Peter Mutunga

Peter Mutunga


From: Kibera, Nairobi

Interview date & place: 4 May 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Nicera Kimani & Kate Lines

Original language: Swahili

Who is Peter? What motivates you?

My name is Peter Mutunga Ndambuki. I live in Kibera slums, but before I finally settled there I used to live in Kaloleni and Bahati. I lived in those areas in the early 1970s but I was evicted because I could not pay for the house I lived in, so I decided to move to Kibera in 1975, where I started rebuilding my life after the eviction. Life in Kibera was much easier: I could get food and shelter, because life here was very affordable. I carried on with my life and later I joined Muungano.

I am among those who have been on the frontline of Muungano’s advocacy. I have witnessed a lot in my journey in Muungano. I have mentored and coached people in Makueni, inspiring them to go out and fight for their rights. What inspires me to save and soldier on is the whole Muungano movement. Whenever I progress, I am able to credit my achievements to Muungano. I have been able to acquire loans from Muungano, which have helped me, my wife, and my children. When my group and I wanted to buy a plot of land, we could approach Muungano for loans. I draw my strength from Muungano and my group. Now, my hope is that the federation will live and last. Before, I was too poor, but when I joined Muungano things really changed to my favour, and I am grateful for all this.

How did you first get involved in Muungano?

Muungano was formed in 1996, but before it began I was a ‘street boy’ – I used to collect plastic, sandals, and scraps, which I would sell. When Muungano started out, I used to go to their meetings in Toi market, where the chairman was Ezekiel Rema. I joined the group that held their meetings at Toi in 1996, and we linked our group with another in Korogocho and with the rest of the Nairobi groups.

As time went on, we were asked to choose representatives from among us, who would represent us. I was a street boy and I used to attend the water and sanitation meetings that were being held, so I was picked to represent Muungano as a community representative from Kibera. As members of Muungano, we were to dedicate ourselves in our work; we didn’t expect any pay, but instead we were to work towards making our lives better.

What were things like back then?

Things were quite difficult when we were starting out. The rich and poor fought against one another; our slums faced evictions, with the poor organizing to campaign against the government. It is at this time that I was appointed to represent my area. We united together as a network comprising all the members in Nairobi, and continued to fight for our rights.

As we soldiered on with our cause, we brought in some leaders, one of them a priest from Korogocho, as well as the Kenyan government. We visited all the areas that might be demolished, raising awareness of the rights of individuals living in those areas and mobilizing the people there in those areas. In mobilizing the community, we hoped to gain some bargaining power and to have our voices heard. Many settlements were earmarked for demolition, so we wanted to mobilize ourselves in order to stop this and be free to settle where we wanted. We really struggled for quite some time.

Later, some of our colleagues went to India for an exchange, to learn how people in the federation there were able to deal with eviction in their country. We faced major challenges in establishing permanent settlements, and our central purpose was to make the government understand that we also had a right to live in the areas we had chosen. Those who had gone to India came back with a solution for us: saving. We resolved to adopt this strategy. As the days went by, we learnt about titles and discovered that some of the land we were fighting for had no titles. And our lobbying activities bore fruit, as the government evictions reduced because they now recognized us.

Later, we began learning different things to do with our cause, and we discovered some areas had acquired their title deeds through saving. We were advised to aim to save at least one shilling per day, in order to acquire our houses in the long run. As we worked towards securing the title deeds through our savings – just as we had been told to by the group that went on the Indian exchange – we resolved to settle in the areas which hadn’t been grabbed. We agreed that if we had lived on a particular piece of land for a long time, then we would hold talks with the owner, and pay for the land we had occupied; in the long run, this turned out to be a good idea.

So, the activities we did as Muungano proved very effective, and we were also able to stay on the land and gain respect within the community. Now, thanks to Muungano, most people in Nairobi have been able to retain their settlements. In addition, some have been able to buy pieces of land and retain title deeds for the areas, and comfortably settle in Nairobi.

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

When I started in Muungano I had nothing; I was poor at that time. But because of Muungano, I have been able to acquire houses and become a representative. I am a member of a group that has 110 members – it began as a self-help group called Soweto Highrise Company Limited, and has been around for quite a long time now. Another group we started is called Ushirika Usafi. I lead and founded this group. As time went by, I was elected by Muungano to also represent Makueni county, so I represented the people of Makueni and Kibera in Muungano.

Right now, we have achieved a lot. The demolitions are declining and people are retaining their land through lobbying and using their savings. I am among those individuals who have been able to acquire a house. I own houses in different areas in Nairobi, like Soweto, Highrise, and Railways, thanks to my savings. All these are the results of Muungano. I was poor, but now I have quite a lot. I am proud to be associated with Muungano and happy that now I have my family as well as my houses. We hope that more people will join Muungano so that we can continue with our cause.

Right now, many people have retained their homes. Before, we fought for our rights to own homes and have better living standards. In the coming years, we hope that everyone in Muungano will be able to access better living standards, education, better health facilities, and adequate food.

How have things changed over time?

The journey wasn’t all smooth when we first joined Muungano. We lived on our land in the knowledge that we could get evicted at any time; but we have truly fought against this and now there isn’t a single area that is still earmarked for demolition.

In the past, we never bothered much about our welfare, but Muungano came and changed this by introducing to us the concept of savings. Through the information on savings we got from India, we could adopt the same systems, which united us. Whenever one of us stumbles upon some difficulty, or wants to raise school fees for their child, they can rely on our savings. And we focused on each other’s welfare, so that whenever one of us fell ill, we would visit and support them.

Before, we were worse off because we hadn’t adopted the spirit of togetherness. But when we united we benefited a lot, because we were able to share resources, and whenever a crisis developed we would be there for one another. We started a savings and credit cooperative organization, so that whenever a crisis came up, we would contribute for the affected person. We understand that even though we are poor, we are still able to manage our day-to-day affairs, because of our unity which was brought about by Muungano.

Things have definitely changed. Take the area I live in: the housing challenges that we faced have drastically reduced. Before, they plotted to evict us, but now we have our own homes and this makes us proud. I was able to educate my children through the loans I received from Muungano.

As Muungano continues to soldier on, I am proud that we have now built an alliance amongst ourselves. And we have also helped the groups outside Nairobi, for example to gain knowledge on various issues. At the moment, title deeds are being issued in Machakos and Mombasa, through the efforts of Muungano.

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

At first when we joined, most of us thought that we would be paid for our membership. Others thought that Muungano would instantly produce results; but as we continued, challenges arose. Some were arrested and tortured in jail. Others lost their lives. Some of us argued with our wives when we let ourselves get too occupied with fighting for our rights, forgetting our other priorities at home – but we were able to resolve our differences. Some people have left the movement after falling sick. Others have opted out after finding that they wouldn’t be paid for their services.

What have been the strategies that really worked?

One of the strategies that proved to work well was savings and loaning. Advocacy also played a key role. Generally, these two strategies were on the frontline. Another strategy that worked well was exchange visits, for example to India. The first visit raised the ideas of saving, an activity which most of us now rely on to get finance to purchase land. This strategy also greatly helped the residents living along the railways [in Kibera] to retain their houses, including me. Right now, I own four houses (in Kibera, Soweto, Railways, and Highrise), all because of the knowledge I gained during that exchange visit to India. The visit allowed us to learn about new strategies which the Indians used in their country to resist being evicted from where they lived. So the exchange visit bore fruit which we currently enjoy.

[Give us an example where you used advocacy as a strategy and it worked.] In my group, we used advocacy to acquire land. We did not buy it: before you can own a house in the slum here in Nairobi, you have to seek authority by asking the chief; but we used the strategies we learnt from Muungano to get the land and build a hall on it. We used advocacy in Kipangari, where demolitions were taking place: we intervened until the demolitions ended. We used advocacy at [Mukuru] Kwa Ruben, where we asked the land owners to give us the land, and in turn we would pay. This also worked in Thika. This strategy has not only worked in Nairobi: we have gone further, to other regions – for example, Nakuru, where we were able to acquire land and begin construction. In other areas, like Makindu, the government has visited the area and issued title deeds, all due to our efforts. So we have really succeeded, especially here in Nairobi. There are no longer threats of eviction in any of the villages, due to our advocacy as Muungano and the laws that we helped put in place which acted as our shield against eviction.

What didn’t work? What did you learn?

There were people who went against what we fought for, and this pulled us down. What mainly worked was our unity, which gained us respect even with the government. Through this, we truly saw that unity was power. Unity gave us the bargaining power.

A story about solidarity

I was among those who fought against demolitions in Kitale – Kipsongo area. Four of us were sent there. The people in Kitale lived in slums like us. The rich had grabbed the land, which gave shelter to about six hundred people. The case was forwarded to the courts by the community members, and that was when we went to Kitale to carry out mobilization as Muungano. We mobilized a lot of people with the help of the Catholic Church. We were about 800 of us, completely filling the court. We aired our concerns, and later we were requested to come back at 2 o’clock to listen to our verdict. We returned to the village, where, unfortunately, we found one person who had died about four days ago. On inquiring, we were told that the deceased was a member of Muungano, who had died in his house four days ago. We decide to put our activities on hold and contribute towards his burial. All the members from Nairobi and Kitale contributed, and we bought a coffin for him and later we took him to the mortuary. We were able to lay him to rest and gave his mother the remaining funds that had been left over. We acted in solidarity and the villagers were happy with our efforts. This is a case where Muungano truly came in handy. (Muungano also acted in solidarity in Timau (Meru Region), where we were able to lay one of our colleagues to rest through our collective efforts.) Going back to our case in Kitale: we went back to the court and our case was dismissed and we were granted victory by the court. Due to our solidarity, we created a massive impact – the people of Kipsongo were heard and the case ended.

This wasn’t the only major ordeal we have encountered. We went to Makindu and approached the chief, who was later sacked for refusing to work with the members of Muungano. After that we approached the newly-elected chief, and all those who were being forced off their land were told to forget about the eviction. Later, we were asked to make follow ups for the community members there, in order for them to get title deeds.

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

In the next 20 years, I would like mobilization within Muungano to continue. I would like to hear that half of Kenya’s population belongs to Muungano. I would like us all to have the bargaining power ­­– in a way where our voices are heard by government. We would like those affected in every county to have a voice. We would like the government to listen to our grievances.

We may have made some steps, but we are yet to accomplish our goals. We need to have more people join us and support our cause in every county.

My message on this twentieth anniversary is that we should have representatives who can talk about our journey, so that many people will join Muungano. We would like to have members from all over Kenya. As for me, I am happy that I am no longer as I used to be.

What message would you give to the younger generations of Muungano?

As for the youths, we should mentor them and show them ways to save. We should focus on all the youths, nationwide, and teach them about mobilization and the social issues that affect them. We should sit down with the youth and enlighten them about how they can face the many challenges they might stumble on. They should be shown how they can save, because many of them say they don’t know how to go about it; where they can safely put their money and how they can get it back if they need to. Their savings can help greatly them in future; without saving and uniting together, they may not succeed.