Peter Ng’ang’a

Peter Ng’ang’a, Community organizing trainer, Nairobi

Civil society partner

Community organizer trainer, Nairobi

Interview date & place: 8 March 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Joseph Kimani & Kate Lines

Original language: English

How did you first get involved with the pre-Muungano land struggle?

Community Organization Training (COT) had just been introduced, in 1993. The first batch training in Korogocho, that is where I came to meet the first organizers, then I joined the group in 1995.

During our training, I trained in Kibera slums, where we organized and trained for nine months. It is during the training that the issues of land came up – issues of evictions. There were so many communities coming and complaining that they have notices of land grabbing. And there were a lot of cases of land grabbing. The rich were going after the slums. So there was that, and communities started to awaken. We got involved in the struggle.

The Land Caucus – bringing together Muungano’s early civil society supporters

At that time, we didn’t even have a formal … it was just a few organizations. At that time, the COT programme, which was hosted at APCAN regional office, and then there was Kituo cha Sheria, then there was Maryknoll Fathers, there was Comboni Brothers – Father Alex. So we used to meet and strategize: what do we do? Many times, the communities would be referred to Kituo cha Sheria, where the first thing they would do is to file an injunction of evictions.

At that time, also, Father Alex of Korogocho started the Land Caucus. He got [a] few people from the NGO world and the church, and we would meet once a month at the Brothers – the Comboni Brothers – and we would deliberate on the issues informal settlements; issues of the urban poor. That’s how we started. One of my colleagues, Biruri, who had trained in the second batch, was contacted. Because we were in the training, he was the one going to all the slums creating some awareness, with other colleagues. Then late, after our graduation, Lawrence Apiyo joined in. Actually, Lawrence was directly assigned to be reaching the communities who have threats of evictions. So he would meet, and we formed a committee that was supporting Apiyo. So, many times, I used to support what he is doing and especially in the strategy – we used to strategize how do we go about the case – so there were many meetings we attended with him and even prevented a lot of evictions. We were joined also by Davinder Lamba: mainly he used to … he is the one who used to document cases. He used to document a case – if it is a slum he could document and put it down, so he has a lot of documentation – and we'd meet and discuss each cases.

So it actually began around that time, 1995, because that’s the first meetings we had. I remember the person who organized the first meeting was Biruri, which [COT] attended, together with the NGO Council I think. So, that’s how it started...

In community organization we say: we start with simple issues. But the main issue is land, and if we are to help the urban poor, we have to help them acquire land, get security of tenure. And that's how the Land Caucus came about. We didn’t have any money or any project or anything. So we could just discuss case by and case. Many times Kituo Cha Sheria would represent and file injunctions, but eventually most of the cases were thrown out because of backdoors – but they really had a lot of cases.

The Land Caucus was actually constituted by Father Alex: he was the one who brought in the idea, he was the one who was inviting people, he was the one who would point out at some people and ask them to attend – that’s how we got involved. We would attend – usually it was in the evening – meeting at the [Comboni] Brothers’ house, and we would stay there for about two hours, discussing. And it developed – it is out of him as a person, who came in: the others just contributed.

What were things like in those early days?

Muungano was a people's movement that started over threats of evictions and land grabbing. So there was a lot of communities' slums that got threats for evictions and they got notices. A lot of the rich would go to the community and they would grab land. So out of that, Muungano was born, for solidarity purposes. We started: when this community is threatened we would meet together with the other communities for solidarity and maybe to strategize on what to do.

The Land Caucus was the arm that was supporting Muungano in terms of the actions they can take, for example the legal representation – because we used to use legal and non-legal means to protect the community. The legal will be: we have a case in court and which Kituo cha Sheria was the active partner there; then we used to strategize demonstrations, protests, of the community, and the Land Caucus provided the COs ­– the community organizers – that would make sure that we organize actions at the local level. So that's how we got community organizers organizing.

And the meetings became many, and at the same time we started now with resistance. We realised that we might get into trouble, with people fighting back: fighting the police, fighting the goons. At that time, at the Land Caucus, we thought about active non-violence, so that we train people to resist evictions in active non-violence – so that we don’t use violence, so that we don’t have damages, we don't have people dying. So at the Land Caucus we discussed one evening, and we got contacts, and we got people from US who came to train us on active non-violence. The idea is to do the resistance without causing violence, and we were able to get contacts – Kim organized for a training, and some of us were trained on active non-violence. And we started a new movement of ‘Chemichemi ya Ukweli’ [‘Wellspring of Truth’] that was now specialising in training on non-violence. And we trained communities also on active non-violence, because the resistance was becoming more violent each time.

At the same time, during that time we were trained on issue-based organizing. But there came new development: we got to be introduced to this other method of savings – organizing through the savings – and that is how we had the people from India, from South Africa coming in.

At the same time, during that period Pamoja Trust was formed, specifically because now Kituo cha Sheria had been overwhelmed by these cases and they had started an outreach programme that became bigger than the legal department. And the Board thought Kituo was going [beyond] their initial [objectives], because the outreach program had grown [bigger] than the legal one. And that’s how we thought of forming an organization that will support Muungano directly, and that organization was Pamoja Trust.

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

Muungano really grew out of – it started in – Nairobi. It started especially through the model of savings. It went to other counties: Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, and many other areas they have gone, they still have Muungano chapters there. So Pamoja Trust really initially started, it really was supportive of the growth of Muungano.

In my view, Muungano has changed, because we started as a movement that was focusing on anti-eviction. There have been changes of leadership also. But the Muungano was somehow split, in the sense that some sections of Muungano would form another network like Ngazi Ya Chini, which specialized in fighting, going back to original [ways of] resisting evictions – they have been very active, for example, in Kibera; they worked specifically with an NGO, Amnesty International. There is also this other one that it calls itself Nairobi Peoples Movement – it’s also part of Muungano, but they started working with Hakijamii. So you can see Muungano has been split into other movements – it’s the same leadership, but working now with different partners. Some sort of competition arose among the NGOs and among the leadership of Muungano. You can see each NGO is working with a particular section of [the original] Muungano – and they are pushing their agenda, but they are all working for urban poor. So that has prevented force: the initial force of Muungano talking as a big movement of the urban poor has been watered down, and I think that’s the challenge. Maybe it’s for us as partners to come together and see, how do we work best achieving all these things, so that we don’t split the communities and we remain strong.

The other challenges for Muungano is, I think, internal democracy among themselves: sometimes they don’t have good mechanisms for elections, for running as an organization, and you find the same leaders, same leaders all the time. That’s a big challenge. We need to strengthen the organizational capacity, how they are internally organized to deal with – to change – leadership, and grow. When there is money, when there is savings, leaders sometimes focus on the money side.

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

The biggest achievement has been I think was when we were able to get a moratorium for evictions in Nairobi. The government agreed not to continue, to do away with evictions for a period, and they started recognising slums. We had a committee that used to meet at Nyayo House: we agreed with the provincial administration no more evictions that will continue. And I think this came out of our efforts to resist land grabbing and evictions ­– we did a lot of campaigns on land grabbing and that stopped a lot of the rich [who] would see slums as potential areas for grabbing. But that now, when the movement became strong, they stopped focusing on that. So that is I think one of the greatest achievements.

People beginning to save and buy land for themselves was also a positive achievement. And improving their housing, like in Huruma, that is an achievement. And we have seen even the involvement of Muungano in other issues – issues of water and sanitation – that would improve issues of upgrading. Those are issues where I think that Muungano has achieved a lot. We have had the national government accept upgrading out of that: the attitude has changed from seeing slums dirty places to accepting that we need to upgrade slums.

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

We still have a challenge of the best way of doing upgrading. Some people think you should just provide security of tenure and let people develop the area, but others feel that you should build houses for them – build better houses for the community, and you give them. So there is that kind of debate that still continues. The government prefers like in Kibera: they prefer providing houses, which is expensive, which has a lot of challenges in terms of affordability and even allocation – we still have [court] cases. And we don’t think sometimes this is the best way – sometimes you can just provide security of tenure and help people access some funds to be able to build their own. I think that could work better.

There is issues of land ownership: whether to go communal land ownership or to have individual [land] titles for settlements; there is still that debate and discussions. But at least we have been able to get government to upgrading, in Kibera and in Korogocho, where they provide some services, and that’s good; to the extent that even the National Youth Service is now brought in sometimes. It's a progression, because the government, through the National Youth Service, was able to provide some services to Kibera and slums in Nairobi – Kibera, Mukuru, Korogocho. And they are focusing on providing services through the National Youth Service so that is a change – a big change – from the time [when] we were organizing. Government would not providing any services at all, but now they are providing services. So that is a very big growth in terms of pushing the issues of urban poor.

I think if we are able to provide security of tenure – find the best way for providing security of tenure for the urban poor – that would really improve the urban poor situation, because many people will be able to upgrade their housing. Now, some of them may not build good houses just because they don’t own or have security of tenure over the piece of land they have built. But if they are provided with that, I think they will be able to provide. And if other people would provide funding – available funding, cheap funding for housing to be available for the urban poor – that would do a great thing in improving our informal settlements. That’s the direction to go, because I don’t think the government can be able to build houses for everyone; but if they are able to provide funding where the poor can access and then they provide them the security of tenure, that would improve and help because the communities now have been trained on planning – urban planning – providing for the communities.

Muungano must continue with the struggle until we get decent housing.