Taking the long view: 20 years of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenyan federation of slum dwellers

First Published August 3, 2018; pp. 407–424

Research article in Environment and Urbanization

By Kate Lines and Jack Makau


In the mid-1990s, the grassroots movement Muungano wa Wanavijiji emerged from Nairobi’s many slums aiming to resist forced evictions by the Kenyan government. Muungano confronted a nexus of politicians, government administrators and elites all seeking to acquire city land occupied by informal settlements – and in doing so challenged antipathetic attitudes to informality. Joining global advocacy, Muungano has pushed locally for recognition of slums as human settlements, later designing models for upgrading living conditions. Throughout this evolution, the Kenyan state has been the single most prominent precipitant for the strategies Muungano has employed. This paper describes the correlations between a social movement and the state, set within broader changes in state–civil society relations in Kenya. In doing so it seeks to bring out the complexity of a relationship that has varied from conflict to contestation, partnership to collaboration, and separate but parallel efforts to address common issues.