A new paradigm in understanding slums & urbanization of growing cities in Kenya slum dwellers at the centre of information gathering and reporting.

Friday, 17th February, 2017

Mukuru Kwa Njenga Photo Credit: Strathmore Business School

NAIROBI| Half of Nairobi’s city residents live and fend for themselves in the informal settlements, often grappling with the challenges of congestion, and poor access to basic services. It is estimated that more than 2 million live in 158 settlements across the city with minimal access to clean and affordable water, sanitation, healthcare, education facilities and other significant services.

A consortium of partners -Muungano Kenya SDI alliance, Strathmore University, The University of Nairobi(Centre for Urban and Regional Innovation), University of California Berkeley, Katiba Institute, SDI and the people of Mukuru - on Friday released key research findings to an audience comprised of the Canadian government, International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) alumnus, the Nairobi and Kiambu County governments, planners, civil society partners Kiandutu and Mukuru communities and students, on the social, economic and planning dynamics of Mukuru informal settlements.

The research was conducted in Mukuru (comprising of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Mukuru Kwa Ruben and Viwandani) in Nairobi; and Kiandutu slum in Kiambu County both covering 600 acres for the former and of 110 acres respectively. The study is funded by the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC). In 2015, the International Development Research Center (IDRC) provided a two-year multidisciplinary, action research grant to Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT), the University of Nairobi, Strathmore University and Katiba Institute. IDRC funds research in developing countries to create lasting change on a large-scale, by providing developing country researchers financial resources, advice and training to help them find solutions to local problems.

Partners presenting data on Mukuru to participants
Some of the Participants at the research dissemination meeting

In a press statement released by the consortium, the research findings give a clear perspective to the study. “Addressing the issue of informal settlements and urban poverty in a traditional single lens cannot solve the problem. This research is unique at three levels: First – It looked at the issue from multiple angles; as a land and legal problem, as a social problem, as anurban planning problem, as an economic problem as well as a human rights problem.

A community data collection process in Mukuru Kwa Reuben Photo credit: SDI-Kenya

Secondly: It puts the slum dwellers at the centre of information gathering and reporting. This generates richer information and helps the researchers frame the true questions better.

Thirdly: the close working relationships with the County governments of Nairobi and Kiambu has potential to shape Nairobi and Kiambu’s urban planning policies, at settlement and hopefully county – wide scale.”

Mukuru Study Area

Mukuru is one of the largest of 150 informal settlements in Nairobi, which covers an area of about 525 acres of land. The settlement is comprised of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Mukuru Kwa Reuben and Viwandani, which are located in the city’s Industrial zone, 7Km south east of the Central Business District.

The three settlements are separated by the Kenya Railway tracks along the border between Kwa Reuben and Kwa Njenga, and the Ngong River, which separates Kwa Reuben and Viwandani. The land titles were initially transferred to private developers for the construction of light industries in the early 80’s and 90’s. However, these lands remained undeveloped for the period stipulated by land laws that state industries must be put up within two years of being acquired. The lands being vacant families quickly occupied the lands which offered cheap accommodation to industrial workers drawn to jobs in the industrial zones as well as the city centre.

Profiling, enumeration and mapping conducted in Mukuru by Muungano wa Wanavijiji and SDI-Kenya in August of 2016, puts the number of households at 100,561.

The Poverty Penalty matrix

The data analyzed indicate that slum residents pay more for services that are inferior to those provided for formal housing.

This collaborative approach revealed a staggering “poverty penalty” in Mukuru. Slum residents pay more for services that are inferior to those provided in Nairobi’s formal housing estates. For instance a family in the slum pays 172% more for water compared with a family living in a formal estate. Cartels often control these slums, charging extortionate rates for access to essential services and threatening residents with violent evictions and forced demolitions.

The research estimates an annual informal economy in the Mukuru area of 7 billion Shillings controlled by cartels. This is 25% of the total kshs.32 billion Nairobi County Budget.

Even more striking is the fact that despite this, 92% of all informal settlements’ inhabitants pay rent to structure owners.

The research dissemination session brought together key stakeholders to discuss strategies for unlocking poverty penalty and up-scaling the respect for human rights in informal settlements.

In her opening remarks, the Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya Her Excellency Sara Hradecky said that, “the Canadian governments is pleased to continue to support IDRC research in increasing access to justice and respect for rights in Nairobi’s informal settlements”.

Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya Her Excellency Sara Hradecky

The Governor of Nairobi, Hon. Dr. Evans Kidero who was represented at the dissemination meeting by CEC for Urban renewal Tom Odongo said, ‘The research findings dissemination is a great step, it helps us gain insights and appreciate the living conditions of people in the informal settlements. The findings will also guide our interventions from not only a policy formulation perspective but also help us to come up with practical and affordable solutions that will improve the housing and infrastructure services and general well being of the residents. This will impact the livability index in these areas as we will be able to: improve housing quality, improve infrastructure services and assure tenure security.

Mr. Tom Odongo Nairobi’s CEC for Urban Renewal also said that, “Learning Institutions have a lot of data gained out of studies such as this that can be used by government to inform policy. Our informal settlements require policy intervention to solve the challenges faced.” He also reiterated that plans are at an advanced stage to declare Mukuru a special planning area.

Nairobi's CEC For Urban Renewal Tom Odongo

Hon. William Kabogo – Governor Kiambu County on the other hand who was represented at the event by his deputy Hon. Gerald Githinji said, ‘Informal settlement in Kenya highly support the economy of our country, yet experience great social deprivation. In Kiambu we focus on developing people and places. This entails capacity building and revitalizing places through physical upgrading. It is to this end that we greatly embrace the collaboration with IDRC and other development partners to plan Kiandutu, create new economic opportunities, explore environmental action and build a sustainable community.

Kiambu Deputy Governor Gerald Githinji

The deputy governor of Kiambu also acknowledged that indeed urban planning is critical in achieving inclusive cities, “We have a problem to solve and a big one at that”.

Prof. Margaret Kamar, an IDRC alumni and a policy expert lauded the project for trying to offer practical solutions to some of the challenges faced by the city’s urban poor.


The research findings have been well received by both the Kiambu and Nairobi Counties to take action in Kiandutu and Mukuru informal settlements respectively. The consortium is working with the counties in their efforts to declare the settlements special planning areas. According to the Physical Planning Act, Kenya’s County Governments may designate an area with unique planning challenges as special planning areas (SPA).

Mukuru Kwa Reuben, Kwa Njenga and Viwandani have in the past not benefitted from past upgrading initiatives and pose unique challenges and opportunities. Designating Mukuru and Kiandutu settlements as SPA will allow for the development and implementation of upgrading plans that can address the unique challenges while also integrating the settlements into greater metropolitan regions.

What Next?

The close working relations with the county governments have optimum potential to shape Nairobi and Kiambu upgrading policies and city practices at the county levels. The consortium is working with Kiambu government in planning 110 acres of Kiandutu slums with an estimated 6,100 households. The study has also received a boost from Muungano’s Tujuane Tujengane initiative where community members advocate for improved living conditions. 8,000 community members have been trained on human rights, settlement dynamics and financial literacy.

These efforts have helped improved community cohesion. Making residents aware of their housing rights and prevent future evictions. The study seeks to generate new findings and recommendations aimed at achieving positive changes t settlement and city level.

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