Muungano holds stakeholders forum for inclusive approach towards urban planning

In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, land tenure arrangements are among the most complex issues to address. Attempts by the Kenyan government to administer land have typically relied upon formal systems. Proposed developments all over the city especially around the industrial belt of Mukuru have stalled, completely crippled by seemingly irresolvable land wrangles between the ‘land owners’- title holders and more than 100,560 community households spread in 11 settlements of Mukuru without clue what the future holds for them in terms of tenure security.

Sections of Mukuru Slums

Mukuru is one of the biggest slum in Nairobi, it stretches along the Nairobi Ngong river, situated on waste lands in the industrial area of the city between the Outer Ring Road and the North Airport Road and Mombasa road, in three different constituencies Embakasi south, Makadara and Starehe constituencies. Mukuru have villages Mukuru kwa Reuben, Mukuru kwa Njenga, Sinai, Paradise, Jamaica, Kingstone, Mariguini, Kisii, Masaai, Riara, Futata Nyayo and Kayaba.

Stakeholders representing different interests at the Mukuru Stakeholders Forum recently held at Ruben Centre

Who: Approximately 100 community stakeholders including community leaders, Community based organisations, faith based organisations, business associations and the youth fraternity met with staff from Muungano wa Wanavijiji, SDI-Kenya, Franciscan International and Katiba Institute working on the Mukuru settlement plans.

What: the group spoke about the historical and current needs in their community for greater investment in security of tenure, housing and access to basic services and their frustrations with previous processes and outcomes related to government investment and regulation.

Key Takeaways: A call for action in order to: Improve the city’s processes in upgrading informal settlements by virtue of declaration of Mukuru as a special planning area by the Nairobi County government and increased funding and city support.

Topics for more deliberation: Working with the Nairobi City county Administration on the declaration of Mukuru as a Special Planning area. The scope of the Mukuru community planning forums is to include the urban poor in the specific settlement and city-wide plans. The plan is still in development and could still be shaped through advocacy.

As Nairobi city moves into the second term of administration – as a result of the establishment of the County governments, as enshrined in the constitution (which establishes the Authority to administer counties on behalf of the central government, replacing the former Municipal and City Councils), it remains to be seen how it will address the present impasse. Officials at the Nairobi City County government express unwavering commitment to developing the city in accordance with the recently formulated Nairobi Master Plan, but – as is common with such city plans – implementation strategies for informal settlements remain unclear.

The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Kenya (Muungano wa Wanavijiji) has been at the center of a collection of actors –trying to forge such strategies in Kenya. The federation has utilized tools such as profiling, enumeration, and mapping to organize their communities and catalyze informed negotiation and partnership with government toward inclusive urban development.

According to Mr. Cyprian Omodin, of Franciscan International (FI)a global human rights and justice organisation acknowledges that through grassroots empowerment is essential at the basic units of society to assist the vulnerable to be aware of their rights as well as negotiate for spaces to be heard.” The more we keep quiet the more we are eaten up in the inside, and as society we continue to shrink”, said Mr. Omodin. Muungano has partnered with FI to harmonise efforts to address past injustices affecting the poor and vulnerable.

Papa Omondi, a resident of Mukuru Kwa Reuben has a similar perspective, “The journey for decent homes for the people in slums started more than two decades ago back when Muungano started transforming slum dwellers lives in Nairobi and other major towns with a thrust of bringing about a demonstrable improvement in the lives of vulnerable people and their families living in urban slums focusing on young people as catalysts for community development.” He added that the process has catalyzed into a huge opportunity of working with slum dwellers, informal settlers and the rural people as champion of their transformational development process.

Papa Omondi, Resident of Mukuru Kwa Reuben

Omondi stated that all these efforts are geared towards addressing the challenges of lands and housing as a critical sector in the development agenda albeit ignored by successive governments adding that people must not forget that lands and housing are fundamentally social, political and livelihood issues.

The Poverty Penalty dilemma

Poverty penalty – the additional cost paid for services by the poor relative to the more affluent neighbourhood – is an all familiar case in Mukuru and most informal settlements in both urban and rural areas.

According the Journal of Filed actions, , poor people in developed countries also suffer from the poverty penalty. Quite naturally, without any particular ill will on the part of the actors in the commercial sector, the market sometimes penalizes the poor by making them pay more than other households, per unit of consumption, for the same goods and services.

A more accurate understanding of poor population groups can be gained by analyzing their budgets, separating out the irreducible expenses they have to meet. These expenses correspond to items of “essential spending”: rent, loan repayments, and utility bills: gas, water, electricity, etc.

Drawing on a study by the IDRC funded action research on Access to basic services and justice in Nairobi Informal settlettlements with Mukuru as a case study, the poor pay more in 18.9 per cent on rent, 337.8 per cent on water and 128.6 percent in eon electricity. The water sector provides a good illustration of the phenomenon. For people living in slums, not being connected to the water distribution network means that they have to pay much more for water of dubious sanitary quality.

Making the Invisible Visible

There is an undeniable need to generate some order in Kenya’s informal settlements, where planning dysfunction threatens the livelihoods of the poor. Posturing on the part of rights groups, planners, and politicians are doing little to alleviate the fundamental challenges that perpetuate the acute poverty faced by the majority of Mukuru’s residents. Instead, Nairobi needs creative implementation strategies based on up-to-date data, authentic and informed citizen participation, and negotiation that accepts compromise will be needed from all sides.

The first component of the strategy, therefore, acknowledges that up-to-date data on the city and the tenure claims of its residents is required to understand actual on-the-ground realities. Muungano has conducted city-wide profiles and mapping of 158 informal settlements in the city and with the support of International Development Research Centre (IDRC) verified data in more than 40 settlements.

It has also piloted the Tujuane Tujengane (Let’s know and support one another) Model tool which borrows on the global leave no one behind campaign, where the model seeks to rally communities living in informal settlements to establish settlement based community planning forums as well as neighbourhood associations. The second component recognizes that this information, this data, should not simply inform the city preparing a development plan or the physical planning department. In matters of land, communities need to trust and understand the data available if it is to guide planning.

When communities drive the data gathering process, it sets in motion a discussion with authorities that is based on information the community owns. When they begin the negotiation process, they are able to do more than demand a right to stay: they begin a discussion on strategies for a way forward for upgrading based on concrete information.

The third component, then, relates to negotiation and partnership. It is clear technocrats cannot implement their development plans without community buy-in – unless they plan to use force to evict all those opposed to their plans. The community, likewise, will not benefit from continued haphazard, un-guided developments, which threaten the safety and viability of their settlements. The technocrats will only – perhaps justifiably – listen to the community if it can answer the question: What is your alternative? The community, meanwhile, will only listen to the technocrats if they agree to listen.

Inclusive urban planning requires: expansion of community spaces for engagement between all urban development stakeholders – especially the urban poor; and organizational capacity within communities of the urban poor so that their voices can be most efficiently and effectively articulated.

Muungano and partners believe the community planning forums have the potential to serve this role and support a participatory agenda by creating the space for communities to engage county governments substantively. For the federation this means bringing their enumeration and profiling information, discussing it with relevant stakeholders, and jointly planning upgrading initiatives.

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