, start running in this direction. So that the dictates of the movement remain and the principles of the movement and the pillars.
Sometimes the movement is stronger without money, in my experience – I don’t know about other people’s experiences. But I’ve seen an experience where when people invest their own money in something, they tend to be very vigilant about how that money is used and how things happen with the entity. They give it time, they afford it their moment, because they have put their money in it. But there are moments when money comes into something like a movement, and then all of us become fund managers. Money has this habit of turning all of us into fund managers. And we all now start managing the fund and we forget the vision and mission that the movement has set out to do. And so these are not things you can deal with easily if you don’t have institutions that their job is to think about things like that and what you do when you face such challenges. And yet also it’s true that mobilizers eat, they need food and so on. So it’s some kind of an egg–chicken situation that requires constant thinking and it requires constant strategising and tactics. And this is where I think the idea of a support mechanism running side by side with the movement was for me an innovation.
Muungano’s ideological and theoretical roots and influences
Sometimes people think all the things that the poor do they do out of serendipity. They just woke up, they tried something, and somehow it worked or it didn’t work. I think we have to make the case that the things that communities do are also led by science, and led by extremely well-thought-out views and processes. There’s a whole body of research and thought in these things.
There are different bases for these things. There is, for example, a religious basis for the Muungano movement having taken root, when there was a very strong liberation theology that led some Catholic priests to be part of this movement, and they gave a lot of impetus to it. And we exposed people in the movement to these stories and these movies, in order for them to build an aspiration that is founded around something very concrete. And because they were Christians, and some of them were Catholics, it was very easy for them to identify with these things. And when they saw a real priest come to live among them, come to pray for them when they lose one of their own, take them to hospital, it was very easy for them to connect to this organizing that was also being led by the Church.
We had a very concrete non-violence movement, that was also pushing the very same ideas, that was founded by another group of Catholic priests together with secular leaders, that gave rise to an institution Chemchemi Ya Ukweli. Their influence in Huruma and several other places and in using the idea of base groups in the slums to do discussions around change has been very critical. And their trainings, which they were doing for about two years, were very useful in generating the kind of leadership that we have seen the movement have.
We have had university professors, who have one time or the other given thought to the type of work that has emerged, that has strengthened the movement.
Kituo Cha Sheria – which was essentially a team an institution of lawyers that were saying we can use the law to perhaps look for the kind of long term change that we are looking for – developed the discourse around public interest litigation. That has supported the movement in various other ways, and they have then therefore availed a whole group of lawyers to the poor, from whom the poor have several times run to and gotten support – in even theory – in terms of what is legally possible and what is not legally possible.
We have had research students coming to the movement to do their research and build a body of thought around some of these things that we have seen.
We’ve seen surveyors, architects draw alternatives that they think can work for the poor. And some of the informal settlements have living monument and testimony to the contribution of professionals.
For me, the essence is that all those little bits and pieces have been building blocks for the movement. And so today, someone in the movement will say, go to Mukuru kwa Njenga if you want to see a model of what we could do with low cost housing, go to Kibera if you want to see a toilet – and that toilet wouldn’t have been if some professionals didn’t sit down and think very strategically about it.
What have been the strategies that really worked?
Well the strategies have been diverse. I must say in the 1990s, the most effective strategy for us was recalcitrance – just saying ‘Moi must go’ for example. Our campaigns were modelled around: we don’t like this guy and so something must be done about this guy. And it was going out there on the street at making the slogans and the case for what you see as the object of injustice – ‘we want that guy out of town’. It worked then because I don’t think the state then was willing to listen to anybody. And if it was not [for] the social movements, the urban organized groups that were pushing for change wouldn’t have gone very far, because until the social movements got out into the streets and made the city ungovernable – for example, shops were closed, public transport didn’t take place, paralysed generally just the economic movement – things wouldn’t have moved the way they have moved; to the point where now we had a whole transformation in terms of the constitution.
It was also possible to do this because there was a lot of civic awareness – very intense. We did a lot of civic education. And I think we still need to do civic education, because once people get to know what it is they should be championing, they take it over. Those of us who were a little bit more directed and systematic about things, while we were still doing scenario building, the citizens left and they went with it. I think we have to get to that point if we want our movement to succeed: get them to the point where they can pick the agenda and run with it.
However, the fact that we’ve been working with interconnectedness and the contribution of different players on different issues I think has also been very helpful. So there have been people in the boardrooms doing what needs to get done in the boardroom, and I think that has been very useful. There have been people looking for partners, international and national, to support the processes in which we have invested – that has also been extremely useful. And then there have been those who have dabbled directly in what needs to get done, which has also been very very useful.
The fact that institutions have also mutated – some started out as CBOs and have grown into NGOs – that has also been very helpful, because institutions have professionalized as we go along. I don’t always agree that when the professionalize they become better, but people tend to say that that’s a good thing. There has also been growth in individuals. Individuals who started out as very humble community organizers, somehow over the years they got baptized: some got jailed, got arrested for a few hours, and learnt a lot of useful lessons, and became really strong leaders in the movement.
What didn’t work? What did you learn?
I think the thing that hasn’t worked for us is our shared common understanding. I think at some point, we thought we were all together – and it’s true of many movements that there’s a camaraderie, some comradeship that almost tells you that you are one family. But I think we didn’t do the analysis. I think the power discussion has been our weakest link, because we don’t know where the power is and we don’t invest exactly where the power is. So, in a sense, our tactics fail us there because we don’t do sufficient power analysis. We do this mapping and enumeration, but we don’t map power. We bring these tools and the science that goes with it, but they sort of fall short because we fail to do the most crucial ones – which is the power dynamics, which is what determines what comes to pass. And so somehow there were people who were with us and they were not with us. We shouldn’t have been surprised that they were not with us – I think we should have known if we did some analysis – and that is what has pulled the movement back.
Now, when we look at the urban informal settlements, many of us look at those informal settlements as a place where the poor are suffering and so on. But within those informal settlements there’s a very active economy which we don’t understand very well. And so because we don’t understand that economy, we come in with this pristine idea that it should be developed. And yet, because it is benefitting certain individuals, those individuals will fight that kind of change. But they will fight it in our platforms. And because we are not sophisticated, we will not know that some of the people fighting us are exactly within our platforms. But it is because of the power dynamics within the community that they are able to do that.
Now, there’s this discussion of tenants and landlords that happens in the slum settlements. We haven’t done enough analysis of that issue – where you have tenants who are paying certain people, and those people don’t own the land.
Now, we pushed this discourse that the poor can save and buy land. And it relates very closely to savings: that actually we can save and in fact we can buy land from the market. Now, if we were very clear about our understanding of land markets and how land markets operate and what provokes land markets ... Land markets are driven by political narratives, so it’s not strictly speaking a market in the strict sense of the word. That is why the prices of land are abnormal, they don’t make sense. If you have a land in a place that has slums, why should the land be expensive if it was operating in the strictest sense, the way a market operates? Because we don’t understand the land narratives, we have sort of proceeded with this struggle the way a land man proceeds in the sea – you think in there you can breathe the way you breathe out here. So I think we’ve been a little naïve there, in terms of that.
Sometimes we’ve also failed in separating tactics from our philosophical underpinnings. I think that’s where we also fail, because if we were clear about tactics and philosophies then there would be tactics which work in Mombasa and they’re not necessarily the same tactics you use in Nairobi. Yet the philosophies ought to be the same. We can use buying as a tactic to tell the state that we are also serious – ‘if it was in the market place, then consider us’ – as a tactic. But if that becomes a philosophy across the movement, then it is problematic because there are places where we can win concessions merely by being, using other things – I don’t want to say brute force, but merely by occupying. Because we can occupy. So you know there are all those dynamics. And therefore we could use different stance of arguments to do this differently. And here we win with buying, another place we win with another strategy, another place we win with another strategy.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
Muungano is 20, but Muungano is a very weak teenager. You know, at 20 you are in puberty and all those adolescent years. Whereas I think the teenager can run, I don’t know whether the teenager has sufficient planning in the running as to do a marathon. It worries me that we are 20 and yet we haven’t put enough building blocks in the right places where the building blocks ought to be – to the extent that if Muungano had a national leader, that if that national leader spoke, then somehow the republic would stop for a moment and take a breather and say, hey, Muungano is speaking and we need to listen. The state knows what to do if Muungano poses any threat – they sort of know where to, how to, neutralize. I think that’s where the work is: how can we push this movement to a point where it cannot be neutralized easily? And that means there is a lot of work to do in the next 20 years.
I think the place to begin is organizing again, and I think our organizing now must be led by different precepts. We have to look at Muungano differently, and we have to go back to this whole question of the poor – working for the poor. I think we have to find excitement in Muungano. I don’t know how, but I think we have to find excitement that can generate, first of all, the necessary constituency – because once it has that constituency then it can begin talking about connecting to other useful constituencies, like the workers movement. I think the country has become so disintegrated that I think Muungano might be the thing that might get us together. Because in terms of organizing, when you don’t have housing, I don’t think it should be difficult for anyone to explain to you that you don’t have housing. It’s a very easy agenda around which to organize. I feel like we are starting now, despite all the things I’ve been saying. I think we have to have a start. And we are starting at a very difficult moment, when even finding organizers is a bit of a challenge, when the custodians of movements are all old. Finding young people and generating their interest in organizing is quite a challenge, specifically, and so I think it will matter how we connect with other organized sectors of society.
In the country there is a lot of anger. The country is very angry but there’s no one to direct this anger to some very concrete form, where we can do positive things with it. And the country’s angry about basic things, very basic things. They feel alienated, they feel they are not consulted, and when they’re consulted their views are not taken on board. It’s those very simple issues around which I think Muungano needs to organize. We’ve been organizing around very complicated things, like land is being grabbed by some rich guy. That’s a bit complex. I think we need to go back to very simple stuff, like, ‘when the government consulted you, did they listen to you, did they give you feedback?’ Because I think government is not giving anybody feedback.
Now, the other place to organize is the fact that there’s another emergence of nationalism in the country, where everybody’s feeling like they’re a member of a certain county. Now, that each county receives in the region of 4–6 billion Kenyan shillings I think is also a great thing, and it can help us organize. So that we make the case that the citizens must make government feel uncomfortable if it has that kind of money. And the citizens must tell government, ‘we can’t live in such a dwelling if that kind of money is received every year’. Maybe this is the moment, in the next 20 years, for Muungano to begin connecting the dots. What’s the connection between the 8 billion budget and the squalid living conditions in which they find themselves? What’s the connection between the 85 per cent budget that remains at the national level and this drop of ink that goes to the counties – 8 billion is actually a drop of ink. For citizens to begin possessing the kind of anger that can make them move the movement to another level. So I think there is a lot of work that the next 20 years holds out.
The core message I would like to convey to the people of Muungano is this: they should be careful not to let Muungano become like the rest of the organizations – because there are some people who think Muungano is just like other organizations, and then they will end up introducing some different ways of doing things which may not be compatible with the movement.
If there are people who aren’t ready to join Muungano, then we should give them some time to prepare themselves – even if this may cause us to remain just five or ten of us in the group who are willing to abide by Muungano’s rituals, then that is okay. We will be responsible for those who will have remained, until the rest get ready to join us again. Even Jesus used the same criteria: he worked with 12 disciples trying to spread the gospel in order to gain more followers.
And I think in Muungano, people have focused more on money: they don’t believe in Muungano, they just joined so as to secure some form of employment or just to gain money from the movement. I don’t think those people are truly loyal to Muungano, and if there are those who are truly loyal, they aren’t many. So it is best for us to work with those who are loyal to Muungano – then later we can work with the rest, once we know that they are truly with us.