Abdi Mohamed

Abdi Mohamed

Civil society partner

From: Korogocho, Nairobi

Interview date & place: 4 May 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Jack Makau & Kate Lines

Original language: English

My name is Abdi Mohamed, I am coming from Korogocho slum in Nairobi. I was born and brought up there. Currently, I've been involved in youth programmes.

Seeking alternatives to upgrading in Korogocho

I'm focusing on housing initiatives in the slum areas – more so on resettlement schemes. I'm involved in coordinating 26 families – a local initiative, a community-based housing scheme of 26 families. And I do fundraising for them as well as mobilize them and helping them to put their house in order in terms of their savings, in terms of management – group management – and so many other things.

The group that we are working with – the 26 families – majority are tenants, and they have been living in these slums for so many years. The Kenya Korogocho slum upgrading project focuses mostly on infrastructure and does not address the issue of housing and security of land tenure as such.

Korogocho is just very small. There are a lot of restraints and challenges government is facing in terms of helping with slum upgrading. And we feel that it will take too long for people to be able to access better houses. So that we have resolved to take our own initiatives, to move out of the slum area. We have already bought a land and are ready to settle on that.

How did this journey start for you?

[For me, it started in] 1998, when a group of young people from Korogocho who thought that ... it was good to form a study group to help other young people and help their colleagues, becoming the mentors of others who didn't get an opportunity. Actually, it was sort of a study group, that came together to form an organization – a small youth organization. And it has grown for ten years – more than ten years – where we've established a primary school and we have a clinic going on. But right now we are just mentors for other young people who are in charge of that. The courage was all about helping, giving a hand to the people, to your community. Giving back to your community.

I've been actually concentrating for the last 7 to 8 years working on youth development. And it has been a quite rough journey, given that you are dealing with different kinds of people. And we usually say young people, in Swahili, need amomoto [fires] – youth are hot blood, if I can say it. They want everything to be done quickly and they want quick results. So it has been a learning process to me and where I settled I decided that it is now to move into the bigger agenda. Housing is a bigger agenda than youth empowerment, given that it addresses one of the basic human needs – human needs. So, I thought that getting the families of these young people selected – a few of them – to come and move, to help them access better shelter. So it has been a long long process trying to work with the young people, but quite interesting.

How did you first get involved with Muungano?

I've interacted quite a lot with Muungano. And I remember in the initial stages where they were forming this Muungano, and I was also involved in its establishment in Korogocho, although it faced quite a lot of challenges in terms of local politics. But I remember very well the Chairman or the president of the federation, Osumba, was really really working hard and we were part of the people he worked to mobilize towards Muungano.

Osumba, although you know he went to a local primary school, I know where he lived – we were just neighbours, although in a different village. So we knew each other, and I'm very happy with the success that the late Osumba made with Muungano. And sometimes you say, you go to learn a lot from him in terms of helping the community in this safe saving concept for the project – yes for the Muungano. We also came to know about Mwamko initiative, Mwamko wa Vijana, and I'm glad that the driving force of the project were people from Korogocho. And I can cordially say that Kimani, one of your staff now, he comes from Korogocho and I'm glad that he's contributing towards Muungano. He has a good experience and real experience for everyone.

The community in Korogocho are divided into two groups: we have those structure owners and we have tenants. And when Muungano was coming on board, Muungano wanted to involve all stakeholders, from tenants to structure owners. Unfortunately, structure owners were not interested to work with tenants, so they felt threatened by the way Muungano works because Muungano doesn't discriminate against anybody in the community. What Muungano does is they bring all stakeholders on board and then they help them to approach common issues with common understanding. But unfortunately, we have structure owners who felt threatened. And again, it has been in the history, that governments have been promising structure owners that they will be able to be given security of land tenure. And so they feel that ‘when we involve the tenants in trying to approach the issue of housing, then we might lose big in terms of land and other things’. So that was the problem with Muungano: there was a backlash between structure owners and tenants.

So structure owners were the main, the challenge, behind the whole concept. So some of them were actually even running to local courts to stop the process. I remember when Muungano wanted to do enumeration and the tenants were being threatened that they should not register their names by the structure owners, and it was quite tense, there was quite tension. And Muungano had to now use a different approach by approaching organized groups rather than sensitising them to come together – so organized groups that will be able to take over the initiative, do it at their own pace.

How have things changed over time?

Muungano has actually changed quite a lot. If I can say, from the beginning Muungano was just a small group, but now it has become a federation where you have so many small groups into one.

The Muungano as a child has grown up and is now an adult and ready to move on its own, with quite mentoring from Akiba Mashinani, who serves as a parent of Muungano.

The challenge for Muungano, if I can say, sorry to say but as Kenyans we believe so much in handouts. But I'm very happy that Akiba Mashinani is trying to help Muungano change the attitude that – for the sustainability of Muungano and Akiba Mashinani so it can help generations to come – we are not giving you handouts, but we are going to give you a loan with minimum, very low interest rate in the market that every poor can afford, so you can also pay it back and then that money can be used to help others and so on.

The journey for them to convince the community has been not very easy – it has been very difficult. So, they have managed to convince quite a big number of people that this way – this project or this programme or this system – can help address the main issues of housing. They have been doing a sort of participatory approach and this has been helping them convince the people from the slum areas, people from other areas, that the approach that they are doing is a sort of community-centred initiative where we have seen them getting a huge clientele – clients – in terms of the mobilization they have been doing.

If I can give an example, Jack Makau has been a sort of a guy who has learnt how to interact with the people from the slum areas. And with his expertise he has managed to keep Muungano members, Muungano family together, not by bullying or other things but by telling them ‘This is your initiative, not my initiative. This is the way to go, follow it and then we'll be able to succeed’.

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

The government-led initiatives, slum upgrading, take a lot of process because of bureaucracy and the people involved. And again it is not a community driven, but rather a sort of a policy driven, unlike an organized group like Muungano – and others – is that it is a community-driven initiative where community actually looks around and sees that it is their own need, and from that need they develop their own solutions from what they have seen as the need. Unlike the government, where they come and just assess the needs and develop their own solutions. Government solutions. But for communities, identifying their own needs and identifying their own solutions.

I would like to ask Muungano not to be a sort of a closed group, but let them show others that it is a replicable model. And also not to take this as a passing opportunity, but to take it as a long term opportunity that will be able to help them and their families in future.

I'm still working with the youth. Right now I've just closed my mind to working with the group of 26 families, who we are trying to help them access shelter. But more so, I'm working with the youth from these families and I want them to become builders, I want them to be very active in construction industry. What the gap that I want Muungano to bridge is, because they are so much involved in construction of houses, so I'd like them to use the fresh energies from these young people from these families they are trying to assist. Train them in construction skills. Give them expertise. Give them good mentorship and provide them internship opportunities for them to become builders. So that in future we'll be able to have quite a number of people who are in construction industry and then we'll be able to lower the cost of construction through providing labour. And they’ll be able to ... I know, they will feel that they want to give back in future to other projects that are coming up.