Muungano & Akiba Mashinani Trust Chairlady
From: Kahawa Soweto, Nairobi
Interview date & place: 27 April 2016, Nairobi
Interviewed by: Sophia Khamis & Kate Lines
Original language: English
My names are Anastasia Wairimu, from Kahawa Soweto. I'm a federation member. Kahawa Soweto is a slum where I come from. In our slum, I'm just a federation member, but because we are so many slums, we joined together, and by now I'm the chairlady of Akiba Mashinani Trust, from the slum.
Who is Anastasia? What motivates you?
Anastasia is a woman of 56 years old, a mother of many, a wife of Simon Mwangi, a federation member, a chairlady of Akiba Mashinani Trust, and who loves the federation very much. Muungano have been to me that food. What you cannot do without? Food. Muungano is like food to me, I cannot do without Muungano. Muungano has taught me a lot, I have benefitted from Muungano a lot because of knowing my own rights. Because now I'm in Soweto without being evicted, without sleeping listening to a tractor coming to demolish our village. No, I sleep very well, I wake up knowing nobody's coming to evict me. I'm saving where I loan to do my livelihood, I buy things with money from Muungano, when I save I get benefit from my savings. I have improved very well. And also physically I have grown because of Muungano.
I have known so many movements. Other movements, they fought for their own interests, but Muungano you fight for others, not for mine.
How did you first get involved with Muungano?
Very early in 1996, in our slum, Soweto, it came to be demolished and we had to stop the eviction. So we had to fight for, to stop the eviction. That time is when I joined the federation. I was not old like now and I had a young family. I had to join the others to fight for our village not to be demolished.
Before, as we call it Soweto – it was like South Africa Soweto in the time of apartheid – you could not repair your house without paying 2000 KSH by then, and it was too much for the poor. You could not construct even a toilet without informing the committee of the village. Even a kiosk you could not construct it without informing the committee of the village – and you had to pay KSH 2000 by then. So we had a hard time. If your house happened to fall you cannot repair without paying the committee. So we had to struggle to stop that. And by then Muungano was very strong, when we joined Muungano in our area it was Soweto and Kamae – we joined hands to stop the wazee from our village to be taking the money from the poor. Because by then our houses were falling and you could not repair your house.
What were things like back when you joined Muungano?
In 1996, 97, 98, by then there were a few slums who were in Muungano process and we joined Muungano in early 96 in Soweto and Kamae because we had issues. And by then there was no savings, the issues there was fighting against evictions. Kamae, they were to be evicted like Soweto. So we joined hands by then. And the movement of Muungano, others said that it is Mungiki – they said we were Mungiki, which was terrifying. Mungiki, a group of young men, they were doing bad things. So when they contradicted [confused] Mungiki, Muungano, people could not really differentiate between Mungiki and Muungano. So, we had to tell them we are fighting for our villages not to be demolished or to be evicted. So, that's when they said, ok we can join hands.
And by then we had no resources so we had to sacrifice ourselves. If it is to go to the meeting to Shauri Moyo, if it is one person who does not have fare we have to pay for her or him, and we go to participate the meeting. And the major issue was to fight against eviction.
And we were very strong. By then we had leaders in our slums. In each settlement there were leaders. We elected them. Where I come from they were 4 people – major people – who taught me, that's when I agreed to join them. One person, we nicknamed him Bob Marley. The other one is Albert Rodenyo, the other one is Telesia Mukame – the mother of one federation member who is here, Leah, her mother was so active – and also there was Telesia Wanjiru. They were 4 focal people. And that's when I joined. I had a little baby, which I used to carry. They used to help me.
By then it was so terrifying. If you are known you are Muungano, ah ... But I said I will do with Muungano, so that we can secure our settlement.
By then in Kamae there was a man – we nicknamed him OCS – by that time he was killed. Before OCS there was a young lady called Wachera. Very early in the morning I was going to Kiamumbi. I heard a gunshot, very early, it was 8 morning I heard a gunshot. So I had to go. And I heard people crying, shouting. We went there and that's time we found that Wachera has been killed. She was shot here between the head. And when the time came to bury Wachera we had to carry the coffin to the PC here in Nairobi. PC left us there with the coffin and it stayed there the whole night.
[They were killed] because of advocating against eviction of Kamae. After that we buried Wachera. Then it came to OCS. By that time we were going to court because we had to go to the court very early in the morning. I heard that the OCS was killed yesterday at night. We stopped going to Nairobi. We went to where the OCS was lying. We found him. And the people said, oh it is Kanini who did this. So people had to come and find Kanini there waiting for us to come to the court, and by that time Kanini was forced to leave Kamae and go to live to Kiamumbi. It was bad, by then.
But that did not stop us from fighting against evictions. We fought. We buried Kimani [OCS] and by that time, others – because we were not fighting alone per settlement – we joined hands as Kenya. All those slums we joined hands. If it is Soweto having an issue others could come. If it is Kibera having issues we go. Without asking any transport.
And we fought until the government heard our voice. Because we knew by then, one person cannot be heard but if we join and make noise and disturb them every day they'd say let's hear them. And that's what we used to do. We shout, we knock their doors, until they hear our voices. They started appreciated – or acknowledging – us. 'There is Muungano, in slums. They are people who are fighting'.
There were other cases in other places they faced because the government could not accept what we were telling them to do. Because by then the government, although even now it is corrupt, by then it was more. Because by then, when the slum was removed the land could not go back to the government but one politician could grab that land. Ours, there was a big politician who wanted to grab that land. We had to fight for and it came back to us.
And I appreciate Muungano very much, because if it was few people who are making noise and going to the offices to say, 'the land come back', it would not have. But we joined hands as Muungano in all the areas and we fought for. If you got a case, would they come? Korogocho people come, Kibera people come, and we are fighting for Kamae and we are fighting for Soweto. We joined hands – all the Muungano members could have come to court. And that's why I say Muungano is strength, because if it was not Muungano I don't know whether there could any existence of any slums in Nairobi or elsewhere. But it is because of Muungano that slums are there.
And I know that was the first step, to retain those slums. The second step is to develop those slums.
Who were Muungano's supporters in the early years?
By then, we had not many partners but there was one who can never be forgotten, Father Alex of the Catholic Church, who used to help us a lot. He used to give us a church to meet because by then the police could not come and arrest us when we are in the church. So he had to secure places like church so that we can meet there. And sometimes Davinder Lamba, of the Mazingira Institute could facilitate for us.
By then, there was no Pamoja Trust, but Davinder Lamba helped us a lot. Sometimes we went there hungry, we have not taken tea at our homes, he could provide lunch, cooked lunch. We eat and then we go back to our houses. By then we usually met at Shauri Moyo in Nairobi. Sometimes we could trek and go back, but he helped us with lunch.
And also the 4Cs [Citizens for Constitutional Change] gave us advice, they used to tell us what is our rights. Because before we knew, it seemed like we are born to stay in slums, we could not see anything better. But when we were educated by those people we knew, this is not our life to stay in slums without water, without adequate toilets – we have to fight for. But before that we are staying as usual, 'this is our life' – we could not care. But when they came into our life, those partners, we knew there are some things that we did not know. And by then we started fighting for our rights. So those partners have been our helps and we cannot ever forget what they gave us.
A story about Father Alex
Before you were chosen to go for an international exchange you had to go to a local exchange. So it was a time when we went to internal exchange, from Soweto and others we went to exchange in Korogocho – the Catholic church there. And by then there was Father Alex. Father Alex read from the Bible, Ezekiel 37, saying about the dry bones. And he said, 'you are dry bones, scattered everywhere in Kenya. Dry bones are not alive, dry bones without any flesh. And I say to you today, dry bones, come together. Dry bones, I urge you, come together. And if you come together there will come a force that will put flesh in you. After being put flesh in you another force will come and put breath in you. And you'll be alive. You have equal rights with the richest – you dry bones, come together’.
That's what he read and it was a long time ago. And I will never forget Father Alex. I imagined, ‘as a slum dweller I'm a dry bone. There's no hope of me coming to stay a better life? No, Father Alex has as said there is hope’. And he said that, you have to fight for, fight for... you come together. And we really came together, that's when we started internal exchanges. We came together as dry bones, slum people came together. They are dry bones; we came together. And other forces are NGOs, our partners, giving us flesh – knowledge is power. We were informed. And other forces giving us a financial assistance – that is breath. We had a platform. We are coming to, we had hope.
And after that he said that we shall do an oath taking. We did oath taking. He gave us a ring here, a ring of green and brown, peace and land. Land is brown, green is peace. And we put the ring here, that is oath taking. After that he did a big Mass at Ufungamano [House] and he said, '[from] every settlement, an old mama or an old man [should] come with soil’. And they did, they brought soil. After the old mama in every settlement brings soil, Father Alex started Mass, in Ufungamano. The soil was put in one big basin and he called an old mama to come and mix the soil – from Athi River, from Soweto, from everywhere it was put in one basin and it was mixed. And then he prayed: 'we want to own this soil. We want to own’. He stretched his hands for almost an hour – he had stamina. He prayed and prayed and then he said that he wanted to give us a sacrament. We went and received, holding our hands we received each a spoon of soil. And we did it. He said ‘you have owned that soil’. He did a very big mass.
And then the pictures of Wachera and OCS and others [who had been killed resisting evictions] from other various settlements were outside on the trees. He read us there, in every tree he had a picture. Why did this man die? Why did this woman die? He prayed so that we can get the fruits of that death. May their blood bear fruits. And we see the fruits.
How have things changed over time?
It have changed a lot. If I imagine from the beginning when we had no Muungano and now there is a great change. In my view, before that, if you owned a house it was not like yours because when you want to repair you had to go to call a third party to be able to construct your house. But now you are able to construct or repair your house any time you need. And before, they were taking money from the poor every end of the month. We stopped that. Also, there were no major roads to enter our slums. When the fire came we had to demolish the houses or the village got burnt. But now we have to sit down and have a dialogue so that we may emerge together to come with a solution. So we have the power in our hands and that came because of Muungano.
As I said earlier, we joined hands so that we can stop eviction to the slums which we knew. And as people are coming from rural, coming to urban, the slums are growing. And the slums before which we knew, we fought for [them] to be stopped to be demolished. So when you hear that there are slums which are being evicted, there are those who have been allocated, those we have not enumerated before. And sometimes we do not know them because in the power line people should move from there automatically – we could not fight for development even though you are there in the slums and you are under the wire of the electricity posts. You cannot stop to be evicted there because it is dangerous. Or you are on the riverbank – we cannot stop that. So you can hear that people are saying, 'we are being evicted and Muungano is not helping us'. We cannot help you to fight against development. People have to move alongside the riverbanks, people have to move under the electricity line. But if the settlement is not under those two, we have to fight for. So they are few which are remaining, the true settlements – we have to fight for those who are remaining.
What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years?
The big achievement that we had, we were not evicted. That was the first step. The second step that we have development in our slums – we are able to construct permanent houses and we have water points that we did not have before. And also we have electricity, which we did not have before. And that comes from the unity of Muungano because Muungano we have the strength. It is a platform to negotiate.
What have been Muungano’s biggest challenges over the years?
The challenges are there although they are not as much as before, because we are fighting to have the land tenure so that you may have the certificate of the ownership. There also there are others, the cartels, who usually want to control the village. Although they are still there – the doorkeepers, the gatekeepers – they are still there but we are using the force from the Muungano to overcome their ... they want much from the people but we stop it because we have that strength from the Muungano. So even though there are challenges they are not as much as before.
What have been the strategies that really worked?
To start with the saving, we knew when people come together without doing anything they'll be disparate and stop what they are doing. So we thought what should we do? And we thought saving could be like a sticker, to stick people together. As the bible says, where there is ... it is where your soul or heart will be. So we started saving to make people come together and also start benefitting. We starting saving one shilling per day – it was called shillingi moja moja – a shilling per day. And sometimes we could not save.
We started that and also the other slums started saving, they did saving by then. And SDI came in our highlight in 1996. And that's when the exchanges started. A few people were taken from here to go to India and see people at the other slums what they are doing. And they come and tell us, 'They are doing this and they are fighting for this'. We started feeling there are people who we are under SDI. Because when they go there they come to educate us, and we are much more informed than before. So SDI has done a lot by taking people there and they come and tell us what the other federations are doing and what they are doing to change the lifestyle in slums.
As from that internal, or local, exchanges, after that people were taken outside [Kenya]. As myself the first exchange I went in Uganda. Mayor Kizito was then the mayor of Kampala. It was me and Chege and Jane [Weru] and another woman from Deep Sea. We went there – it was 2003 – and we started a Muungano there. The local exchanges have started growing in us, and also being taken to external exchanges, international exchanges, people have learnt a lot. People go there and see what other people are doing and it has made people to change.
Before Muungano came we had to struggle alone. But now we have so many partners and also we are involving the government, so that we may tackle the problems that we cannot tackle alone as Muungano.
A story about international exchange
I've been in several international exchanges, but the one that I cannot forget it was a time when I went in Colombia and I was among the panellists. When the time came when I went to the panel I could not find my name there. I told Muturi, my name is not there and I was supposed to participate. I sat down next to the panellists and I started participating. But my mind told me, 'I came all the way from Kenya to come and listen to people talking about the people of slums and they have never lived in slums – no, I won't’. The last person, when he spoke, he was about to give the microphone to the moderator. That's the time when I snatched the microphone, and I stood – I had no chair to sit on because they have not preserved for me – I have stand. I said, 'no no no, I cannot come all the way from Kenya and come to listen to you talking about me, about the people who live in slums. I am here to talk about myself. And this what you see here on this table, that is what is being done in many countries: we are not given any opportunity to speak about us. How can you say about me, how can you say why I'm sick and I'm here. I'm not a dumb, I can say, I can talk about myself’. And I expressed myself, I talked. I talked and I said, ‘I'm ok now’. After that, when I came back they wrote a letter apologising, all the way from Medellin. The letter came here and I still keep it. I had to say – they cannot pay for me, they cannot use all that resources to go and listen only. I had to participate and that's what I did, even though I was not there among the panellists.
What didn’t work? What did you learn?
Before, when we did the enumeration people exaggerated the numbers because they wanted even their relatives who are in the rural [areas] to benefit. And we had no capacity to stop that. But now when they enumerations are being done we know it is for our own benefit. So we are documenting people and as we do it, it comes like 98 percent good.
We have learnt through mistakes we have done before. And as Muungano we say, a process is a learning process. We are going, even though we had done so much before, we are strategising on the activities we had done before. So that we can see where there was a failure. *Like when we did the enumeration in our slum. People exaggerated the numbers because others had to say that even the toilets are houses, even the water kiosks were given numbers as houses, but we did the evaluation and now we have verified the exact number. That has been a dilemma in our slum. It's not only our slum but other slums, because people wanted others to benefit, their relatives. They called them 'Come, we are being counted' – that's what they say – 'So that you can benefit from our slum'. It has been a major problem but now what we are doing starting with Kiandutu, we are improving.
Leveraging finance: Akiba Mashinani Trust
By then, the saving grew. It did grow. And if it is one settlement needed financial support the resources were brought together. And if it is livelihood we could have given the group that needs the financial support.
But the finance grew. By then in 2003 that's when we came to start the Akiba Mashinani Trust, because financially we had started to grow and we had to elect the committee which will safeguard that finances. So by then we were elected to safeguard that kiondoo – it was called kiondoo [basket] – and we elected three members from the federation. We were with me, Wagathiru, Njuguna, Muturi, and Mary Athiambo – four. And because we are from the federation we said we want the technical people and that's why Jane [Weru] is there, Omondi, and few staffs are involved there when we have the meetings.
And that kiondoo we launched in the year 2003. We did launching of that kiondoo at the Nyayo Stadium. And by then, Raila was the Minister of Housing – we requested him to come and launch our kiondoo but he did not turn up. But by then, because we were working together with the federation of Uganda, by then Babo was their Minister of Housing – we requested him to come and he came. And he launched the kiondoo in the year 2003. As from the year 2003 up to now, we have done a lot. Our kiondoo has grown, has expanded, we have done wonders in our settlements, within that kiondoo.
Akiba Mashinani, we loan three types of loans. One is livelihood, the other one is greenfield project, the other one is in situ – constructing the house where we are living within. So we have done a lot, because if you go and from the greenfield projects we have many lands that we have bought for the federation members, they have benefitted. If you go to the livelihood loans, we have given so much and we see the impact of that loan because people have improved a lot. And if you visit them, those who have received the loans they have improved in their business or whatever they are doing, they are not like before.
Livelihood loans have done a lot. If you go to Nakuru there are several saving groups, which are joined together by the network. They have been able to buy the motor bicycles for the young men and they have been able to repay. Every young man in the federation has a motorbike and every woman in those savings schemes they have the cooking gas, they do not use the firewood. Also, they have a big [market] where they sell among themselves what they want and also they have bought. This is livelihood.
When we come to greenfield, we have been able to buy shambas [land] for the federation. In Nakuru we have bought, in Bondeni [Katani] project we have bought four pieces of lands, in Nairobi we have one piece of land, in Kiambu county – Tigoni is in Kiambu county – we have 8 acres a piece of land, in Machakos there are more than 100 acres in Machakos County. If we go to Timau, which is in Meru County, we have been able to secure people there to pieces of land, which before they could not be able to afford. We paid for them and they're repaying. Although they have not finished completely paying, because they are not stabilized, but they are trying. So, when I say about the loans there is an impact on the ground.
A group being given a loan when they are together and later they split and they have not paid the loan: there have been several groups like that, but we deal when it comes to that we deal with individuals. Because we know as a federation member who mobilizes those people. They know this person lives here and you as a member you know the other member of your group lives there. So I take you and you take me to the other person. Individually we collect them at door to door to recover our loan.
Greenfield land strategies
The reason of people buying land even if it is outside Nairobi. In every settlement, like myself in my house, I have so many. I have a bigger family and others are growing. In the village I will only benefit one house. Others are my family members, what will they benefit? The spill-outs have to join the greenfield. So that's how it came to the spill-outs. We say in our village we are 7,000 – it is only an example – and our village we can only bear to take people to only 2 thousand. Where are the others to be taken? They are spill-outs. We have to buy there the land so they can go.
They go. My families where they cannot fit in my house. They go, the spill-out – we call the spill-out – they have to go to the greenfield projects. That's how the greenfield project came.
When we present the issue of greenfield it is an open option. If you want to join the greenfield you are able to join. But you are within that settlement, not outside.
We see like Katani project, there are 12 houses there and the beneficiary want to sell – there was a case like that. But the question was, have you owned that house? Have you anything to say that you have owned that house so that you can be able to sell? And why was it, initially, why was it started? If you sell it, where will you go? Will you go back to the slum where you have no house? You go to construct another slum elsewhere? No. So, when you are a beneficiary there, there will come a time when you will be given a certificate of ownership when you cooperate paying the loan. That's when you will own that house – you say it is mine because I have paid every cent that I owe the group. And that time maybe you can give it to a family. If you die there will be it is called next of kin, you have to write. Although we have not started doing that, it will come a time like now we shall have a meeting, on Saturday, with the Katani Project members. And things like that will be passed there – what will happen if the beneficiary die? And they come ... they, the beneficiary are the one who come with what they would want. And about the selling, we do not recommend. Like before, people used to sell, 'I'm in a slum, I sell my house, I go to another slum and construct another house. I will be a tourist of slums’. And that's what we don't want.
What has been the role of women in Muungano over the years?
The role of a woman in Muungano is very big. Men cannot do without women. As a woman I have a husband, I have children. So I have to play my role here in the middle. When the men ... I saw when there was a war somewhere – I don't know which country [Sierra Leone], I saw that video [Pray the Devil Back to Hell] – women joined together, Muslims and Christians, and said 'no more fighting'. No more fighting. They used to go to the market and singing 'no more fighting'. Regardless you are Muslim and me I'm a Christian, we joined hands. Because if your husband dies, you are a Muslim, you'll be left with your children to struggle. If I'm a Christian my husband die, the death does not know I'm a Muslim or a Christian. We are left with the children. So, we joined hands as women and said, enough is enough. We must join hands as women. And that's why even if you to any settlement, women are many than men who are in Muungano. Because everything lies on the shoulders of the women. When the man goes to fight the mother is left with the children. When the child cries for the food the father is not there, it is the mother. And when there's no water, father could not go and draw water from the river, it's me to go and find water. When the man comes there: 'give me food'. He does not know where there was water or what, he wants food. So we had to fight... We saw that when man wants to go outside he can go without worrying. When you have no adequate toilets a man can stand anywhere, in the fence, and release himself. What about a woman? You cannot. You cannot. So the issues or the problems pulls us together and say 'what is the answer?' And you have to fight. And after fighting that's when men come see, and say, 'we have seen our maendeleo [progress], we have seen the development that we have brought’. Women play the major roles in families, in development, everywhere. They are in the front line.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
Muungano is a big process. We go learn day by day and we learn through mistakes we have done earlier. What I want, 20 years to come, to be much more to be done than now. Where there are slums I know there won't be slums, there will be permanent houses because we have already begun. And we know the kiondoo, AMT, will be so much big to able to cater for everybody. And those who are young now they will be old like me, these young ladies, and because they have started learning they will do much better, more than we have done. I wish the federation, Muungano everywhere in Kenya, to grow more and to do much more than we have done.
A message for the younger generations of Muungano
You know, before, what we did, we did not bring money before the issues we had. We could travel without asking for any transport because there were no resources and we did for our own benefit. Like now, if it is now people fighting for their own settlement they cannot now because they say, the question you are asked, 'how much will I be paid?' Now, in the morning I'm a community health worker. There's a meeting in our health centre, you call a person to go there and he is the one who is going to benefit and he asks you, 'how much will I receive?' And I told him, 'when you go to hospital to be treated, you pay or you are being paid?'
Now if you are fighting for your settlement not to be evicted are you supposed to be being paid? Or when you are meeting for the issues that are in your village are you supposed to be paid? No. So when you bring money first everything will go. You won't meet what you want to do if you put money first. But if you bring what you want first money will come after. That's when you will be able to accomplish what you want. And that's what we did. If we had brought the money issue before I could not be in Soweto now. But we said, 'no, it is time to fight for our rights’. Bring your rights first, but if you bring the rights of money here ... Many people know Muungano because of money – ‘I will go to Muungano House, I will be paid a thousand, I will drink tea and have bread’. If you come one week or a month without being paid you'll say, 'I won't go again’. But if you bring your issues before the payment, before any money, you'll be able to do what you want to improve yourself and to improve the others you are fighting for. Because you are a representative of others. Because all the federation members we cannot fit at Muungano House. So who are here are being elected to represent others. If you put the money issue first you cannot be able to accomplish what you have been elected for.