From: Kisaunilands, Mombasa
Interview date & place: 2 April 2016, Mombasa
Interviewed by: Joseph Kimani & Jack Makau
Original language: Swahili
My name is Mama Noor, I am a strong member of Muungano and an advocate of proper housing for slum dwellers.
How did you first get involved in Muungano?
I have been in Muungano since 2005 or 2006 until today. I joined Muungano to enlighten the community about their rights – how they could get back their land and acquire proper housing. The community here have gone through tough times, especially when their houses have been demolished or burnt down.
We have a group called Kisauni Land Lobbying Group, or Kisaunilands, that has been spearheading our efforts to secure land and housing for the community. Our efforts began after so-called land owner began to treat us badly, claiming that we had constructed our houses on their land. So we wanted to count and know how many squatters we had in Kisauni, and we looked for agencies to help us come up with the figures. The Coast Development Authority referred us to court, where we were given a letter to take to Muungano in Nairobi. We met with Jane Weru, who came back to Mombasa with us to see the situation on the ground, and we explained and showed her the situation in villages like Kisumu Ndogo and Sahuri Yako which are in an even worse condition than Kisauni.
After successfully carrying out enumerations in these villages with the help of the local government, we handed over our findings to them. I remember the MP for Kisauni was present, and the commissioner who was overseeing the enumeration of the houses and plots. Soon, the government took over. We tried to also involve ourselves with what was going on, but our efforts bore no fruit and so we left them to carry on what we had begun.
But, to our disappointment, there was no progress from where we had left off, and so we decided to go back to Muungano. They supported us and taught us how they did enumerations and we, the members from Kisauniland, listened closely, and afterwards, we proceeded to every house to gather our findings. When we spoke with the government, they said that they had succeeded in reaching out to the community, but when we asked for their report based on their exercise, they referred us to the land headquarters in Nairobi, where we have been following up diligently – but we are yet to receive the report. They only gave us some forms for every land owner to fill in their title deed number, plus the number of houses in the respective plot, and indicate who lived in each house; in addition, they were to report to the Ministry of Lands once they collected the monthly rent.
We, however, kept on following it up: I pretended to be one of the land owners and went to the Ministry with an aim to register. They inquired about my piece of land, and I told them that it was located where I lived and added that there were houses built on the same land. Suddenly, the officer claimed that we were the ones extorting money from the community members, and that it would be better if we sold him the land. The officer asked for my title deed, which had the name of my grandfather – a common case that applies to most people – and then he said that the land wasn’t rightfully mine and threatened to give the land to those who lived around.
Right now, we get no security services from the government, and so once the tycoons come, they grab our land and demolish our houses. Still, we are grateful to Muungano because they came to educate us – they taught us what the movement was all about, helped us to come up with a profile and history of our area, and sensitized us on the importance of being united. Now, ten years down the line, we are still part of Muungano: they are on the forefront in leading us and helping us fight for our rights.
What were and are the land issues in Mombasa and the Coast region?
When we were counting the houses, we also wanted to know the original owners of the houses. There are people who only know of one place as their original home, and this situation applies to many living on the coast – they may have lived there for 50 to 60 years, and raised their families there, so we consider them to be one of our own. There are also some who have made their homes into places to do business. And so as we were enumerating, we wanted to know all about these two groups of people. When we were in the middle of doing the counting, the government came and took over, bringing on board their statistics. As the coastal residents, we believe laws were made to be exercised by all, but that doesn’t seem to apply here – this is because apparently there are some houses that don’t have land. But how can this be the case? Has the house been built on air? It must have been built on a piece of land. Why should we therefore be referred to as tenants? We built our houses here years ago. In the past, men asked for 5 shillings to allow someone to build on a piece of land. However, today, you must to give out 3,000–5,000 shillings a month.
So we sat together to draft improvements to land policies. According to the land policies, the Coast region needed some special attention, but this had not been not considered. Before we sat down to draft our policies, the commissioners were brought and interrogated the people, and then they left; but until now we have still not heard from them. So we as Kisaunilands teamed up with other organizations like the Mombasa Local Urban Forum. We thought that since the government did not have any policies yet, we would come up with policies for our county. We sat down with the councillors as well as the Muungano team (I am the Nyali sub-county representative in Muungano). We were taken to Voi, where we worked with the counsellors in drafting the policies: we came up with policies on behalf of the community, and the counsellors on behalf of the county, which were thereafter to be passed in parliament. We also took some of the national policies and included them in our county policies. However, we do not know what happened after we concluded the process of drafting the policies. I am yet to get feedback on the progress of our draft policies. We are on a long journey. We are teaming up with organizations helping each other to determine where we are and where we are headed to. After the enumerations were done, there was a report that was produced by Pamoja Trust, which advised us to sit with the landowner and, once we came to an agreement, to draft the minutes and take them to Pamoja Trust. We also sat with the land commissioner and his representative while drafting the policies. They have placed representatives in each county, whom we can consult with, which makes it easier than going all the way to Nairobi. In the past this wasn’t possible. Muungano educated us on the importance of working with them.
What have been some of your regional network’s biggest achievements over the years?
Indeed we have made some major steps. Together, we have been able to mobilize ourselves. Previously, we weren’t able to rely on our leaders, nor the ministries of water and energy, but Muungano brought us close with some ministries, like the Ministry of Water and Ministry of Energy, with whom we have been having meetings.
We also met with the surveyors that took aerial photos of the area for mapping purposes. That has been of great help to us: all we were able to do previously was to mobilize each other – we didn’t know what more we could do – but now we are able to approach the Ministry of Water and ask for services. During our meeting with the Ministry of Water, we highlighted our situation and the need to have water reach the community in the slums.
Some community members in Kisaunilands couldn’t access electricity, but with the help of Muungano we were able to access it by getting approval. There is also the process of getting title deeds to the people, though it is difficult to give each person, and some of the people are difficult to deal with. We have also developed rules concerning leadership, which allows a leader to be in office for a duration of two years, though this at times has led to some misunderstanding within Muungano.
How have things changed over time?
There have been massive changes, both at the personal level and in the community and the wider society. I live in the same homestead as the land owner, with whom we are able to interact – unlike previously where we were not able to see him. The land owner allows us to have meetings and we are able to engage with him on issues to do with the rent. There are places where we have developed very good plans, and I consider this a milestone. We have mobilized for advocacy of land, and have educated the community about their constitutional rights around property and land ownership about which many were unaware; since we started making these land policies, I can tell you for sure that some have been adopted and are presently being exercised. We proposed that a person can identify the place where they live with the aid of some concrete evidence: if there happens to be some graves, trees, and houses that link a person to a place, then chances are it could be their ancestral land. If today somebody just came to Kisauni with a title deed and finds people living peacefully, and just because he has the title deed goes on to claim that the land is his, what would the reaction be from the people there? Don’t you think this will cause quarrels and conflict? We have started to have meetings to ensure that the right procedures are followed even when it comes to selling land. We are trying to educate our members on their rights and on the importance of consulting with Muungano before they sell their land – in instances where the land may be owned by the government, we insist that a certain procedure should be followed, with the help of Muungano.
We are the founders of fighting for people’s rights using peaceful means. We have been educated on using fair means to fight for people’s rights, without using force or money. Our strength comes from coming together as one. The land owners also came together, but all they have are the title deeds – we are the ones who have settled on the land. Those who come in peace, we are able to talk with them; but those who approach using aggression, we are able to deal with them. The land owners therefore resolved to sit with us, and then we can sketch out an understanding between us.
The local administration linked us with Pamoja Trust, with whom we worked for a long time. Shelter Forum was also among the organizations that we worked with as Kisaunilands. We also worked closely with the Kenya Land Alliance, especially when drafting the policies. Now, my colleague and I represent the whole of Kisauni. We talk about the policies and we contribute to them, as we include the community. We have worked together with Lumumba, Jane Weru, Mama Salma, Kimani and many others whose names I have forgotten. Now, we are still working tirelessly to fight for the rights of the members of the community.
In the past, people used to settle on a piece of land and once they got evicted, they would just relocate. However, in areas like Kisumu Ndogo and Shauri Yako, the government has recognized them as the land owners. When the enumerations were done, it was established that the settlers were indeed the owners of the land, and therefore they could acquire the title deeds. In the past, when you settled on a piece of land for a long time, someone would come along and claim the land was theirs and you would get evicted. But when we succeeded, the government got to recognize the settlers, and once the settlement schemes programs start, they get a chance to be included.
On issues to do with private land, the owners are now able to settle with us. We have really achieved some great milestones. We have obtained some land policies and we believe the county policies will be produced soon. We have interacted with the community, especially on rent matters. The government now recognizes the settlers, and this is what we consider a big success.
A story about resisting eviction
Now, we are fighting against forceful evictions in Masinde. We were not given any notice to vacate. On one occasion, during a meeting to protest against forced eviction, some police officers and the OCS came. We demanded they show us the court order for eviction, but instead they started harassing us. In that commotion, the OCS accidentally slid and found himself in the mud. That is the day that my colleagues and I were thrown into the cold cells of Bamburi police prison. We were there until morning, then they took us to court the next day and we were accused of trespassing. We were, however, not trespassing. This is usually the norm while fighting for our rights. We have gone through a lot, but nevertheless we are thankful where we have succeeded.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
In the next twenty years, we would like the community to access better housing facilities, proper medical care, as well as quality education and water. Now, living standards are really low, and it really saddens me to see how children are being exposed to the low living standards. We want the children to access better living conditions from quality education and proper health care. We don’t want to have cases where there are hospitals but they lack drugs.
Who is Mama Noor? What motivates you?
In our fight against dilapidated housing conditions, the injustice that I have gone through at the hands of the so-called tycoons here is intolerable. One day, we sat down with one of the community groups and resolved to educate them and enlighten them about their rights. After getting a grasp of what we needed to do, I went to the local chiefs office to talk with him about the need for our people to know their rights. In the long run, people fear us when we are given our unity: as they say, ‘unity is strength’. In my case, the chief never wants to meet with me: if he sees me coming, he would rather take another route just to avoid me. I know my rights and I fight for them. I also fight for the rights of our people here.
Unlike before, through Muungano (which means ‘united’) we are now united. I now know my rights and I won’t allow someone to victimize me. Right now, we can approach those people in big offices to discuss with them about ways to improve the lives of our people. Our leaders are more interested in votes, but since we are many and united, at least they do pay attention to our requests. Surprisingly, nowadays they call a meeting with us if they want to pass information to our people. I consider this a success, both for our people and for me. I remember instances where I was called names and – worst of all – I have been behind bars, all for the purpose of fighting for our land. However, I am free now, our people have peace, and I am widely respected. I am happy to be one of their leaders, educating them about the need for unity as Muungano community.