Emily Wangari

Emily Wangari


From: Kiamutesya, Mathare, Nairobi

Interview date & place: 30 March 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Kate Lines

Original language: English

My names are Emily Wangari. I am born in here Mathare – I'm born and raised here in Mathare – and I stay here in Mathare. This area, it was the first settlement. We have 13 villages, but this, Kiamutesya, the village that I come from or am staying in, is the first. And we came here early 1950s. And during the time of colonial, when they were fighting for freedom, there were some people who fought from here. They used to go and take ... the ones who were fighting, the women were taking them food. It was a field of fighting, Mathare. And now the village won, after the fight was over, now the people started building. First they were building with nylon papers and cartons, and to shield themselves because of rain they were using a nylon papers and – see the road there was somewhere, it’s called lammi [tarmac]; they go and dig, they bring it, the tarmac. They were removing it, wide, then they carry it and come and put it on top of the house; after now they put it – it used to shield them during the rainy season. The houses were build temporary. And now people started building with timber – the houses were now upgraded to timber.

How did you first get involved in Muungano?

Well, Muungano I joined in 2007, after an exchange program of Kiwasco in Kisumu. [When] I went there, I wasn’t a member; then I came, I thought it was a good idea – the networking, the cooperation of work – so I came and joined in December 2007.

So from then, we started the struggle. There was a lot of notices, evictions. We were taught how to advocate, how to enumerate ourselves – then, I was the leader of enumeration in my settlement, which is Kiamutesya. We were doing the networking of other villages – Mathare network.

After the enumeration, we had to go and negotiate to Nairobi Water, because now the water was there but it was illegal. By 2008, Kosovo they were given water by a certain priest in Saint Teresa's, so the Nairobi Water was planning how to dislocate the water because they were not paying – they were just given, because by then the village was new. So we came together, we negotiated with them, and they started a pilot program in Kosovo – because when you look at our settlements, Kosovo have managed themselves well, the houses are well managed, but our place, they are mixed; so because of piping, we started with Kosovo. Then the project worked, and then they came to our village, the other villages. But we have achieved: we have some water kiosks – they built us water kiosks. Now, we have now to advocate more, so that they can connect water in households, but according to our government they are still delaying – but we have water kiosks.

What were things like, back when you joined Muungano?

Some years back they used to evict us with fire. They'd just start fire somewhere, and when we put fire off, somebody comes and says ‘this is my land, don’t rebuild’. Because they used to light fire at night, because daytime we shall see them. It was 2005, 2006, 2007. The fires were so rampant, like almost here, there, here. The private developers – the people claiming the land to be theirs – so even they could start at night; they take a cat, they pour paraffin, and then they light the tail of the cat; because our structures were build temporary, where the cat will just jump because of the fire, it will go and start the fire.

After the fire burns and we put off – we manage to put [out] – the area chairman would come and say ‘this is the [eviction] notice; don’t rebuild’. What we used to do is just we build with burnt iron sheets, temporary – you shall renovate later – because when you leave it like that, they will come and put a permanent house; somebody would come and leave you out. After we put off the fire, we cover ourselves and say, ‘the people who were staying here, and the people who are there, rebuild with the burnt iron sheets’. With the materials that are left you just build, so that you don’t leave the way – the land – blank; so that nobody can come and start building.

We have had so many fights. Even there was another woman who came and brought some rollies [trucks] with ballast – building materials. After she came and put them, she said ‘I'm giving you two days, so that you can evict here and I build my permanent house’. So what we did, after she left, we told some people to come with gunias [sacks] so that they can carry the materials. We carried them, and we have a river here – down here we have a river – so whatever we did, we carried the materials and dropped them in the river. So that when they come – when the woman brought some police – no one will have them some evidence. We took at night; we took the materials, we disposed them in the river, and when she came after two days, she found there is no material – building materials – to build, and no one to take to court or police station. So I think she has spent so much, and she disappeared without – we have never seen her again, to date.

How have things changed over the years?

Muungano, we have come so far, because by then, so many notices of evictions by private developers were so many. We had to join hands: we go to our chiefs office, we go to DO, so that we can advocate for our land. And so far the notices are narrowing, because nowadays they are not coming.

The way I came in Muungano, I was so shy, I couldn’t even talk to people more than five or six because of no confidence. But nowadays I can advocate even – I can talk to president, even anybody – with confidence, because of now Muungano. It have taught me how to be a leader and to have self-esteem in me. Now, I can advocate anywhere. I'm very comfortable, because we have done so many, even community ... In 2010, we did a zonal planning of Mathare by the help of Berkeley University and Professor Ngao of Nairobi University. [We know how to plan ourselves], we have that skills, only papers that we don’t have – we have not gone to planning school – but out of the help of Professor Ngao we are community planners. We can plan our community very well, if given a chance. We have come so far, we have learnt a lot. Leadership skills, we have learnt a lot. And not we, I: I have learnt a lot.

So far now, we are recognized by the government. Back then they were struggling to know who is Muungano, why are these people calling themselves Muungano? But we came clear: we are here to advocate and fight for our rights. And [most] of all, we were fighting how to be recognized. First, to be recognized we live here, in these settlements. Because when you go to profile of Nairobi County, they didn’t have our profile, our services – they were not providing any services to us. So now, whenever they are planning, they know there are people existing somewhere, out of us telling them we exist in these villages. And how did we do that? By enumerating ourselves.

We take the results to them: we say, we are 300, or 3000, or 5000; we have four toilets; we don’t have access to roads; we don’t have electricity; electricity which is there is illegal. So, at least we are seeing things changing. At least we can sit and say we have achieved something – because we now have roads; there is electricity which is supposed to be going on which is funded by World Bank. And there, before, the people who knew us it’s just the area MCA and the MPs, and they used us when they want votes; after that they don’t come back to do the development. But out of our struggle and going to advocate so much, its where we have achieved so much. The movement itself, we have come so far now, because our leaders they are being recognized by the government, and also our effort is now seen.

What have been the strategies that really worked?

I went to Kisumu when I wasn’t a member. When I went to Kisumu I heard people saying ‘Muungano, Muungano’ so I was interested; I wanted to be told what is this Muungano. After, now, because I knew there is Muungano in my settlement but I didn’t have that clear picture of what they are advocating and what Muungano is for. But when I went to Kisumu and saw people advocating for water, going to boardrooms with Ministry of Water to supply water to our people, then I said ‘now I have to come and join people, so that even us we can take now the advocacy’. As now we are talking, we have sat in boardrooms with Nairobi Water, with Kenya Power – we have even taken them to our office in Hurlingham – so that now we can have the data, and they supply the electricity. And we have seen now even the community themselves, when the issues arise, we are now the key people to sit down and talk – out of now Muungano.

If you come together, there is nothing hard we cannot achieve. There’s is nothing hard, when we come together with the same ideas and with the same spirit. Knowing very well that what we want to achieve, there is nothing we cannot achieve. Right here, because now we have come so far, we now sit with the governors; we can sit with the governor of Nairobi and share our idea and our dream, so that now they can help implement. We have gone to offices, like Nairobi City Council, to know: this land of ours, they allocated to who? And the shocking story is they told us – with written papers responding – [is] they allocated to no one. And we told them, ‘these people come say they bought from you’; they said no, they have not sold to anybody. Only that gave us strength now to secure our settlement where they have not managed to demolish. Now, right now we can say at least, even if not permanent but temporarily, but now we are safe. We have peace – no one will come and say we shall evict you.

Strategies that worked: a story about targets, and tactics

By the time of mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the hospital. By then his daughter Margaret was a mayor. So the hospital was built – Mathare hospital was built – and now it came a time when they wanted to launch the hospital, but she said that she won’t come and reopen the hospital because of the slums – Mathare slums. And out of this information her father now, Jomo Kenyatta, felt very bad and he declared that its better the hospital not be launched. Rather, he said, that if it is a must we demolish Mathare slums so that the hospital can be launched, he said let the hospital stay like that without being launched. And the hospital has many years there without being launched.

Recently, as we were now being pushed by another developer called Chege – he came and said that he wants ... he has some plots here – whatever we did, we took that as a chance. Somebody communicated to us that President Uhuru Kenyatta is coming to launch the hospital, because he knew now it was their fault because it was his sister who refused to come when she was a mayor. We went there, when he was launching the hospital now, and we mobilized some old women who knew the story – because now us we were told by our grandmothers what happened. So we went there with old women, and we wrote some placards and hid them in our sweaters. After the hospital was officially launched, we took the banners now: we took the placards communicating ‘we are here, now it’s good that you have come to launch the hospital, but now Mathare is still a slum and some private developers are planning to demolish – can you help?’ So the placards were taken by the bodyguards, but the message was clear, and that night we received a call by Minister of Land Charity Ngilu saying that she wants to know this Muungano, and what are we advocating, and she wants now to give us some titles. The story begun there, because we have followed [it] until now: Charity Ngilu was removed because of integrity issues, but she has really, she was now planning to step ahead – by this time, we would be having our titles in our hands. It works, and targets and tactics; we have to use any skills, any linkages, anything. Because for that, we were risking, because we were not invited: we went there and said we are CHWs – community health workers – because it’s a health issue, and we managed to enter.

Strategies that worked: a story about blood and photocopies

After we came together, we started writing letters to Nairobi City County, asking them to give us this land so that we can upgrade. So at least we were writing, we were exchanging some letters with them, and they communicated they have not allocated [the land] to anybody.

Recently, we had another private developer who came and who took us to the County Commissioner – now we have county commissioner. And we went to DC's [District Commissioner's] office. We mobilized some people. (When we are called, the strategy we have is we mobilize some people; we go as many as possible, so that the DC can see it’s not a matter of two people, it's a matter of community and one person: one development – one private developer – and many people.) So, when we went to DC's office, he asked us, ‘you are saying the letter the private developer has, it's fake: what do you have?’ One old woman said, ‘we have our blood, that we fought during the colonial times; we fought with our blood here in Mathare’ – that is one. And I said, secondly, we had these papers that we have been exchanging with the Nairobi County, showing that they have not allocated this land to any individual. And I produced the letters that we have been exchanging – I photocopied and gave the DC some copies. From that end, he has not called us anymore to ask us to evict the area. We have seen that effort of Muungano telling us to go and advocate for our land – it worked.

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

What I can say is, our big dream – why we joined Muungano – is to see our houses upgraded, and security of tenure. And so far, even if we have minimized, we have got not the security of tenure. So that is what our fight, or struggle, is for. And without the security of tenure, we are not ready to back off. We don’t have the security of tenure, and we are planning to … we are not planning to give up, to back off the struggle, unless we have the security of tenure.

Now, we have advocated to some ministries, and now they are recognising us, as I said. And we want to see – as Muungano – we want to see our settlement, or the poor, the poor’s voice, being heard. Or when the government is planning or allocating some funds, we want to see our people being allocated as equal as anybody else in our country. So we are just fighting for recognition.

Secondly, we are fighting for the government to involve us in their plans, in their work, whatever is being done. Whether it's housing, whether it's services, whether it's anything, we want to be included and that’s what we are fighting.

I want to see a country where there is no anything called informal settlements. That is our biggest struggle – we started with here. And we want to see everybody having adequate housing. And adequate housing is a house with everything – water and electricity, with almost all services. That’s where I want to see ourselves. I don’t want to struggle, then my child come and struggle. My grandmother struggled, my mother came and struggled, I am now struggling; then my kid struggle, then the kid of my kid? No. I want to see, and I am working towards, when my kid come, when my kid’s kid come – my granddaughter or son – he sees now a changed community, with everything.