Support professional, Akiba Mashinani Trust
Interview date & place: 6 May 2016, Nairobi
Interviewed by: Kate Lines
Original language: English
I'm Patrick Njoroge and I work in Akiba Mashinani Trust. I've been working here since 2011, for the past 5 years now. I've been working mainly on projects and finance.
How did you first get involved with Muungano?
I came to Muungano in 2011 – I came as a student, I was looking for my internship, and Muungano agreed to give me an internship opportunity here. I was helping on mobilizing of savings with the groups, groups organization, teaching them on savings, processing some small loans with them, and doing a little bit of advocacy.
What has working for Muungano meant for you?
When I came to the organization and the federation, I have never worked in an informal setting – so in my life I have never been in a slum, in the slums. So when I came here, the first time I came here I went to Mathare, and it was astonishing – I was so surprised how people can live in such conditions. So the first thing was shock: how do these people survive like this? So it’s something different for me, I had my expectations from school – was probably to work in a fancy office with laptops and whatever – so it was something different. So, to be honest, I hadn’t thought of how I can be able to work in such an informal settlement, but with time I started working and started getting that attachment to working with the informal settlement guys and the people there – women, children, men. And when you do these things, probably giving them some loans, and you see such things having a big impact on their lives, it really motivated me to actually commit to work here for a longer period – and I was lucky to get a job after my internship, so I decided to continue. And probably over a period of that time, it is satisfying to see you as a person, as an institution, being able to bring that impact to the community to change their lives for good, for something better. And that's what has made me carry on working for Muungano. It is satisfying to see that you can be able to chip in, even if it's 1 per cent, 0.001 per cent, but you can be able to help bring an impact to the communities that are vulnerable, that are isolated from the rest. So it’s good to be part of that team.
How have things changed over the years?
I've seen Muungano grow in terms of advocacy, especially in my area where I've been involved in Mukuru, and most of the Nairobi slums. I think for the past 5 years, their voice has kept amplifying with time. Muungano are becoming more vocal on the issues that are affecting them, that are affecting most of the people that are living in informal settlements.
Muungano are becoming proactive. They are coming up with solutions – they are not just talking about them, they are coming up with solutions. Muungano is influencing policy. Muungano is being listened to by the county governments, the national government. They're trying to influence change at the national level, at the county government, and the grassroots level, and that's something that really will bring impact and will create a good precedent to all other informal settlements, and probably in other countries. So it's something that Muungano has done very well, and if they continue, I guess their vision to have people living in better housing, having that security of tenure, better services, better basic services – all these things will be realised.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
I think my view is that, as the pace that Muungano is going, I think just need to just double our efforts in whatever we are doing – we are doing good but we can do better – so that we are able to put more effort in whatever we are doing, so that we can be able to fasten the realisation of our vision. So Muungano should, at least, whatever they are doing – be it the advocacy for security of land tenure, be it the advocacy for the basic services, all these, be it for influencing the policy – my hope is that they will be able to realise the fruits of all the things that they have been doing over the past 20 years and be able to change the situation in the informal settlements. Be able to have better housing, be able to have better infrastructures within settlements, be able to have security of land tenure, wherever they are, to be able to realise their vision for – at least get the security of land tenure. Because most of these informal settlements are affected by the same, almost similar problems: lack of security of land tenure, lack of basic services, there's no proper housing, no better infrastructure facilities within the settlement. So if they can be able to realise all these things – if even they double their effort, my hope is that they will as soon as possible. Because that's the dream, and that's what we are all fighting for right now.
A story about the power of Muungano
I remember it was 2012, and there was an advert in a local daily about Cooperative Bank auctioning a land in Mukuru, where in that land there's a school called Maedeleo Primary School, then there are a few residential homes there – so about 500 families, then a school. So we saw the advert, and because of that – because it's a local daily so everyone can be able to see, even in Mukuru – some of the people from Mukuru came to our office because they knew Muungano does all the advocacy and other stuff. So when they came here, we decided we'd just have a meeting with the school and the parents. So we told the school: ‘go and mobilize all the parents and the students, we'll have a meeting to know what we can do as a group’. So they went. So this is the first time now I'm in front of such a big gathering – about 700 students and their parents, so it's more than a thousand people. We had tried to discuss what we were going to do. And also the community people also came in, so we were a very big crowd. So the community came in, we started discussing what will you do, ‘you have to stop this because it will affect all these children, it will affect the people here, so you can't allow this to happen’. So that was the first time I was given opportunity to speak in front of a crowd – I was shaking, I've never been in front of so many people.
They had said the exact dates for the auction, and it was happening in the CBD – Nairobi CBD – so we said we are going storm in during the auction. So we organized a demo, the community said ‘we'll come’, so we marched from Mukuru to town. As we are marching, people are dancing; they have vuvuzelas, people are blowing them; people are sleeping on road, we had brought the traffic to a standstill. So people are doing all these fun things as we are going to town – you know it was fun but also serious, because we also know what we were going to do. Very peaceful. So we walked, we walked, we walked. The police came: they asked ‘what are you doing?’ We told them what the demonstration was all about and we are going to town. So they said, ‘okay, as long as you're peaceful we're going to give you an escort’. So they escorted us – they didn't harass us or anything. So we went to Shankardass House in town – it's near the old Nairobi cinema. When we arrived there – because we wanted to enter, it was happening I think on some floor – so when we arrived there, immediately we came, because it was a large group, so we entered there. All of them they closed the door: we couldn't enter. So we just sat there outside, singing, dancing, saying ‘no one will sell us’, ‘no one will auction us’, ‘the auction must stop’, ‘we have a right to a house, we have a right to school, our kids are...’ – you know, all these things, and the women are so passionate about this. They refused to open, so because we knew at the Shankardass the auctioneer was doing all that on behalf of Cooperative Bank, so we decided just to go to now to Cooperative Bank – now the headquarters, just a few blocks away. So we went there. Now, Cooperative Bank also we brought it to a standstill. When we went there, they were so shocked: ‘all these people, where are they from?’ We said, we're from Mukuru. They didn't allow us to enter because it was during a working day and all these things are happening – banking stuff are happening, there were a lot of clients inside – so we brought everything to a standstill, no one could enter, no one could leave. They started saying, ‘we need two representatives to come and talk to us, to tell us what the situation is all about’, but we said, ‘no, we want everyone, we want all the management to come down and talk to us, we don't want to go there’. So we tried to negotiate with them. Finally they wrote a letter – they came down with their lawyer and said we have stopped the eviction, nothing will happen, and we won't sell, we won't auction the land. And that's how we were able to save a school and some 500 houses. So that was the power of Muungano.