It is estimated that over half of Nairobi’s population lives in informal settlements, often aligned by crowded living conditions and poor access to basic services such as lack of proper and adequate sanitation, access to clean and safe water, healthcare among other services. This therefore means that more than two million people living in 260 slum villages of 158 slum settlements in the city grapple with inadequate housing and little access to clean water, sanitation, health care, schools, and other essential services.
Mukuru Kwa Reuben, Njenga and Viwandani Boundaries
In relation to Nairobi, Mukuru is well located; 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 has many villages; Mukuru kwa Reuben, Mukuru kwa Njenga, Sinai, Paradise, Jamaica, Kingston, Mariguini, Futata Nyayo and Kayaba.
This photo shows one of the busy streets in Mukuru Kwa Njenga. Photo Credit Strathmore University
The atmosphere in Mukuru is more of an enterprising community. Everyone is on the move. The streets to Mukuru Kwa Reuben and Mukuru Kwa Njenga are lined up with Kiosks and small shops selling everything from fruits, Mtumba (second hand clothes), household items and construction materials. Behind them are industrial parks that manufacture an array of stuff for the market. This is a typical collection of a 50 feet road, all in one street.
Since 2012, The International Development and Research Centre (IDRC), has worked and continues to work with a consortium of partners in Mukuru. The partners include; Muungano wa Wanavijiji, residents of Mukuru, Akiba Mashinani Trust, Katiba Institute, University of Nairobi and Strathmore University. The partners have generated practical knowledge and resource on how formal and informal land tenure, governance, and justice structures function. The research study targeted three of Nairobi's largest informal settlements: Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Mukuru Kwa Reuben and Viwandani.
According to the project’s research report , “Unlocking the Poverty Penalty and up-scaling the Respect for Rights in informal settlements in Kenya”, shows that residents of Mukuru residents pay 172% more to the informal service providers for their water than formal water customers.
The study also investigated the relationship between insecure tenure, settlement typologies, settlement dynamics and service provision in informal settlements. The research shed light on the highly privatized and complex dynamics around land, housing, security, electricity, water and waste management services in Mukuru. It also revealed the level of Poverty Penalty.
The consortium tackles poverty through a holistic approach. The aim of joining together pre-existing organisations was to improve management effectiveness, sustainability, efficient resource use, and networking and ultimately the service they provide for the slum dwellers of Mukuru.
Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Viwandani and Mukuru Kwa Reuben forms one of the largest belts of informal settlements in Nairobi. In the past, before the Constitution of Kenya (2010) was promulgated, these informal settlements faced numerous challenges that included eviction threats due to land tenure insecurities and land use contestation.
An article excerpt dated 8th September 2012 depicting the urban poor struggle for secure tenure
Kenya’s Slum Dwellers International affiliate, Muungano wa Wanavijiji Alliance which comprises of (Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Akiba Mashinani Trust and Slum Dwellers International-Kenya) have worked closely with communities in Mukuru to develop innovative solutions and assist them in overcoming challenges.
AMT for instance supported the residents to mount court challenges and media campaigns against evictions orchestrated by absentee land owners and land Developers. While Muungano on the other hand mobilised and organised residents into savings groups and SDI-Kenya through the capacity building approach empowered and supported the community to gather it’s on data.
The Mukuru settlements are distinctive, since where the lands on which the settlements occupy are mostly private- owned. Ever since the late 90’s and early 2000, these lands continued to rise in value as well as demand which brought about continued settlement evictions, whose results was mainly forceful transfer of communities and livelihoods, often leaving the poor in limbo.
However, the communities living in Mukuru with the support of the Muungano wa Wanavijiji SDI alliance succeeded in securing a court order stopping all evictions. These efforts were later crowned by the promulgation of the Kenyan Constitution (2010) which guarantees and safe guards right to housing. Albeit temporarily, the communities have continued to enjoy reprieve from any forms of evictions. This therefore calls for the permanent solution for the protection of land rights for the urban poor and ensure access to dignified housing and basic services.
Back to the fundamental issue of "poverty penalty" which ideally means that resident of Mukuru informal settlements as well as many other settlements within the city continue to pay three or four times more for the scarce poor services than in other formal neighborhoods and suburbs in the city. In part, these conditions result from both gaps in existing laws and urban planning policies and from failures to apply them; however, Kenya's 2010 Constitution has provided some hope in confronting decades of exclusion and lack of access to tenure rights, services and justice by the poor.
Papa Omondi, a resident of Mukuru Kwa Reuben and a long serving community volunteer, explains his views on the communities resolve, to acquire secure tenure.
“I believe that this struggle has been long and treacherous, but through continued hope and determination we would love to see equality and justice carry the day along all classes of the city residents. This project has seen slum dwellers, more so Mukuru residents relate with scholars from Strathmore university, University of Nairobi and Katiba Institute to jointly come up with realistic legal, financial and settlement planning tools to enable the poor address their very own problems. I hope that the comprehensive data on Mukuru that we have shared with the Nairobi City County government they will be able to declare Mukuru a special planning area.”
The proposed solutions, as specifically tailored for Mukuru seeks to address the technical, social and governance aspects that largely touches on settlement upgrading, promote formalized delivery of basic services to the poor and the security of land tenure that ensure basic rights and living conditions for Mukuru residents.
Nelmo Newsong, a popular rap artiste and a founder member of The Mukuru Awards, believes that the youth have a much higher prospect to deliver the vision of a modernised Mukuru. “We must keep working together and holding each other to account until we achieve our goal. If we succeed, thousands of people around Mukuru and other slum areas in the city will have the opportunity to build more stable and more prosperous lives for their families.”
In Nairobi, new research and continued engagement with the county and with local residents will feed into the development of further tools to support upgrading programs and policies. Implementation of pilot projects, such as a special housing fund for the Mukuru settlement, will generate new legal, planning, and financial knowledge that can feed into scaling-up efforts across the county.
But the most pertinent question from the Mukuru residents, as the engagement with the Nairobi City County government to declare, Mukuru a Special planning area is, what do we do in the meantime? With the acquired capacities, residents in Mukuru continue to document their settlements, a plan of sorts, to ensure that their village boundaries are well-known, named and measured. They can even appear on a Google Earth map.
In Kiambu County, research will focus on settlements in Thika, a fast-expanding periurban centre. Drawing on experiences from Mukuru, the research will support proactive efforts by the county to address informal settlement challenges, which are only now emerging, and not yet at a scale seen in large centres like Nairobi. The research in this case could then guide policies and practices in other Peri-urban centers across the country.
In practice, we are putting a much greater emphasis on partnership and planning to get everyone working together from the very beginning. Our initiative to bring stakeholders, slum dweller communities, partners and donors from many different sectors together to help urban poor communities to develop their own investment plans for upgrading and improved livelihoods. This project also seeks to help poor communities build their capacity and policy environments so they can jump-start their sustainable livelihoods.