From: Matopeni, Mombasa
Interview date & place: 1 April 2016, Mombasa
Interviewed by: Joseph Kimani & Kate Lines
Original language: Swahili
My name is Amadi Sudi, from Mombasa North network. I am the chairman of Muungano’s Mombasa North network.
How did you first get involved in Muungano?
As Matopeni Muungano Self Help Group, we joined Muungano in 2008. We see that Muungano has helped us in so many ways. First, we were to be evicted and Muungano brought us together. When we came together, we saw that it was good for us to live together, as the people who had brought the idea of Muungano had said to us.
So we started to save collectively and became one community. Initially, each of us saved 20 [Kenyan] shillings daily. We did this until we had saved 300,000 shillings. We said that our savings were meant to support our advocacy to get tenure rights over the land we were living on.
Evictions in Matopeni
What used to happen was that they were setting us against each other. They used a divide and rule system. They would call you and decide to pay you so that you leave the settlement. That was the first way. For the second way, they aimed to remove the houses by burning them down. And at that time we became very vigilant. In one incident, they doused a house with petrol at about midnight. The fuel poured onto a tenant in the house. This startled the tenant and he woke up. When he smelled the fuel he got up and went to open the doors. This person was able to witness how it was done. The doors were closed from the outside while people were still sleeping inside. This would give the arsonists time to get away. Fortunately, this time, the tenant woke up. The arsonist dropped his matches and ran. Arson was one way to get us out. Another way was to threaten us. They would instil fear by saying, ‘the land is mine, I have ownership documents’. If we said that it was our place then they would say, ‘present your documents!’ So they would say you are supposed to vacate the land. They would issue a verbal notice to vacate. They would tell us, that we should leave on, for example, the last day of the third month. Other threats would be written by lawyers and not the court – the lawyers would write a notice saying we had trespassed and we had three months to leave.
There was a time in plot 1122-4, where they came to demolish. They did not use a bulldozer; they came with crowbars. That was in 2002. We relied on our political links to stop it. The Member of Parliament for our area at the time was against forced evictions, and though he was away in Meru, he hurried back and halted the demolition.
What have been Muungano Matopeni’s biggest achievements over the years?
When the new devolved system of government was introduced, we found that being in Muungano opened up a lot of opportunities. We mapped our settlement and enumerated ourselves. The data from these profiles helped in our advocacy for land tenure. So, Muungano has helped us get recognition. In the past, before we joined Muungano, it was a problem – we were not officially recognized. But now, within the devolved system, we are recognized. Muungano’s contribution has enabled us to put our data together. This opened the doors of the Lands Department of the county of Mombasa for us, and it was easy for the county to understand who we are.
Similarly, through the federation we have achieved a lot in improving our housing facilities. As you can see, we have been able to improve our houses here in Matopeni. We have houses made of mud, and slowly we are changing them to blockhouses. We are also changing the thatched roofs to tin roofs.
The federation has enabled us to do a lot of things. In Matopeni, many of us have been able to go on exchange visits. We have gone to Nakuru and Nairobi, where we have learned a lot. We have learned a great deal from our peers in Muungano.
We started out with very few members. We were not just interested in recruiting members. We wanted everyone who had a house here to join. If you lived here, you automatically became a member, and this was how we wanted to advocate for the land.
Matopeni is made up of five land parcels: plot no 1165-1, plot no 1122-4, plot no 6033, and plot no 1410 – all in the map of mainland Mombasa. When we profiled and subsequently enumerated ourselves, we found 4,551 people were living here. And these are both tenants and owners of structures. From this point, we said that both the tenants and the structure owners should join Muungano. We stressed that everyone should get involved, and through this we have made great strides.
Muungano helped us build an office, which allows us to work better. The office also operates as a school. It is one of our benefits from Muungano wa Wanavijiji. As a community we also provide teachers to the school. The school is similar to Muungano because it is based on volunteerism. The children in the school do not pay as much as they ordinarily would. We, as Muungano members who have come together, can pay some amount to sustain the teachers. And because we know each other, given the fact that we all live together, we are able to do greater things.
What have been Muungano Matopeni’s biggest challenges over the years?
Our collective vision is to see that we get tenure rights over the five plots we occupy. Although, we have some challenges on some of the plots. There are two plots that the plot owners have agreed to sell to us. For the other three, the plot owners have not yet agreed among themselves. So we live in anxiety about these three plots. All three plots have inheritance contests within the families that own them. Two of these family contests are in court. In the two plots that the owners have agreed to sell to us, they are ready anytime to close the sale. We had a first round of negotiations, but we did not agree on the cost of the land. The amount he wants is higher than what we had hoped to raise. He said 16 million [KSH; about US$160,000], and the plot is smaller than one and a half acres. The owner said that the land was in demand and in a prime location in Nyali – Nyali is a location where wealthier people live. And even though the land has been designated for low-income high-density residential development, the owner feels he can construct apartments and have a good return. We have offered him 9 million for the land, but he has not accepted it.
We are in the process, although the Minister for Lands in Mombasa County has changed. This requires us to see the new minister and give him our information. Our documents are in the minister’s office, but we need to bring it to his attention and tell him how far we have come. In two other plots – 1122-4 and 6033 – we are negotiating and so we have no major problem. Cluster ‘A’ still has problems because the owner, who is a newly registered owner, is close to the county governor.
The land offices in Mombasa County have proven difficult to work with. At first, we preferred to mobilize ourselves and our leaders in order to present our land issues to the Mombasa County Land offices. We wanted them to see how they could help everyone, especially here in Matopeni. Now, we would like Muungano to initiate discussions based on our progress, about what more we can do together as Muungano that will help us grow. These discussions could help us get the title deeds that will give us a sense of belonging. Our main problem continues to be land – with the rich gaining ways of acquiring title deeds. Now, we are praying that in the future we will make progress.
A story about living on a graveyard
Matopeni, after uhuru – that is, after independence – the land was set aside by the municipality for cemetery purposes, or a graveyard. So it was proposed for that purpose. Then, the area got full, and it became a residential area –it was made as portions for [the benefit of] private developers. But, with time, people came and occupied the whole land. After the land was divided, it was proposed that the land should be given out to the settlers. But before it was given out, we had already arrived. We occupied the land just like the rest of the settlers who migrated into Kenyan towns, occupying different regions in the country.
Kenya came into existence after migration and settlement, where settlers moved in from the south, north, and east. As for Matopeni, when other areas experienced demolition, those who had faced demolition in their settlements came to Matopeni – and we said ‘no more eviction’. The bodies buried on this land while it was a cemetery are still there. But now the place is a residential area.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
In more years to come, I would like the people of Muungano to benefit. Land ownership has been our main challenge, so we hope that each one of us can get title deeds. With title deeds in hand, we will be able to accomplish a lot as Muungano. In addition, we want Muungano to help us build schools which we can manage on our own. We want to empower both women and youth groups, to give them the chance to enjoy the fruits of development. We want to see growth in the next 20 years to come, so that each person owns his or her house, with title deeds. We would like to see the poorest, from the grassroots level, own a house or even a car.
When we started Muungano, our aim was to save a shilling a day with an aim of bettering our lives. But, we haven’t achieved our objectives yet, and so we need to put in more effort, especially into visiting other groups. Acquiring information will give us the knowledge that will help us advance ourselves.