W Nairobi W! Sunday Nation Report Photo: Francesco Fantini
Political Goodwill, a Vision and Justice keys to slum upgrading initiatives
(By Oluoch Japheth and Father Daniel Moschetti
The Sunday Nation Report on Kiambiu slums and the editorial of the same newspaper (Sunday Nation 22nd October 2006) confirms the fears of some of us who are concerned about the human rights of the 2.5 million slum dwellers in Nairobi out of 4 million inhabitants. Over the last twenty years, Nairobi has undergone a complete metamorphosis from ' a city in the sun' to 'a city of slums'. Slums have encroached in every available space in the city. Every residential estate in Nairobi including the palatial ones all have their share of slums even if the big share is for the Eastlands of the city.
Many factors are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. Key among them are rural-urban migration, poor and negligent urban governance, individualism and institutionalised corruption. It is a common culture in Kenya for youths to relocate mainly to Nairobi or to any other secondary city after completing primary or secondary schools. Due to the high levels of unemployment in the city, most of them end up in slums. A large number of them work in middle and first class residential estates as cooks, gardeners, watchmen, and available kibarua force. To save on the cost of transport, development speculators put up slums near these well off estates to cater for the low class workers who do not have the advantage to stay in servant quarters provided by the employers. This is how we have developed more than 200 slums in the 'city in the sun'.
The greatest cause of the mushrooming of slums is however poor urban governance and institutionalised corruption. Both the Central Government and the Nairobi City Council have failed to have an affordable housing plan for low income Nairobians. Whenever such attempts have been made, corruption and political games have neutralized the good intentions. Individuals well connected to polititicians and the provincial administration have grabbed land and these houses. The costs of such houses are also hiked to lock out the genuine beneficiaries. California estate in Majengo is a case in point.
Greed and individualism of small groups have always frustrated efforts to carry out any serious upgrading exercises. The Government has never succeeded in jump-starting the slum upgrading exercise due to individual and political interests. The much publicised Kibera-Soweto slum upgrading exercise has not achieved much. Genuine Kiberans may not afford the rents of the new houses meaning that outsiders will occupy most of them. In Korogocho slum, an endless misunderstanding and private interests between structure owners and tenants have dashed any hopes of upgrading. Some years ago, an attempt done by a local non governmental organisation to enumerate the residents of Korogocho for an upgrading exercise failed when the structure owners disowned it while those who co-operated transported their relatives and civil servants from outside Korogocho and registered them as structure owners or residents. Chiefs and administration police who manned the exercise also registered themselves as residents. Nothing has been heard of the enumeration exercise since then.
The slum problem in Nairobi is a time bomb waiting to explode. Any plans to haphazardly evict the slum dwellers from their current structures without a well planned relocation will back fire.
At the end of August this year at Komora slum, Donholm Estate, 600 families (almost 3000 people) were rendered homeless in few hours of destruction allegedly ordered by a private developer with the consensus of the administration without any plan of relocation for the affected population. This is not the first and the last demolition in Nairobi!
The residents of Nairobi’s informal settlements constitutes 60% (2.5 millions) of the total city population and yet occupy only 5% of the urban land area. The animals of the Nairobi National Park live much better than the slumdwellers!
The government and private developers must understand that we cannot solve the slum problem in a twinkle of an eye. Why have we watched Kiambiu grow into a large slum for about twenty years before realizing that it is a threat to security which is foreign to millions of slums dwellers who are also integral components of the human society? Where were these self proclaimed city fathers when slums grew at an alarming rate and we did not do a thing to correct the situation? We have not to forget that every year the more than 200 slums of this city generate billion of shillings in rent which goes directly in the pockets of few rich people.
The government in compliance with her pre-election pledge must fulfil her 150,000 per year low cost housing plan but the needs are much more than that. Nairobi is among the fastest growing cities in the world and unless the government becomes serious about urban governance issues, Nairobi will be an impossible city. Justice must be done so that we don't have a repeat of Mathare 4A embarrassment. The slum population will definitely refuse any attempts to render them squatters in their own country.
The State must halt all processes that violate international and other legal obligations regarding the human rights to adequate housing. The State must:
1. enforce an immediate moratorium of all evictions and demolitions.
2. immediately cease all allocations of public land until a proper policy and legal framework can be put into place.
3. recognize the official existence and tenure rights of those currently living in the slums.
If the Government can provide security of tenure, the residents themselves will create new avenues for investment and improvement of housing. Finallly the State must work to create and implement policies and new plans to help slum dwellers work their way out of poverty. The affected communities must work together with the local government city planners in order to identify, to study and to map and develop a new vision of those areas giving availability of services, affordability, habitability and other convenient facitilities for the full benefit of that community.
We must tirelessly struggle not to create a “Zimbabwe’s clean up operation” in Kenya.
Fr. Daniel Moschetti , is the priest-in-charge of St. John Catholic Church. He lives with the religious community of the Comboni Missionaries among the slum dwellers in Korogocho.
Japheth Oluoch is a member of Justice and Peace Commission, Korogocho and a youth leader.