Joseph Kimani

Joseph Kimani & Jane Weru

Support professional • SDI Kenya

Interview:  28 April 2016, Nairobi

Interviewer: Kate Lines

Original language: English

Muungano's experiences during Kenya's 2007-8 post election violence 

Kim: The post-election violence in 2007, December, and January [2008]: it was such a short time but a lot happened in this country. Everything stopped. And tension. And just feeling challenged – are we going to come back to where we were? And not being certain of what or how the next day would look like. That was the environment. We felt challenged, some of us, to find space to do something within that conflict. We picked Mathare North.

Jane: We didn't even pick – we were told Mungiki was going to send tenants to be flushed out because they had refused to pay rent. 

Kim: And there was actually an incident: a landlord who wanted get some tenants out of his property. And that attempt was counterproductive in a way because the group that was sent – alleged to be Mungiki – the community members, the groups, the youths in that community fought back. And there were a few people who died in that incident. So when we heard there was more of that that was to come, we thought then this would be too much of actually just observing – and we thought of intervening.

Jane: We met with the landlords. They were raising money in order to hire Mungikis, where they can go and kill, and flush. So we – you remember Rosie? – Rosie was a young lady who worked in the office and her father was a landlord in Mathare, so we asked her to get her father to convene the other landlords.

Kim: We were working in Huruma but not Mathare North, and therefore going to Mathare north was symbolic, because it was also next to Ghetto.

Jane: The major challenge of Mathare North is that most of the landlords [were] Kikuyus and most of the tenants were Luos. And the Kikuyu landlords were saying that the Luos had refused to pay their rent, so they had organised themselves into a strong association, and their intention was to raise money to hire youths to go and flush out the tenants so they can get back their properties. So obviously it was going to be a major blood bath. So now we found ways of getting to that landlords association, and we started talking to them and somehow we persuaded them that they needed to go through an arbitration process. So we said, you landlords, organise yourselves, have your representatives; and you tenants – because we were also working with the tenants – you tenants, organise yourselves. And then we'll have a mediation. You talk; just go.

So we managed to get a Kikuyu mediator who was a bishop – Jenga, a retired Anglican bishop – and then we also got Opiata, who was a lawyer, head of Hakijami, who at least the tenants would have confidence in because (sorry for this) he's Luo. And so we started having these mediation meetings.

Kim: In the beginning it was not going to be easy to get people to come, and that's why we were using everyone we knew – who was close to us, who knew someone, who knew a landlord somewhere, and someone in the line of tenants who knew the most troublesome tenants, or the ringleaders of sort – to come to the table. Because then it wasn't just bringing everyone: there were those that really mattered in that conciliation.

And one attempt was for us, physically, to go to Mathare North to try and talk to the young people about the importance of negotiations, or [get them] trying to talk to each other. And we started this meeting – myself, Jane, and Opiata – and they start moving in, getting in, and slowly they're like, 'who are you?' So it starts unfortunately by our names betraying us: ‘Joseph Kimani’, ‘uh-huh, what do you do?’ Very intimidating kind of a situation; trying to be very polite, smiling. It was actually very shocking to know that people really relate politics with very small details to that extent. But then we were able to get out of it, slowly talk to them, and of course our confidence helped us because it expressed that we really had good intentions to reach out to them and to bring peace – and even them, some of them, wanted that peace.

Jane: The vernacular media, especially the radio stations, were the ones that were fanning the conflict. So they kept preaching hate, they kept on. And so we realised that this conflict, the whole conflict, was not going to end until the vernacular media stations were persuaded to talk another language. So what we did – what Biden did – is that he managed to organize all the vernacular media stations in the country and we would hold workshops with them. They were spoken to by a lawyer about the risk of them going to The Hague, actually, and they were told, ‘you know you guys, this is not a joke, you are playing with fire’. And they went through that.

And then we held other workshops – we had about 6 workshops – about community people coming to share their stories, about the effects of the conflict. One of the stories that was shared: he was called Owino, from Mathare North, and he told us how he was married to a Kikuyu woman. And at one point, some Kikuyu youths had come into their building and were knocking from door to door looking for Luo tenants, flushing them out, beating them, just basically causing chaos. So them they listened – Owino listened with his wife who was a Kikuyu – and he said, they are speaking in Kikuyu, so when they come, wife you open the door. So Owino hid in the house and when they knocked on the door his wife opened. So they checked, so she spoke to them in Kikuyu. They left. After a while, I think after a few days, another gang came – the retaliation from Luo youths. Again they came, they flushed. So they listened, they listened, said, ah these are Luo youths. So the wife said, now Owino you open the door, I will hide. So the wife hid and then Owino opened the door, and he spoke to them in Luo and they left. So those are the stories that the people from the slums were telling the media: ‘You know, I'm married to a Kikuyu woman, so there's no conflict. You are the ones who are causing this conflict'.

And over time they were persuaded, in fact they all agreed that they would air peace messages right throughout the country, and the tone of the media changed.

Kim: There was one other remarkable outcome from the peace meetings, which played out in Mathare. Because this was the time when [Muungano] were entering Mathare and trying to help the federation spread and consolidate. So in one incident, after these meetings now in the office trying to bring residents together, in Kosovo when an operation was happening at night – it was an operation of youth – they were going from settlement to settlement, the had started in Kiamu, they were going to Village 2, now they were in Kosovo. In Kosovo, they reached out to this old man, got his things out, and they were almost burning them when Muungano in the settlement intervened. And they said, this is not the way to go, we will stop this, we will not allow anyone to be evicted here by force or to be harassed, we must live as one community. And that touched that person a lot. He became the chairman of Muungano in that settlement, Mr Otieno, and it has been his story of how, really, the peace meetings assisted in rescuing him and his family from almost being killed.

So they continued: in [Mathare] Bondeni it involved healing – even just Muungano members saying, 'we accept what happened, we know who did’. Someone just observing her 13 animals – goats – being slaughtered, and later saying, 'I have no grudges, I forgive those who did this. I know them, but we'll move on'.

In my view, one group that I really came to like in terms of systems – savings – was Toi Market. The membership had almost reached 3000; the story of Toi in our spread, for encouraging and giving hope to other settlements, was really helping a lot. When you'd go and say, there is a group that saves money daily and they have a system where you can borrow money daily – 24 hours, you borrow in the morning, do your business during the day, and in the evening you return that money – organised in clusters in such a systematic [way]. And the way they also attracted banks to come, just relocate – Equity coming close to Kibera because of Toi market and the system that was also happening there. But when the clashes happened, oh it split. It split. People who were very close, almost to be one family, split completely. Torn apart.


Joseph Kimani & Jack Makau

Support professionals • SDI Kenya

Interview:  28 April 2016, Nairobi

Interviewer: Kate Lines

Original language: English

The evolution of Mwamko wa Vijana, the Muungano youth federation


As enumerations were going on, we started observing a trend. And this was the other thing about the data collection. I think the data in Dagoretti had taken 3 years for us to return, and when we went back, we observed … In Dagoretti the settlements that were in Mutweni, one settlement called Kaburi is actually a graveyard – so the structures are very close to the graveyard, so you can see people burying. So one time we passed there, and you know you look at the graves and you look at the people that have just been buried recently ­– you can tell by the dates indicated there. But then we also looked at the age of most of the people that had been buried and we observed they were young people. A lot of them were young people. And we started asking, what's happening? What's killing all these people, the young ones?

So that question started disturbing us in a way. In Huruma, again, we kept on recalling how difficult sometimes the process [is] even for us as community organizers, entering the community and sometimes getting the feeling of insecurity. As you go to facilitate a meeting – a savings meeting in Mahera or in Redeemed or in Kambi Moto – you would require the support of the federation, to escort you to the meeting and get you out of the meeting.

So in a sense the whole issue of young people came to us: there's a constituency here – as much as we talk about savings – that need be approached or we need to reach out to. I remember the conversation between Jane, Jack and myself and they kept on asking, ‘what is it that you think can be done?’


I remember doing enumerations in Dagoretti with Kimani and then coming back to return the data to the community – I think a week after, we processed it very fast and then one week after we came back to return the information. And when we returned the information, three young people had passed. And we asked people, 'how come three young people? And they told us one had died of HIV/AIDS, one had been shot, and one had committed suicide. And then the more we looked at our enumeration data, we realised the youth and the children were 60 per cent of slum dwellers. So there was that need.


It took a bit of time, really to make the youth agenda an agenda to be considered amongst these important other issues that the federation and the institution was dealing with at that time. And what came out immediately was, okay, if we approach the youth where they were do you think we will be able to make any impact in changing their lives? And the question of mentorship came to be. So the idea was developed by Biden, and us we were interesting in putting the model in practice somewhere in Huruma, in Mathare. Kambi Moto was the first ground to test out the mentorship programme – the new dawn, [it] translated to Mwamko, new dawn, new nascent, new beginning.

Basically what we had in mind was how do we get some of the youths who were already interested maybe in doing something positive in the settlement to journey with the children and transform their lives. And of course the programme evolved. It started, and the activities for us that were coming, informed by the young people, that would resonate well were things to do with sports, culture, the mentorship programme itself, and a solid one that would connect them with the rest of the settlement was waste management. The whole mentorship programme was to be linked with the organizing. And it was a question of how do we get children to participate? And the idea of involving children was to cut the generation of those going to join drugs, those going to join crime. Because we knew those who were recruiting – the gangs – were moving very fast as well. So we kept on brainstorming and sharing with the mentors and saying, are we catching up really? Who is keeping the children busy? So the children were to be kept busy during school holidays through sports and cultural activities. And how the Mwamko organized these were through festivals. So at, say, Korogocho area – which was a ward by itself – going to each village and each village ensuring they had a sports tournament that brings every child into the tournament, and a cultural event so that those who do not fall into sports can use the cultural event as their space. And of course during the holidays these mentors who were seniors would help them in education. And every year they would pick a theme – the first theme was ‘education is a right’ – and that theme was internalized through sports, would be internalized through drama, and their art pieces would be used to bring out the themes. At the weekend the idea is to occupy, to keep this child busy – if you let them loose, the vampire will grab them, the vampire will take that. So the idea was not to let go of that space. So they would rehearse and then the first term of the school holiday, which would come around April, they would do the inter-villages competition; second term, it would be a central, settlement-based competition; and third term the inter-settlements would meet – so Korogocho would meet Kahawa Soweto, like that. And the football was inter-villages, then inter-settlement, and then inter-constituency. And now we have the Kenya Harambee star – a professional player called Ayub – he played, we have newspaper cuttings, he played in the Mwamko and scored 13 goals against Soweto!

The whole idea was to create a community, so that with each activity you are building space for someone. So the other youth now, who were now the senior – though our focus was more of helping the children, but you are also dealing with a group that is already there – so this other group wanted something to engage them, it being difficult to start savings with them. They struggled with the savings: they borrowed money though they never [re]paid, they had challenges of governance and … it's the youth thing, you know. For us what was important was keeping them there, not out there. So it moved. 


One thing we wanted to do with Mwamko, with the children’s movement, is that we said we wanted to build local philanthropy around it. Our other programmes were built around grant financing from North-based organization and we said, let’s see if a corporate social responsibility and other people, local people, would support the children’s movement and the youth movement. And we had many volunteers who came to give talks – mentors – and one of them happened to be a marketing manager in the Nation Media Group. And he was a marketing manager for the Swahili paper, Taifa Leo. And he came and he was fascinated by all this young energy and he said, you know what, I want to write this story in Taifa. And he went off and he wrote the story. And then he realised there were many stories so he came back and said, can your young people write stories and I'll publish them in the paper? And he gave us a column. And some people started to write. So we had a cadre – we must have begun with about 20 young writers – all writing in Swahili about their settlements and getting published in a national paper. Which was good. But the Nation Media Group wanted to get involved more and then they became the sponsors for the football tournament. And that year we had a tournament where, I remember, 544 children participated. And they bought all the uniforms, they bought balls, they bought trophies, goal posts. So it was a very good partnership. And it was very fulfilling for them: they had these matches in the sports pages of the paper. So they wanted to get involved even more, so they said, okay with the older ones can they become newspaper vendors? And then we looked for ... we didn't look, there was a lot of young blood floating around. We got youths to learn how to be vendors. And they got an incentive to get the first batch of newspapers free and then thereafter that they would have started a vending business. The Swahili paper was also struggling with circulation so this worked for the paper as well. And they said, the people who would read the Swahili paper are mostly in the slums, but the vendors don't go to the slums, so let's get slum youth. Of course there were challenges like distribution – the distribution vans didn't want to go into settlements because the paper is circulated at 4am and they said, we'll get mugged. So we had the youth waiting for papers on highways as 4am. Some of them did very well; some not so well. But I think a number of them became and still continue to be big newspaper vendors. I think there was one guy in Mathare and one guy in Pumwani. So that relationship was a bit fulfilling.


Now, the children mentorship programme evolved to a children council. We looked at [UN] Habitat – at that time was struggling with the city council of Nairobi to come up with a model, a children council model in the city. And we challenged it, because the children who were involved in putting up a children council were children from the middle class. So we said, no, let's create a model with the opportunity we have. So through the mentorship programme, I remember a meeting that was held, and it was an election, and a child was elected the first mayor of the city – the first child mayor. The whole idea was to build the children council to become now the space for also them participating in governance issues. So they would have departments of education, child rights, something to do with the health, something to do with the environment…


I think it was a good idea … even before the model was developed. And then there was the convergence the with Biden challenging us to start mentoring, that there is an important constituency that we were not seeing. But that constituency was being seen by the UN and the city. I think the initial children representatives at the UN, if you looked at the names they looked like the names of the country's cabinet – the children of people in high positions. And then there was this election, so we thought to ourselves, how are we going to do this? And we figured if we get many, many children from the slums on election day to the venue, we could make up for the resources we didn't have. For every elected position, when a child from the slums stood up they got more votes than anyone else. And it followed that the junior mayor came from the slums. It was a big success to have a slum child sitting in the next office to the mayor. 


What happened? Is that the Mwamko evolved. The group that we captured in the mentorship programme were able to go to where Mwamko expected them to go – because the whole idea was for them to be converted through the process, and they themselves to become now mentors and continue. And we've heard good stories – stories of change – by individuals. You go to Huruma, you find Johnte; you go to Mathare, you find Kaka; you go to Korogocho, you find Thuo; you go to South Kiambiu – Nairobi Eastleigh South – and you find chief Florence. Now she's a chief, and she was a protegee of the programme.


You know, the youth movement is different from Muungano, because what happens is that you invest a lot in young people, 16 to 20, but then they're moving on in life. And then all that investment one day goes. You go and look for this young guy and he's found a job, or he's gone for training. It's good that he's on the right path, but you start to rebuild again. And every few years you rebuild again, and then those skills move on, and then you rebuild again. So that is a big difference with Muungano.


In 2010, the transition of the federation from Pamoja Trust, that really affected a lot the momentum that was building for the youth federation. Because at that time it was even struggling now to give itself a structure. I remember Nakuru now was on board, Mombasa was on board, Kisumu was on board; it had even taken now almost a similar structure as the national federation. And they were negotiating even for space and resources within the federation. So it's only that now with that transition, the federation had a bit of its internal consolidation and internal issues which it had to first focus on. And the youth again wasn't so much of a priority at that time, to now. I think this is the time when now the federation again is coming back to soberness, to realising, actually, we are surrounded by youth, and the question has not been ‘involving the youth’ ­– it's how do we involve, what model will work best for these? So I guess it's the question of that transition – but the need is still there. The need is still there. I think the federation has an opportunity to use now the young members, the young women, the young men that were in the movement, to continue going back to build generations within a programme.