Security of Tenure for The Urban Poor
A Critical Tool For Sustainable Social and Community Resilience
In our new publication, titled Rebound: Building a More Resilient World, we asked leaders from various disciplines to share their lessons of what resilience means and what it requires of us. Through the lens of their own experiences, we can begin to explore some of the ways we can help prepare for, withstand and emerge stronger from the acute shocks and chronic stresses of the 21st century. Jane Weru, Executive Director of The Akiba Mashinani Trust explains how vulnerable communities could become resilient, citing the Mukuru people as a prime example.
Nairobi is a thriving metropolis that unfortunately suffers from high levels of inequality and violence. 65% of the city’s population of 4 million lives in the highly marginalized densely populated slums of the city, where residents face conditions of considerable insecurity and indignity characterized by single 10’ x 10’ shacks made of galvanized sheets, wood, polythene, wattle or mud with little access to clean water,sanitation, health care, schools and other essential public services. The poor who live in these fragile areas are at the mercy of environmental vagaries, especially flooding. Overcrowding raises the risk of respiratory illness. Contaminated water supply and unsanitary waste disposal causes gastro-intestinal problems, skin ailments, cholera, typhoid and other infectious diseases. Malnutrition is highly visible among children. At almost every turn, these factors thwart efforts by these communities to become resilient.
In addition to the conditions that prohibit more resilient systems from developing within the slums, housing is fundamentally unstable. Most of Nairobi’s slums are situated on private lands. Consequently, residents live with the threat of forced evictions and violent demolitions with no warnings and no recourse. Eviction orders are often hidden by slumlord cartels in order to mitigate the risk of losing rental income prior to the evictions. Before demolitions and evictions, armed contingents of riot police and provincial administration gather at local police stations. Massive bulldozers and excavators are stationed around the settlements with the owners’ addresses carefully concealed and camouflaged. On many occasions, vigilante groups from neighboring areas are hired to ensure “adequate security” during the demolitions.
These forced evictions and demolitions have resulted in the displacement of entire communities, plunging hundreds of thousands of people further into excruciating poverty as they are forced to begin rebuilding their lives from scratch. The destruction of small businesses and micro enterprises worsens the state’s already dire unemployment rate, while individual slum dwellers lose everything, including the friends, neighbors and community connections they have developed over time.
These forced evictions and demolitions have resulted in the displacement of entire communities, plunging hundreds of thousands of people further into excruciating poverty as they are forced to begin rebuilding their lives from scratch.
Children’s education is disrupted and a culture of violence is embedded into their psyche as they watch their parents and relatives fighting back attempts to violently demolish their homes. While new slums are often created on unfenced parcels of land close to the eviction area, a fresh demolition at a later date is inevitable, and the incessant cycle of forced evictions and violent demolitions creates an environment where thousands of slum-dwellers are teetering on the precipice of a revolt, making slums a potential source of national, regional and global insecurity.
The Mukuru slum in Nairobi sits on private land. Since the value of the Mukuru plots has appreciated over the years, the registered title deed holders are in the process of selling them, and for the slum residents the threat of evictions has become very real.
In 2007, something remarkable happened in Mukuru. A few leaders of a small saving scheme of slum dwellers approached my organization, the Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT), which is supported in its efforts to build resilience by The Rockefeller Foundation, asking for assistance in dealing with the problem of evictions. They decided to shop around for available plots of land and began saving a portion of their daily incomes. After a short while, they identified a 23-acre plot situated in Mukuru Kwa Njenga belonging to a local company called Milwhite Limited. The asking price was Ksh.104 million (USD 1,235,000). Seeing the commitment of the slum dwellers, AMT then engaged with the land owner and negotiated the price down to Kshs. 81 million (USD 963,000), and began searching fora commercial bank that would be willing to finance the slum dwellers for the remaining purchase price of the land.
The members of the Mukuru saving scheme developed a robust system to collect and track funds, which itself was resilient. The scheme is organized into twenty-three zones. Each has its own leadership a chairman, a treasurer and a collector. Every day the collector visits each member within the zone and collects whatever funds are available and the funds are meticulously logged in a redundant system with checks and controls.
The savers meet once a week at the zonal level, to check on their savings and to share information. At least once a year the scheme audits its accounts. A trained team of members from the various zones conduct the audit. After the audit, the results are shared with the zonal leaders and recommendations on how to improve the saving systems of the scheme is shared. As part of the land purchase, AMT approached several banks ford financing, all of whom were very keen to collect the impressive deposits of the slum dwellers. But they were all, however, hesitant to issue a land purchase loan to AMT for a variety of reasons, including that they were not equipped to transact business with a large groups of slum dwellers. AMT was able to secure a 5-year term bank loan of Kshs. 55 million (USD653,600) for the purchase of the land. This was only done after placing a cash guarantee of Kshs. 24 million (USD 285,000) from SDI through the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Thanks to the vibrant savings of the 2,200 Mukuru residents, the loan was fully repaid within 1 year and 7 months of the disbursement.
Despite high levels of instability, violence and poverty, slum residents were able to look out for themselves by pooling meager resources that in the aggregate were significant
There are other impressive examples of slum dwellers, undeterred by their low societal standing, using new Kenyan constitutional provisions that give Kenyans the right to housing making their communities more resilient. I was proud to be recognized for the work of AMT at The Rockefeller Foundation 2011 Innovation Forum. Recently, as the Mukuru people were in the process of completing the planning of their land, many of the members were faced with eviction form their homes by land owners. As a result of the relationships developed over time, the leaders of the saving scheme jointly began to gather information on the eviction process and began to organize themselves and built relationships with their local churches and schools for greater solidarity. They obtained temporary court orders barring the land owners from evicting them, they organized protests and marches and built public awareness of their plight.
While the plan of the Mukuru residents was reliant on outside funding and technical expertise, their scheme worked because it was theirs,and community members could intrinsically trust it. Despite high levels of instability, violence and poverty, slum residents were able to look out for themselves by pooling meager resources that in the aggregate were significant. This is a valuable lesson for similar communities around the world that seek to make themselves more resilient.