Evans ‘Papa’ Omondi
From: Mukuru kwa Reuben, Nairobi
Interview date & place: 24 March 2016, Nairobi
Interviewed by: Kate Lines
Original language: English
My names are Evans Omondi, or Papa, and I am 65 years old. I am born in Mukuru kwa Reuben. I have been in Reuben for the whole of my life.
The history of Mukuru
My dad was working with Express Kenya Limited. Reuben slum came from Express Kenya – the owner of that company was called Reuben, and after independence Reuben decided to sell his company to Express Kenya. Then the workers who had been working for Reuben were having nowhere to go, because many people, especially foreigners who were doing business during independence, they decided to leave, without even informing their workers. Because the political and security situation by then was horrible. So everyone was running for the dear of their lives. This is when Mr. Reuben – who is still alive, 85 years old – decided to close down his company, and then the workers were to look elsewhere they can live. So they started squatting around. When it came to the 1980s, there were several evictions. These were forced evictions which were being done by the government then in power. The evictions affected very many people who were staying in these slums, especially schoolchildren and churches. Our grandfathers were fighting, Mau Mau rebellion were fighting. They were fighting for the rights of the children of tomorrow. And we were very much annoyed to see the evictions were done in an inhumane way. Because, someone can just come and demolish your shack or your shelter. You have children. That is the place you call home.
The history of these slums. These slums, most of them, the lands we are staying on, they were marked for small, light industries. And as they were marked for the small, light industries, the way the lands were given, some of [the land title holders] they were friendly to the government then in power. We were being told – we were [already] here mind you – we were told to remove our structures, which were just only polythene papers and cottons. We were being told ‘remove your shelter, or temporary structures’. We started seeing people coming with maps to identify their lands. So we were very much worried: ‘who are these people who had been marking this land? So we started going against them, by telling them ‘you people, move away from here, this is our land, why are you coming with maps?
You can see there are surrounding factories around here. The surrounding factories around here, most of them, they were helped by the provincial administration then, to put these factories. Most of these people who stays here, they work in these factories. And without workers, these factories cannot work. Those people who are working in these factories are being underpaid. Most of them are our children. The money which they are being paid, it’s not rhyming with international labour structure. Because international labour structures allow you to have money which is enough for you for feeding your family, as well as you can keep for saving when you become older – it can help you as a pension. I think the international labour organizations, they might be sleeping, somewhere. Once the worker is being oppressed, being underpaid, you cannot stay anywhere. You can only manage to stay in the shack.
The community of these lands needs security of land tenure. We need a title deed for this land. Absentee landlords, most of them have used these title deeds to go to banks to get money. Why don’t African governments work together with Muungano wa Wanavijiji to work with the bank in order to change the use of this land from industrial commercial light industry to residential?
How did you get involved with Muungano in its early days?
When it came 1989, the evictions were horrible. Then, the Catholic missionaries saw that there was not any other way with exception of bringing the idea of getting experience how to solve the squatters’ problem. This made Jane Weru, of Kituo Cha Sheria by then – a legal centre – come up with idea of forming a federation for the poor people, which was Muungano wa Wanavijiji. We were taken round for various capacity building forums. These capacity building, they were being organized by Muungano wa Wanavijiji.
The kind of training to which we were being taken, because slum dwellers, most of them had never been moving slum to slum. By then, we were still having the old [Kenyan] constitution. This old constitution did not open a way for us to know what is happening within the next slum. So, through Muungano Wa Wanavijiji and Akiba Mashinani, they started taking us to various forums, capacity building forums within the Catholic setups. By then the Catholic missionaries – mostly the schools which are within the slums, they are being sponsored by Catholics. And the Catholics were very much worried about the children who are in the slum areas. Because most of the schools here, they were been being built by the Catholics, and they were worried that when the eviction comes, then the children are going to be mostly affected.
We started with exchange programs from slum to slum. Also, we were being taken to various workshops. [The facilities which could accommodate our forums or workshops were] Catholic churches, because in slums nobody was allowed to build a bigger house which can accommodate very many people. They tried to bring various organizations, who were coming to sensitize us from where we are, helping us through capacity building. Out of these capacity buildings, the community came to realise that there is the need to have saving and crediting programmes, which could provide the community with the experience of saving. Because the economic capacity was very low in the community level. Out of this awareness, we expressed our views, we chatted our way forward.
Jane Weru managed to go to India. She went to other countries which are having similar problems. Then, after coming from those countries, she managed to make an appointment for the elders who are here, to enable [them] to go outside Kenya and learn the experience – an exchange program – and to bring the experience back at home. So I [went], Evans Omondi Papa, there was Mr Muniu, Nduta Salome, Ezekiel Rema, and a certain Muslim lady from Mombasa, because in Mombasa they also had these similar problems of forced evictions. We went to South Africa. The experience, we went around the slums of South Africa. And the experience which we got there, mostly it was advocacy. Muungano was looking for a way forward for those elders taken there to learn the experience, because the South Africans already had gone to India and learnt the experience the Indians were facing.
The experience which we learnt from South Africa, it was advocacy. Their advocacy was very much advanced than us. The other thing we learnt from South Africa was saving and crediting scheme. And also exchange programmes. We thought that the exchange could only take place from far country, foreign country, but we realized that the South Africans taught us very much about exchange programs within our neighbouring slums, to expand how to be strong about forced evictions, and also to rebel, to fight back these evictions. They taught us, if you don’t fight back, those people who are evicting you they will just remove you. We managed to have outreaching programmes to various slums surrounding us. Various slums within Nairobi and also within Kenya.
What were things like, back when you joined Muungano?
Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, they were always with us. Wherever there is eviction, we were taking this eviction, wherever there is any court order, we are taking this court order. And immediately we take these court orders, they were acting on the behalf of the slum dwellers.
In 1990s we were meeting very many challenges. The challenges which were there, the provincial administration could come and burn our shacks, our slum, because before, the structures which we were putting were polythene papers and cotton. And by then, we were using very small type of trees, then we cover it with polythene papers. When they come by then, they demolish and they burn everything. After they burn everything, we were to look for ways of putting back the structures.
In 2001, the eviction notices started coming to the slum areas – mostly the land we are staying now today, Mukuru kwa Reuben, Mukuru kwa Njenga, and other slums. The evictions started, and when the evictions started, they started with Changombe – it was demolished completely, it is no longer there; it was a slum hosting about 10,000 structures. They went to KPA, which was carrying about 20,000 structures; it was demolished. To a certain slum just next to Wilson Airport – Mitumba; it was demolished completely. Then from there they went to Syokimau; it was demolished completely. They went to Balozi; it was demolish completely. Then they went to Kitui village; it was demolished completely – only one part remained, very small part. They went to Kiambio. Then from Kiambio they came to Mukuru kwa Njenga, where they were using bulldozers, spoiling peoples properties without notice.
It was up and down, between us the squatters and those we call absentee landlords. Because, most of them they stay in the suburbs, and after they stay in the suburbs, they come here and say this land belongs to them. It is inhuman, because you cannot just wake up and come to a place where people have got their families, you burn everything, then you don’t know whether these children they are going to eat for the day. Sometimes, to make it worse, they were coming during the rainy season. And during the rainy season, after demolishing these structures, the children were having nowhere to go. This is whereby Akiba Mashinani and Muungano Wa Wanavijiji and Catholic and Muslim world came in, to fight for the rights of these human beings which are being harassed.
Muungano’s 2012–13 Mukuru campaign
This was early 2012, 2013 – they came. After they had demolished those structures in those slums I have mentioned, now they wanted to demolish [again]. Even today, if not [for] Muungano Wa Wanavijiji and Akiba Mashinani, we would not have been here. Because from the end of that place to that school over there (you met some other children with red uniform), we were facing evictions. And when Muungano came, we went to court, being assisted by Muungano wa Wanavijiji and Akiba Mashinani and Katiba Institute. We went to court, and what made us to go to court? There is a school over there called Maendeleo Learning Centre. The Maendeleo land, these absentee landlords managed to get the title deeds to secure loans. He took loans from Cooperative Bank – government is having a very big share in Cooperative Bank – then the Cooperative Bank wanted to auction the land: there was no other alternative. There were some structures behind Maendeleo school, so the structure owners came to us. We advised them to take the matter to Muungano office. Then Muungano and Akiba Mashinani Trust and Katiba Institute went to court. Since 2012, 2013, up to right now, the case has not been heard. It has not been heard. And why? How can the case concerning with the poor people’s settlement take those years without being heard? We are now stranded. The rule of law should apply to all. When a poor person's case goes to court, it takes long without being heard. It takes long without being considered.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
First, Muungano needs to be funded by the international donor community, because the money which is coming to Muungano it reaches the common person – the sufferers. Muungano needs to be assisted with funds for trainings, because the most trainings will make the community become stronger. And also to involve youths in these trainings, so we old people, when we move, then the younger people will continue.
At this time, devolution is supposed to take place. The devolved government should work with Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, because Muungano Wa Wanavijiji is catering for the poorest people of all. If someone is chased away from forests, who had been squatting in the forest, where will that person go? That person will come to look for work in slums in Nairobi. Where can that person stay? The smallest people, they stay in slum area. And then when that person comes here, and you come to remove this structure – where will that person go?
They should support Muungano's activities within the slum areas. Why not Muungano wa Wanavijiji and Akiba Mashinani Trust, who are catering for poor people's rights and poor people's right? Twenty years to come, the Muungano Wa Wanavijiji and Akiba Mashinani Trust, during the government budgeting they should be given funds direct from the government. During the budget. Because these are institutions dealing with the poorest persons on the land.
We are seeing, through the priorities the community had, some of the messages we have [sent] them, they have reached. But they have not reached in a way [where] we can be served. We are seeing lights from the World Bank and Japanese government, but in future we need the slum upgraded. And the kind of upgrading we need is not the one like [KENSUP in] Kibera – it has not done well. Muungano has done [an] experimental one, this one is called Kambi Moto in Huruma. That is the kind of slum upgrading we need, because Kambi Moto is a people driven project, not a government driven project.
You know God has spared me. Most of my age-mates, with whom we started this slum, they are not there, they have gone. But what are we going to leave to this younger generation? We need to leave a legacy. What kind of legacy we shall leave? We need documented legacy. And the kind of documented legacy? If we don’t tell the correct history, then the younger generation will not be able tell the history – how the slum started.
We are not speaking only today for us. We are speaking for the generation and the generation who are supposed to come. Whatever perhaps we are saying today it might be written in the book of history.