Muungano Nguvu Yetu! Unity is Strength! 20 Years of the Kenyan Federation of Slum Dwellers

This working paper, collaboration between the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and SDI's Kenyan Alliance, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, details the evolution of one of SDI's most dynamic federations. Below is an excerpt from the executive summary, and you can click here for the full paper.

Slums occupy two per cent of Nairobi’s land, yet they are home to half the city’s population. Comparing studies in Kenya since the 1990s reveals that the city space occupied by the poorer half of its population has not increased. While informal settlements’ populations may have doubled in this time, the rate and scale of improvements have failed to match unrelenting densification and consolidation.

The Huruma KambiMoto Upgrading

Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Swahili for ‘united slum dwellers’) is a movement of urban poor people in Kenya, which emerged in Nairobi around 1996 and spread throughout the country in the early 2000s, federating around 2001 to the international network of community-based organisations that is Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI). Across its 20-year history, Muungano’s struggle has been one of framing the slum phenomenon as a core issue that the city and the state have a responsibility to address. In this paper, we describe what has essentially been a fight for perception – for the Kenyan state and citizens to see slums, not as representing a marginal amount of space in the city and therefore a marginal issue, but as the most important place for half its population and, in this way, affecting the whole city.

We explore the progress of Muungano’s relationship with the state, set within broader changes in state-civil society relations, and seek to bring out the complexity of a link that has varied from conflict to contestation, partnership to collaboration, and separate but parallel efforts to address common issues. Over the years, Muungano has challenged the state directly and indirectly, taken advantage of opportunities and spaces that have been created by the state’s actions, and, where a lacuna has been observed, has worked to create or encourage new practice and policy. Particularly in later years, Muungano’s agenda has tended towards changing practice, but its influence has also transfused to policy and legislation.

We discuss the movement’s internal workings, but focus more on answering the question: how has Muungano touched the lives of slum dwellers in Kenya generally, regardless of whether they have ever heard about the federation? In this context, the paper seeks to examine correlations between what Muungano has done, and how this has influenced the positions that the state has taken towards slums, and therefore the context in which all slum residents find themselves. We measure these correlations by documenting points of contact between the movement and the state. Going beyond the confrontation that characterised much of the movement’s early years, these junctures have included joint projects, shared platforms, participation in state programmes, workshops and meetings, and relationships between individuals.

We have loosely grouped these correlations under three themes, each representing a dimension of change: community mobilisation and state attitudes; changing approaches to designing responses to informality; and leveraging finance and investment in informal settlement improvement.

Even where Muungano’s engagement with the state was not direct, there have been times marked by significant concurrences in thinking, plans, and approaches. By looking at the evolving attitudes of the state in relation to the evolution of the movement’s own strategies, it is clear to that cross-transfusion of ideas has often happened in less obvious ways. Co-production does not always entail the state and its citizens to be working under one organisational framework, or focused on the same project or geography. From 2000 to the present, the Kenyan state and Muungano have both been working to develop and refine methodology for slum upgrading. Some of the innovation has occurred in partnership, some separately, and sometimes advances have been achieved in situations where Muungano and the state were in opposition – perhaps even as a consequence of conflict.

Created By
Muungano Wanavijiji


Muungano Wa Wanavijiji

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.