My name is Peter Chege and I am one of the Muungano Wa Wanavijiji leaders in Kambi Moto village. I live in Kambi Moto. I am doing well, and so are many of us. We are doing all we can to improve our living standards.
How did your community get involved in Muungano? What were things like, back when Muungano emerged?
Welcome to Huruma. This is a village called Kambi Moto. Huruma has six villages in the movement, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji. Muungano came to Huruma in 2000; but really Muungano started in 1996 – it started in some parts of Westlands and Huruma, in 1996. It started as a movement fighting for the rights of the citizens in the slums or [informal] market places wherever they were, where the local government had imposed a lot of restrictions. I remember, in 1996, land issues arose in Westlands market – the government wanted to evict some people – and at this time, people came together and united under Muungano. Most of the slums in Nairobi are under the City Council, and many community members are victimized. There have been cases where the land on which community members have settled is suddenly taken away and sold to one person in the government. There used to be plans in City Hall claiming that areas where there were slums had not been occupied, but the reality on the ground was that people were living there with their families. In those days, people would conspire with officers from City Hall in order to evict the slum dwellers. They also used other means like burning houses, demolition, or even paying rogue young men to force them out. This happened until Muungano stepped in to end the evictions.
So Muungano came in with an aim of bringing all this to an end. People were now no longer supposed to be evicted; instead they were allowed stay and build their homes. If members of a community had to be evicted, then they had to be shown alternative places where they could settle. This despicable practice of burning houses was so prevalent in Mathare area. It used to happen between 3 and 6 am in the morning. They used to chase us in a condemnable manner.
In addition, whenever someone needed to repair their house, they couldn’t do so freely. They needed approval by the elders or the area chief before they could, for example, change their iron roofs, and this proved to be a major problem. So Muungano came in and helped us to understand that we had rights to own lands, just like any other Kenyan.
When Muungano reached Huruma slums in the year 2000, we embraced them in our small communities, where many of us had lived for quite a long time – there are many of us who have lived in the slums from the time they were young, up until now. In the year 2002, we started savings groups with the aim of improving our living standards, but this was waiting for approval by Nairobi City Council, because Huruma is not only the village of Kambi Moto. Together as the six villages, we formed a committee called Kamarigima, in order to talk with Nairobi City Council and come to an agreement. By 2003, every group did daily savings and they had specific days of meeting – but when we went for the talks [with NCC] we would go as one committee. We drafted an agreement between Nairobi City Council, the Huruma residents, and other stakeholders including NGOs like Pamoja Trust and Shelter Forum – each organization had its own responsibility. It was not easy to come to an agreement, because the council had initially assumed the responsibility for building the houses, so they could allocate themselves a larger share. But if we took it upon ourselves to build then it would be much easier, because we knew what was going on. We did a lot of training exercises before we embarked on construction. Some of them included formalities like land surveys, enumeration, housing design and planning, and many other things. Each community was responsible for ensuring everything ran smoothly. It involved a lot of work, especially because of the varying sizes of each village – for example, Kambi Moto is not the same size as Mahira, and so you would find that the houses in Kambi Moto were a bit smaller than those in Mahira. The Huruma group was lucky because in 2003 we had a councillor, Grace, who was quite cooperative. She and Mayor Joe Okech signed the agreement with the City Council on our behalf.
Before Muungano emerged, most of us suffered a lot of hardships. Some lost hope, some were imprisoned, and at times, we would be beaten up when we were found together holding our regular meetings. Some of us, like Wachera, lost their precious lives in the struggle; I remember when we carried [her body] to Nyayo House, to show the government and the whole of Nairobi our unity, making it clear to them that we were not bad people – today, we consider her, as well as some other members, our heroes.
In 2004, the Muungano group began to help members of the community to construct their houses. It begun in Kambi Moto, where a minister came to officially open the housing facilities; however, they didn’t contribute much.
How have things changed over time?
The history of Muungano is long, so I am only mentioning some of the details that I can remember. But Huruma has really improved in terms of security and environmental hygiene. Before, flying toilets were present everywhere. Security was also an issue: people found it difficult to come and visit us here. But, as you can see, because of Muungano people now live peacefully as brothers and sisters.
At first, we did not agree with the designs of the houses that were presented to us by the architect. We disagreed with the roof style and the door structures; we thought that the glass windows would only lead to more thefts in the area. But later, we held meetings with the architect from Pamoja Trust, who advised us on ways forward – and it ended up improving our security standards. Most of the six villages adopted the house design, and this led to further improvements in security in the area. Other villages, like Grogon and Redeemed, are yet to adopt the same designs for their construction; there are several reasons why these two villages lag behind in construction, which vary from one village to another. Only Kambi Moto was quick to take up these ideas, hence our transformation in the New Mathare area.
I would like to add that, once we started this journey with Muungano, we saw that it has indeed helped us to better our lives in many ways. And so we did not hold back, but instead helped to launch Muungano in other areas like Nakuru, Kisumu, and Mombasa. We have enlightened them on issues concerning daily savings and on the importance of knowing their rights, especially in regards to where they live. In Nyeri, we have Mathira and Mweiga that have also adopted some of our policies, and the residents there have recently been issued with title deeds.
Beyond Kenya, we have extended our tenderness and shared the good news with our neighbouring country, Uganda, and they are doing well in light of the massive developments going on there. And other nations are on board, where Muungano has reached, like Namibia, Ghana, and South Africa. Lots of us have visited many places because of Muungano, but the fundamental benefit has been the unity that the organization has brought among the people.
In the past, the typical man suffered lots of hardships and had to deal with many issues, like poor sanitation, inadequate water supply, lack of electricity, among others. We did not have a government which supported us to acquiring basic services. But now, things have changed, and we believe they will continue changing for the better. There is no big difference between the way we live and the lifestyle of people living in areas like Lavington. The only major issue here concerns land: once this matter is resolved, then we will be okay.
I think Muungano has evolved and undergone many changes, especially when we agreed to work together with Pamoja Trust. Previously, we were working on the agendas that were already set. The meetings and other activities were organized for us, where we were in fact paid like 100 or 200 shillings to attend the meetings. But after realizing it was for our own benefit, we changed the perception, and now we can conduct the activities on our own. We saw it as though we are being paid to go cultivate our own land, and that did not make sense to us, so we changed.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
It has been twenty years since 1996, up to now. Let’s focus on the next 15 years: my daughter Wairimu was born in 2000, when we started Muungano. Wairimu is not like children born and raised outside Muungano. Those who were born and raised within Muungano have fostered a sense of unity amongst themselves. For example, Jonte, one of the young men who has been working closely with Muungano, has been able to show her, as well as her contemporaries, the way forward within Muungano. So I look to these young people to fly the flag of Muungano high, going forward. They have to continue Muungano’s mission in order to arrive at its vision.
Even five years ago, Muungano was not the same as it is today. Jonte [Kimani], who is now leading our youth, was a very young man, but now he has matured. So I look forward to a better Muungano in the next five years to come. Muungano has also expanded, so if the youth hold on to our vision, we will go far in the next 20 years.
Also, there are groups that are not very well known, but which have contributed a lot. Some groups have gone and purchased land together as Muungano, boosting its name. I see massive growth within Muungano in the 20 years to come.
How did you first get involved in Muungano?
Let me first speak about the history of Muungano. If I can recall, I was first mobilized and told about Muungano right here in the village. For me it was quite new, especially things to do with daily savings. It was not easy for me in those early days, because I didn’t have a steady income. I wondered, what would happen if I would earn 100 or 500 shillings and take it to the savings – how would I then survive the next day, especially if I didn’t to get work? But after a while, I understood its importance.
I was born and brought up here in Nairobi and we had no permanent home, but when Muungano came in, I started thinking of owning a piece of land. I want to leave something behind for my children, just as I see many old men in the city do for their children. This challenged me, prompting me to join Muungano’s daily savings. I became a leader of Muungano for the group here in Kambi Moto, and challenged them that, even though we could not get a piece of land at that time, we should continue to save, because probably sometime in the future we would be lucky and get the land somewhere to live together as a community, or even get the land from the city council.
The fact that we could now get our own land really caught my imagination. I don’t come from a well off family, so owning a piece of land is a big achievement. I am the breadwinner in my family. Looking back at the people in the slum, I saw some who owned land and livestock; that wasn’t the case in my family, and so I wondered what I would achieve in the long run, after my life in the city, without going back to be a burden to my parents. So, together with few of those who were fortunate enough to join Muungano, we agreed to save and that’s why I have this house that you see. I am happy and proud, because before, if we were to have been evicted, then I am not sure where I would have gone with my family. So I appreciate the Muungano movement and encourage people to join.
What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years?
One thing that Muungano has brought forth which really brings me joy is the unity it has fostered.
Now, I am really happy to own a house, especially at my age where I do not have a stable source of income. It is a privilege to own a house – some people have houses from the government, but they still have to pay for them. So this is one achievement that I cannot forget, especially how it came about. The house makes me think of my children: sometimes I sit and think what would have become of us if we didn’t have this house. What would have turned out of that situation? Now, they are very happy to know that they have a place to call home. I doesn’t bother me much that I don’t have an assured source of income, because I know that nobody will stand at my door at the end of the month asking for rent, and that also makes me happy. Other than the fact that I haven’t yet found a stable job, I am happy that I do not have to worry about things like before.
My story is quite long. It has been a long journey from where I was born and went to school to now raising my children. Two of my children have passed form four; another is just about to pass; the other is still in primary school; and I also support a child of my sister-in-law. In all this I see God’s blessings, and it’s only by Him that I have come this far. We have not received any support from the government of Kenya, and it’s only by our determination and efforts that we have made such great strides. But it goes without saying that organizations like Pamoja Trust were at the forefront in constantly helping and advising us. Other organizations have also helped us, for example building a library for our children. In all this, we have witnessed a major milestone: when we will no longer be around, I would like those who come after us to also continue developing this place.
Another thing to be proud of are the people in the movement who have become teachers. Muungano has teachers who are consulted at times even by lecturers and students in higher learning institutions like Nairobi University. They come for research, and we share with them not only about our lives here, but also how it is important to have a harmonious co-existence within the community.
At first, I did not understand how things were going on; there was a time when I thought that these people are using us, that we were just from the slum and our lives weren’t going to get better. I remember one day I told Salma [NGO officer] and the community that I would not go to the meetings anymore, because if we were not moving forward then what was the point? I thought Pamoja Trust was playing with us, and wasting our time by telling us to sit down and discuss this and that. But later on, I came to realize we were progressing.
What have been Muungano’s biggest challenges over the years?
As I had said before, Muungano has come from far. We have had teachers who have taught us many things and shared with us the vision for Muungano. At first, it was not easy to make the people understand the vision, and so the response was not so good. In a whole slum village, we could have only one or two people who understood the vision, but later the number would increase, gradually, to five, ten, and so on. Once one person understood the vision, he or she had to spread the news, because they understood the people in the community – how they lived, their history, where they came from. This helped a lot because, for example, if people perhaps want to developing a place, or a piece of land, they have to start from a certain point and that can only be through savings. (There are many things that can be done on a piece of land other than just building – one can cultivate it – but as Muungano, we are mostly concerned with housing.)
What have been the strategies that really worked? What didn’t work? What did you learn?
We really support enumeration activities like the one that was done in Kambi Moto. It helped us to know the number of people living there. The only challenge with enumeration is the issue of tenants who keep on moving from one house to another, so it is not easy to have a complete record of people based on where they live. During an earlier enumeration, we counted 500 people, most of whom moved to other places. Another thing is that, during enumeration it is not easy to distinguish between tenants and structure owners, and this has also proved to be a challenge – it has brought about planning issues, because we can only plan according to the number of people we counted in the enumeration. If you have a cake to share with the community, it is better to give it to them to divide amongst themselves: through this, the unity in Muungano will grow bigger and better because people know each other; however, this cannot be so if the community is only involved in savings. The community people can feel that they are only saving, and are left out of other activities like procurement or housing construction.
So, given the opportunity, the community should be involved. I would tell a community that there should not be too structured leadership or one specific leader – every member should be given a chance to express their views, and if their ideas are brought together there will be no sense that this came from the chairman, chairlady, or treasurer. Here in Muungano, we want to do it differently. Previously, when we did not pay attention to positions and ranks, mobilization and holding of meetings was very easy because there was no fear.