Felista Ndunge

Felista Ndunge


From: Mariguini, Mukuru, Nairobi

Interview date & place: 5 April 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Joseph Kimani & Kate Lines

Original language: Swahili

Who is Felicita?

My name is Felista Ndunge, from Mariguini savings scheme, central region of Nairobi County. I am the 35th saver in my savings scheme. I joined Muungano as a full member in 2007, but Mariguini joined Muungano in 2004. It was at this time that we started the different processes in Muungano, like enumerations and mapping of our village [slum].

I am a mother of one. In Muungano, I can say I enjoy the work of data collection. Apart from the benefits you get from being a member, it’s a place that makes you feel at home. You feel you are in the right place, because you learn to fight for your rights and gain confidence in yourself. I know right now I can mobilize the people from my village and tell them that we can stand for our rights. I feel empowered by Muungano. I am a small scale business woman, I was born in Makueni, and I am working in Nairobi where I own a small boutique.

How were things before you joined Muungano?

When we started the enumerations and mapping processes, we had been dealing with a lot of pressure, like getting notices and threats of eviction. People said that our land was owned by the National Housing Corporation, and they in turn sold the land to a certain Somalian man.

When we started advocating for our rights, we didn’t have any tools or any kind of information that could help us in the fight for our village. This prompted a group to be formed, comprising a few leaders from the village who went to find out what we could do to help ourselves. We discovered that there was this group called Pamoja Trust that was working with Jane Weru. She gave us some advice to join Muungano that had started in other settlements like Mathare and Kibera. We joined them and started enumerations and saving schemes. However, before we joined the savings scheme, which was started in 2005, we realized that for us to be able to fight for our land we could not fight as a savings scheme. This is when we decided to form a cooperative in 2007, that became Mariguini Cooperative.

Before we begun the enumerations, we used to get eviction notices but we never reacted to them. This issue got worse, up to the point where they did not want to evict us using bulldozers, but instead they decided to use more severe methods. The National Corporation used fire: there was this fire incident which started after a robbery whereby some thieves were being chased and got shot at by the police for having robbed a different slum. They ran to Mariguini, and it is at this moment when the fire started. I can’t say with a clear conviction that the fire was started by the National Housing Corporation, but we think that it was a strategy used to evict us. The plan was to burn the whole village down and make us run away from the fire. In the process, we would look for places to relocate our belongings, and thus it would take time before we could come back and rebuild. Certain people were told that the fire was not an accident but a deliberate act used to evict us.

Before the fire ended, having taken the whole night to burn the settlements, people had started rebuilding. The plan by the National Housing Corporation to fence the whole village while we were trying to find a temporary settlement didn’t go as planned. People were busy digging holes while the houses were burning, and some even got burnt in the process because they wanted to rebuild their structures in order not to lose their land. This fire brought forth a whole different perspective to the people, encouraging them to follow up on the land ownership process through Jane Weru and Pamoja Trust. We went to the Ministry of Land to present our case, but Jane told us we couldn’t fight for our land as a savings scheme, and that’s when we decide to form a cooperative. We raised money and opened a savings account and registered all members. When we went to the Ministry of Lands, we found out that the land was still owned by the National Housing Corporation and that it wasn’t sold, as they had claimed. The person claiming that he had bought the land did not have a title deed. Also, some advocacy had been done by the leaders we had chosen for the cooperative. We also united as Muungano wa Wanavijiji, where we came together and met at City Hall. There, we were able to make a lot of presentations concerning the issues we were going through as the slum dwellers. The Minister of Lands at that time was Mr Kivutha Kibwana, who heard our pleas and said that at the beginning of 2007, before any slum was demolished, there should be a dialog between the concerned parties. From that point on, the demolition of villages reduced considerably.

We got lucky as the people of Mariguini, because our land was declared a public land. We held a meeting in 2010, after the National Housing Corporation returned the title deed of Mariguini to the Ministry of Land, making it a public land. This gave the community an opportunity to upgrade the area. There was a big celebration held at Mariakani primary school playground for the handing over of the title deed from the National Housing Corporation to the Ministry of Lands. There were many representatives from different cooperatives here in Kenya. The councillor was also in attendance, whom I believe is still in office – he is called Mwema Karega Mbugua, or something like that. There were also some government representatives when the title deed was being handed over. Also in attendance were some representatives from KENSUP, who had agreed to upgrade Mariguini.

After we did our mapping and undertook the procedures to prove, with our own data, that we exist and that we live in Mariguini – having lost our property during the fire that had occurred – the government acknowledged that it was true and that there are slums comprised of shanties in which people lived. They, in turn, used their own strategies to follow up on the data we had collected in order to prove that it was authentic. The government sent city planners, assisted by Nairobi University, who came and counted and came up with their own numbers. The numbers they got were the same as ours. Since we had done an honest thing, we got the opportunity to have Mariguini upgraded and the government supported us.

However, the construction was supposed to start in October 2015; but the government claimed they had no money. Having taken so long to start – that is, from 2004 up until now – the people started losing their spirits. Initially, people had started saving, knowing that the land is theirs and that they will soon have it. They thought construction of their houses would begin within a year or two. Once people discovered the evictions had stopped but the constructions wouldn’t take place, they started wondering if it was worth saving and the enthusiasm they had for saving disappeared – there are others who are still focused and haven’t stopped saving.

What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years?

Muungano intervened in the demolition until they stopped; it helped with evictions in other places like Mathare, Dagoretti, and other settlements like Deep Sea that had gone through similar fire evictions. There was a movement already in place, through Muungano, and that’s what helped Mariguini achieve its goals. I joined Muungano when my village was affected by the evictions.

Through Muungano, we have managed to transform our piece of land from private owned land to public owned. I feel that this is an achievement by Muungano, and not Mariguini community: if it wasn’t for Muungano, we wouldn’t have known the process of fighting for that land and we wouldn’t have known that there was some data we needed to collect. Muungano, has helped open the eyes of the government, because when the government outlines its plans, it only plans for the urban areas and does not consider the shanties or even those who are living there. For example, Mukuru is known as an industrial area: before Muungano came by, the government did not know that the area was a settlement as well. Through the data we collected as Muungano, we have managed to prove that the area is a slum and has occupants. So, I feel that this is an achievement by Muungano.

I can say that right now that I am proud. I am not yet a beneficiary of a permanent settlement, but I feel I have managed to save some lives. As a RAP representative, I have seen that the data we collected has helped in a big way – RAP means Railway Action Plan; this name came about when we were fighting for the rights of the people who lived along the railway lines. Mukuru is one of the places that was majorly affected, because every village comes in contact with the railway line. That’s why I am proud, as a member of Muungano, because through data collection we managed to stop the evictions and bring to the attention of the Railways Corporation that there are people living next to the railway lines, and that through dialogue we could help to relocate them without oppressing them or destroying their settlements.

How have things changed over time?

Things have changed because the evictions stopped. If a village gets affected by demolition, then this will be because there wasn’t any other choice. Now, demolition might still happen if a slum has been built on privately-owned land or an area reserved for government projects, but before residents can be relocated there has to be a relocation plan. This is Muungano’s achievement: slum dwellers are not relocated without having a concrete plan for where they will be relocated to. Before the intervention of Muungano, this wasn’t possible, and so we consider this an achievement brought about by Muungano.

What have been the challenges you have faced over the years?

From when I joined Muungano, we faced challenges while trying to transform the community. This was our biggest problem, because, while the government understood our vision from Muungano, not all community members did. For example, trying to convince a man owning 30 shanty structures that you will build for him one decent permanent structure was not easy; this is because the other shanties were his source of income on which he depended. But we tried because, initially, the government did not approve of the structures, and therefore we had to be in harmony as structure owners and tenants on this issue. At the start, Mariguini was meant to be wiped out of existence, and this made us join together as structure owners and tenants because, through Muungano, we believe that the bigger the number the louder our voice; our unity as tenants and structure owners would help us to not lose our village.

Before, landlords were claiming to be landlords, yet they didn’t own the land; the owner of the land claimed the land, the structure owner claimed the structure, and the tenant claimed the house he paid rent for because he didn’t have anywhere else to go. If a tenant moved from Mariguini to another village – having not fought for Mariguini not to be demolished – then the next demolition could take place in the next village they moved to. That’s why we had to join hands and work together. When we were doing the enumeration, we allocated structure-owners – who had, for example, 6 houses in a plot – one house each; it brought harmony in the slum between tenants and structure owners, because they realised that they were not losing that much. He would give up 5 houses and remain with one, instead of refusing to give anything and losing all of them. I don’t know if this is a strategy that can be used in all other settlements, because there are places where this is not possible since they are living on private lands – these groups of people are the ones who join together and form savings schemes to save with an aim of buying the land and upgrading it – but in areas where we did not own the land, our aim was to fight for structures not to be demolished and to be given the chance to build permanent structures.

What have been the strategies that really worked?

Profiling is collecting data at the settlement level. As you collect data, you have to consider where the land and slum is located, the size of the land, the ownership of the land, how many structures are in that settlement, what are the services being offered in that settlement, and the infrastructure which is present, like roads or landmarks, that can be used to identify the village. Some of the amenities may include water, hospitals, and schools. We also identify what might be hazardous in that village, which could be structures located next to a railway line or a sewer, under high voltage wires, by roadsides, or many other things.

Profiling reveals different things. For example, the people may say an area lacks enough schools, but through profiling they might discover that they have more schools than they need. Profiling helps the residents to set their agendas, because it allows them to plan for the village. Let’s say they are threatened with eviction: they can set their agenda to be advocating for that land, and through profiling they can find out the owner of the land. Sometimes a village can have 3 or 4 [land] owners: one part could be owned by Kenya Railways, and another part by NEEMA or Kenya Power; other villages face problems where the private owners have taken up everything until nothing is left. So, once they do profiling it becomes easy to set their agendas.

What didn’t work? What were the lessons?

Saving is a tool that hasn’t fully worked for greenfield [projects]. This is mainly because identifying the real beneficiaries for greenfields is hard, and also relocating those people is not easy. For places like Mariguini it didn’t work; however, it has worked for Kambi Moto because they were just allocated land in the same place they were and the beneficiaries knew each other – for them, they didn’t have to relocate, they were present from the process of advocating for the land until upgrading it. That process didn’t cause problems, unlike when we saved and bought land somewhere else, and went ahead to build on it then relocate later ­– because we couldn’t identify the real land owners. I don’t know which effective strategy can be used to relocate slum dwellers.

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

I would like to see Muungano being recognized by the government, so both entities can work together and do away with the slums. Generally, I would like to see the upgrading of slums to be better settlements. This was the initial vision of Muungano when it started out. We haven’t lost the vision yet, but the government has been reluctant to work with Muungano. In the next twenty years, I hope to have a city without slums and evictions.

A message for the younger generations of Muungano?

When I joined Muungano we did our enumerations in Mariguini, and we didn’t earn anything. We would get food donations of beans and maize which we would cook, and after data collection we would come back and eat our lunch. If someone didn’t have food at home, they would carry it back home for their kids. So, I ask the upcoming Muungano youth to have the heart to transform the slum, and to not be blinded by earning money. They should know they are fighting for their rights; be proud of Muungano because it helps them know their rights. Muungano is a family: be full members of that family and not business ladies and men. Be led by the spirit of transforming lives and the community for the better, and do not be driven by money.