SDI President & Indian SDI federation
Interview date & place: 7 September 2016, Nairobi
Interviewed by: Jack Makau & Kate Lines
Original language: English
How did you first get involved with Muungano?
Way back – a little more than 25 years – I came for a UN meeting in Gigiri [in Nairobi]. There, I met Jane [Weru]. They were not even Pamoja Trust; they were talking something about like that. And I met some people who were sitting and talking about – I think I was trying to talk to them to see how you need to involve the communities. The communities should come together and talk about the issues – instead of NGO driving the process it should be a community-driven process. That was the first time I heard about Muungano – Muungano means this is a community federation.
And they were trying to come together, somewhere, to talk about what was happening at that time – the advocacy forum or something like that. They were trying to help the people whose houses had been demolished – I think demolition was an issue, how to handle the issue. That is where myself and, I remember, including Sheela Patel, we went together, we went to the UN and came back and I remember I met these people, a number of them, that first round.
Then, I came for the second round, where some community people were sitting and, very interestingly – first time in African scene – people were sitting [and talking] about setting up a Muungano, and how Muungano [would be], planning, designing. How to have an agreement with the Pamoja Trust – setting the conditions for the NGO, what to do, what not to do, how to work, what is the kind of relation, what should one do, what should they do. And they were talking about it. And the old mamas were there – quite a number of them. I think that time even though it was equal number of women and men, when you count, there'll be little more old mamas who were talking about their poverty and the issues, which they are dealing.
And I remember the question was raised, 'the UN Habitat is housed in Nairobi. How much help has been there for the slum dwellers in Nairobi?'
Muungano has come into existence with people from all kinds of backgrounds. It's a long way now they've grown – so big, so wide. And now it’s a well-recognized factor. Muungano is making representation of the urban poor in the development sector. I think quite a lot has been achieved. Community housing project was started, Muungano started building houses. Housing training programme was held. I still remember the four women from India would come here to make building materials in the Pamoja premises, then later that premises become community place. So it was community and the Pamoja worked together, with all kinds of supports coming from there.
After that, we decided to take more people into the UN complex, that is at Gigiri, when the UN first World Urban Forum was held. And I very well remember we talked about sanitation. That is a time, at the entrance of the UN conference we took a permission – Pamoja and Muungano – to build a community toilet, which was inaugurated by President, *President Moi. I still remember President Moi. He said to me, ‘What’s this toilet you talking about? Why don't you think about what toilet we have here – flying toilet?’
So I think quite a lot has been talked about: infrastructure, stopping evictions, construction of houses, people building houses. Resource was created. A very long road, and Muungano has grown in a big way, not one settlement.
Learning from India: Huruma and Korogocho, 2001–2003
I remember one of the best experiences – I remember I came here, met Jane, and she immediately went and met the Permanent Secretary of the Government of Kenya. And we decided within the next 10, 15 days, the Permanent Secretary will come to India and see what is the development all about.
When he came back, that is the time we had a big challenge [of] how to do enumeration. First time in the history of Slum Dwellers international, beginning of its beginning, where we talk about the enumeration has to be carried out in world [record] time. The Muungano would like to do the enumeration. I remember next morning the newspapers, ‘the Indians have come to grab the land’. And therefore, the Indians had to play a role where the Permanent Secretary said, I will give you security and you all don't have to come to the field. I remember we were all housed in a church next to this Korogocho slum. Then we were all in the church controlling the enumeration. In three days we have managed to do the enumeration.
That is the first time where Muungano were able to articulate themselves – structure owner and house owner, or unoccupied, or a percent living there. Who should the land, who should the compensation go? I think that is the first ever, the biggest enumeration, took place in Nairobi. I think this is all added to the strength of the community. People have shown that kind of courage.
I think in the whole process, quite a lot of people travelled here, quite a lot travelled to other countries, South Africa used to come here, other countries come here, Zimbabwe. I remember for the enumerations, six, seven countries were here together. And we did this enumeration.
Immediately after that, a big model house-building exhibition was done. And a lot of people contributed – people came, worked night and day, and involved the government to be with the people. I think that is the beginning of savings schemes – it is started mushrooming all over the city, it went outside the city, many other cities were attracted. And Muungano came into existence in a big way.
That is the first time [Muungano had] dialogue. Otherwise, it [was] a confrontation between the activists, religion-based and other kinds of people, who [were] trying to only confront the government. But [Huruma and Korogocho], [for] the first time, dialogue happened – dialogue happened and immediately a travel arrangement was made. They came to India, spent two days, that allowed a very good interaction – beginning of an interaction and dialogue with the government. That opened the doors for Muungano to interact, make representation, make demands; the [Huruma] housing project was the outcome of all that.
Learning from India: railway relocation project, 2004–5
First time, [was] when the good housing construction was going on in India, which the Permanent Secretary saw and came back. I remember, after that, there was a huge eviction was called by the railways, the Kenyan Railways. And some of the people – I think especially Pamoja Trust and Muungano people – realised, why don’t we [take advantage of] this? At that time they had not done the eviction, [but] the notice was pasted on the houses – a notice issued to evict all the people all along the railway line, by Kenyan Railway. So someone prevailed upon the community leaders, and the Pamoja went to the [Kenyan] Railways and the government, pleaded them, ‘come and see the model that happened in India’.
I remember the first time the good team of people from the [Kenyan] Railways and the government came to India, and saw the World Bank-funded railway project in which we were able to rehabilitate 18,000 families in a period of two years. Houses were built, and one very interesting thing was that we were the ones who set the condition [to build no less than] 10 metres from both sides of the track. So the whole of Kenya was debating, ‘who on earth decided it was ten metres?!’
And that is where, that is the beginning of stopping – the eviction was stopped. Complete successful story started emerging from ‘an alternative is a dialogue’. A dialogue is paving the way for a good project – paving the way for whatever happened today in Kenya – railways together tried to see a possible development project. Very meaningful, very successful. Learning from what happened in India, especially Bombay. And they had a meeting with the railway officials in Bombay, and some of the officials came to Kenya. There's a good dialogue that went on for some time.
Has Muungano made a wider contribution to the global SDI network?
Muungano is part of SDI. Muungano had started its own organization, a people's movement in Kenya, but when SDI built it up, they [became] part of it. They did a contribution, now look at the successful project of railways, and housing project Kambi Moto, then sanitation project, then a dialogue.
Then the best thing that happened, the best contribution was – for the first time in UN history – more than 100 slum dwellers in the UN complex [in 2001]. First time, these slum dwellers went around the conference, where all other countries were able to see, this is the strength of the people. This contribution is – for SDI – a valuable contribution. And that went on, since I think Muungano and SDI were able to tell the UN Habitat: ‘you are housed in Nairobi, what are you doing? How you are being helpful?’ That question was raised to them. A very meaningful engagement was developed through that. So this is the contribution from Muungano.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
In a very big way, Muungano has grown and big national network has happened. They have become more meaningful, when the country devised the new policy of changing the system.
Muungano changed the style of working into a dialogue. You are sitting and talking to the government, bureaucracy, whether it is municipal council or [what] ... All the time, whenever I used to come, I don't think we have anything we have confronted, ever, but all the confrontation was on the table. Sitting at the table, negotiating. And I see that as very good outcome.
In the next [years], there will be quite a bit of leaders who will emerge from this Muungano process. They will be part of the development system, they will be part of – I don't know – maybe the political bureaucracy. Without coming onto the street, except one or two events – where [before] you had a political rallies, court cases. All the time, we all depend on court, stay orders and things like that. That court gone away and the dialogue started coming.
I think a very good model for the UN to adopt is the Kenyan model, where street fighting will change into a dialogue. And this is the model emerging from Kenya. It is quite a lot to do with the Muungano process. Its predominantly development-orientated, all the time, and dialogue – a meaningful dialogue. I don't think anything has [been] lost in the process. Always moved one step ahead, one step further. You develop a good relation with the bureaucracy and the politicians.
The model emerging from Kenya is a dialogue model. In the beginning it was a confrontation. When did the confrontation went out of the window? When the railway took over. Railway was the model for a dialogue. One of the court case was there, they were trying to march people; after that, there is no protest march, there was dialogue. So that is the model – a contribution, for African cities especially, to learn from here.
A message for the younger generations of Muungano
I think you have a lot on your plate – the country leadership has given to you. Particularly when it’s a male-dominated development arena, but the women of this Muungano have contributed a lot. In fact, that is the message. I remember, earlier in Kenya, particularly Nairobi, it was only talk about eviction, demolition. Now, you come to here, you don't hear any demolition. That housing is coming up, this coming up, that coming up. That is the spirit of the people working together and trying to see a meaningful development happening, because of Muungano.