From: Bawazir, Athi River, Machakos
Interview date & place: 8 April 2016, Nairobi
Interviewed by: Asha Ali & Kate Lines
Original language: English & Swahili
I’m Rashid Mutua, the Kenyan federation chairperson, Muungano wa Wanavijiji. From Machakos County, Athi River region. My saving scheme is Bawazir saving scheme – saver no. 005. I joined Muungano in the year 2001, in the informal settlement of Bawazir where I was born and brought up.
What motivates you?
Rashid is a person who have a bigger heart for the community, to see that they live in a decent environment, they bring up their families in an environment which will be good for the health, for the education of children. Also Rashid is a person who wants to learn and journey with the community, who will also who want to join hands and do what is required in the society so that we can attain and see the required life of humanity is done, as even in the most of the religions aspire, as the way God wanted human beings to be.
What were things like in your settlement, back when you joined Muungano?
Actually, Bawazir settlement is one of the worst informal settlements. The shacks there are built of iron sheets, others are built of cartons and polythene papers. And life was so bad, hectic, being brought up in such a situation – the environment, there was no services, the drainage, and we were always ... the parents were always living in fear of evictions. Now and then, there was a lot of threat of eviction in the settlement. So the environment was quite unfriendly. More so on us – we couldn’t understand how and the nature of being brought up in such an environment, vis-a-vis to other kids or other peers who used to live in decent environments; and they couldn’t imagine of threat of eviction. To them, it was just an alien language to hear about an eviction in an informal settlement, or to hear we’ve being going without water – even a place of getting birth it was a problem. So, life was so hectic in a situation like that.
How have things changed over time, in your settlement?
Actually, through awareness about the services, the need of bringing people together and voicing their concerns to the authorities, and through the federation processes of enumeration, advocacy, awareness, and savings, we learnt a lot. We brought people together and people started knowing their rights, about the security of tenure, about the need to have the basic services like water [and] accessing toilets. And now the agitation and the zeal of knowing their rights started, and people came together: they started doing advocacy and lobby their leaders about their rights. And it’s not an easy struggle, but the evictions were quite minimal nowadays, and the environment has become changing – but not 100 percent as we would like it to be. But now, at least, the awareness of the people, coming together, voicing their needs, and lobbying for their rights, it has been a success; but a lot also has to be done to achieve 100 per cent their rights.
What were things like in Muungano, back when you joined?
In 2001, Muungano was around five years mature, and most of the processes were now being inculcated to the people and understanding. So the federation, it was from Nairobi – most of the Nairobi informal settlements – and Athi River. I know some informal settlements – Kasawitu in Athi River, City Carton, Bawazir – those were the informal settlements which were in very pathetic shape because of their nature. Because most of the shacks were constructed on the polythene paper, grass thatch. Kasawitu was submerged in the floods, it was like an island, and when the rains came it was flooding – people used to be even airlifted by the Red Cross people, the food was being taken to the community because they could not access because of the situations in the area. So it was quite a dangerous place to live, and the government of the day used not to understand; they used only to go to the people on the election times. But the services, the need to get to the proper environment was not addressed. So the federation came to Athi River and created awareness and mobilized people, came together, and the people agreed on their rights. Those were the times when informal settlements could not be, even when it was not an informal settlement per se, it was like a nest because fire could come anytime – so people were living in total fear in that situation. So we thank the federation that time; they came and they saw the need of reaching those areas.
How have things changed over time, in Muungano?
I think the federation, since those times, it has evolved much and a lot has changed through the awareness, through the coming of the community together and understanding the most fundamental rights for the society. One, through the savings, advocacy, lobbying of their rights, and knowing that security of tenure is very key to their journey. And also economic empowerment, which is being given. One of the services that is being offered by the AMT, like accessing loans, small loans for livelihoods, which has also impacted a lot to the community, through economic empowerment, starting small businesses, and this and that.
And the federation’s vision, the struggle, has also brought a lot of successes in the mindset of the community. Since everything has to change, come from the mindset of one’s person. Because most of the people in the informal settlement, before the awareness of the creation of the awareness, they used to know is there – the status quo.
There are those people who in the community want the status quo to remain, because in the informal settlements, most of, there are also illegal businesses which take place. So, you will find that there are people who don’t want to buy that change, because of the illegal businesses, because it’s also economic empowerment to them, but is also negative to the other people – like selling of drugs in the informal settlements, which is very common, [or] selling of illicit brews. So those kinds of things, there are people wants the status of the environment, of the situation, to remain the same. Also many thugs, when they do all their mess in other areas they come and hide in the informal settlements. So when the services are opened, when the security is good, so to them they see it as a threat. But we thank God, because most of the people being led by the mothers – because it has come to the understanding that most of these challenges affect women, because women in the family, they carry most of the burden. For example, when there is no access to a simple thing like a toilet, probably the man will not take it hard or seriously, but the mother, it will be a burden for her. Even when a visitor comes, he will start bothering what will happen to this person, but the man will just go – don’t get bothered. But now the difficult thing will be that the mother or the wife in the family, she will start bothering. She has a visitor, she doesn’t know where to take him or her to the toilet, or to have a bath. So it will also impact negatively, also mentally. So I think the federation creating awareness of the simple basic things are very key to these organizing processes.
What have been Muungano`s biggest achievements over the years?
I think Muungano, since these years, it has achieved a lot. One, through giving people the capacity to understand their rights, to know also issues of lobby the government, to fight for their rights. And through competitive organizing – that is enumeration, data collection, livelihoods – it has changed many people’s lives. Through these simple processes which impacts a lot and which anchors a lot to this human processes. Because the bottom line, the fundamental things which are key are the services, the environment, the economic empowerment, and this has being achieved through enumeration, collecting of data, through advocacy, through lobbying of government to the services, and this and that. They have gained a lot through the empowerment of these processes.
What have been Muungano’s biggest challenges over the years?
Muungano, as the growth of the federation, the expectation also has grown over years. Because [as] you go, each informal settlements has its opportunities, challenges. And the people after getting the information of the federation, they join the federation with a lot of expectations, and others think that the change has to come overnight – which is not true, it’s a process. Because most of these things you have to fight for your rights: it’s a journey. So the expectations is enormous, and we are trying to see how we can achieve, but it’s not an overnight thing – it’s a process, it’s a journey, and a lot has to be done. And I think the growth of federation, the issues of urbanization; people are coming from rural, coming to town expecting a lot of goodies, but when they reach to the urban areas they find life is not the way they expected. The only place to go is to the informal settlements or to the shacks, and things becomes harder for them. Also, another challenge is about the economic situation in the country, because now life is difficult. People don’t have livelihoods, there is no employment, there is no employment coming, and things are becoming tougher – the prices of the food. So there are many challenges in our society which need to be addressed, and the fed has to do a lot, because they don’t have 100 per cent of the solutions to satisfy each and every member of the federation.
I think, when people join Muungano, one of the things that we do, we take them through the rituals of Muungano, which are savings, advocacy, projects, and we make sure that they know [it] is not food on a silver plate – it’s a journey. They have first of all to know themselves, and most of the times the community themselves has to give out their expectations so that we can balance and see what we can do. Because each informal settlement and each member of the federation has its different expectations: there those who will come because they want livelihoods loans, those who will come because of the security of land tenure, those who will come because of the housing issues. So we have to understand what is that people are coming, or joining, the federation, and the expectations. Then, after the expectations, through enumerations, through this and that, they understand – we pass them to the data that they collect, we tell them they do the priority areas, and through that they will understand it’s not a day’s issue. It’s a process.
What have been the strategies that really worked?
I think Muungano, over the experience, has passed a lot of processes, a lot of changes. The earlier days, it was a struggle through advocacy, through roads, through demos, through fights. But, over the years, even the government has now agreed that these informal settlements and the voices of the people has to be heard. And now coming is a negotiation: tell me what do you need, what are your needs, what are your priorities, what are this and that – so that is one of the areas that has changed a lot. The other thing: through advocacy of security of land tenure most of the policies of the government has been changed to go with the peoples voice – even though it’s not 100 per cent forthcoming – and a lot of evictions, through the bills in parliament, [have] ceased. Also, through courts, they have understood also these people have their rights. So most of the processes has evolved and changed, but not 100 per cent; the struggle has to continue and the federation is doing all what it can to bring all the stakeholders in the table. For example, the community: even the professionals have agreed they cannot go and sit down and draft a policy when they have not agreed with the community. Now, you see, most of the times, in collaboration with the professionals, the planners, the universities, they have come on ground so that they can understand what are these issues. So that the formal and the informal has to meet somewhere, so that the success of these processes is attained. Because, earlier, a professional academic used to write a paper without involving the community, or a project without involving the community; when they take it to the community their project could not do anything because it was not a consultative thing [and] there was no engagement. And this has changed over. And the government [and] the professionals are coming, together – we are seeing now coming together – to the ground, to the community, and understanding, ‘what are your priorities, what do you need to be addressed?’ And we think that is also a success. The other thing was to bring the voice together, so that the community voices has to be heard by the government, and it has being a success through the mobilization processes and bringing people together. Through enumeration, through this, we see there is a window of understanding and mutual collaborations.
What didn’t work? What did you learn?
Most of the time, when changes come, it changes with some resistance. And most of the times, the policies used to be drafted but the implementation part becomes also difficult thing to be done. And in federation, in Muungano, we used to have the strategic plans whereby we could have a real work plan or a strategy to see how this things will be achieved. However, before we finished the five years [strategy], some of the things may not be achieved, and the expectations of the people ... because the movement is big, the growth.
You find out that also some of the people, before they get what they want, there is that apathy. Some of the members will drop on the way, others will move, probably in a way or the other they will be empowered economically. And that is most of the biggest challenge: when a person or leader is in the informal settlement and he is empowered economically, he ceases to have that passion or to have that zeal to learn and to do. You find that the more experienced people, some of them they drop on the way, others because of the natural calamity, others also die, and they all have this rich history to tell. And before they mentor others.
Then we thought, after that, there was that apathy of the generation change: the youths were not coming up to join the federations, and most of the work was left to the older generations. And you find that, as the technology also comes to reality, you’ll find that the older mamas and the older fathers could not do the enumeration through the technology, and also due to old age – they could not move fast in the informal settlements. So you find that the challenge was that the young generation were not wanting to join the federation; they assumed that this is the federation for the older people. And as time goes, we try to see how we can balance. The older generation sees that this is the informal settlement, this is their area where they were born, where they are reared, and this is also their future. So it has been a big challenge to bring the older generation and the new generation, so that they can march together, because we need each other so that we can sustain the future of the federation.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
I think Muungano is a big movement – is the only movement that will bring change to the society and see the impact on the ground. And, through joining of hands through the academia, the government, the community, the young, the older, we see there is future of changing the informal settlements and attaining the required goal of the city or the settlement that we all will have to be happy to live in.
It is important that the federation members, come together and unite, and see how Muungano and SDI will work towards transforming our community for the sake of the future generations.
We must remember the founders of Muungano and all those who had the vision of bringing the community together. We must remember those who brought people together, paving the way for the achieving their dreams.