Reflections from the 12th SDI East African Hub Meeting

The Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation systems are just like a skin, not your heart not your organs, these systems are meant to help communities do better, create transparency and enhance accountability of the Millions of Slum dwellers out there and more importantly to change our settlements and support the urban poor-Joel Bolnick, SDI Manager

By Shadrack Mbaka & Rashid Mutua

The Logic

Within diplomatic and international relations circles, when two or more nations convene to address key thematic issues affecting nations within the global arena; government delegations would be seen in sharp executive suits, serious gadgets at hand enveloped with tight security details.

Bilateral and Multilateral contracts and deals are signed, such high end meetings under the banner of what is for the best interest of “my country and my people”. This scenario begs the rhetorical question, “Suppose every government sets aside 20 percent of the “goody bags” to address urban poverty through an all inclusive integrated urban development plan, would we have so much urban poverty and squalor in our midst?

US-Africa Summit August 2014

US-Africa Summit August 2014

In the meantime, as this question bogs my mind, a contrasting scenario unfolds at the 12th Slum Dwellers International East African Hub (EAH) meeting, in Kampala on the 3rd to 7th of August 2014.A delegation of Slum Dwellers federations from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania convenes in Rubaga, Kampala on a mission; to share knowledge & strategies and more so learn from one another with the objective being; to go back to fellow slum communities and make life better for all of us.

Slum Dwellers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania convene at the 12th East African Hub in Kampala

Slum Dwellers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania convene at the 12th East African Hub in Kampala


The EAH recognizes the importance of cooperation on human settlement development; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (KUT) share similar objective, approaches, practices and challenges pertaining to human settlements. Close cooperation under the KUT umbrella envisages leading a greater articulation of progressive developing countries’ housing and human settlements strategies and identifying new ways of engaging relevant players to allocate sufficient resources and support for achievement of the MDG goal for Informal settlements.

A community Sanitation Project in Kawempe,Kamapala

A community Sanitation Project in Kawempe,Kamapala

The 12th edition of EAH was officially opened by the Commissioner of Lands and Urban development, Mr. Sammy Mabala. His pronouncements were clear; the urban poor in informal settlements are a neglected constituency who hold the key to better planned and inclusive cities. “I am an adent supporter of slum dweller movements. I believe it is not a calling but a duty. I learnt about the slum dwellers movement five years ago, Jockin Arpathum (SDI President) and Joel Bolnick (SDI Secretariat Manager) begun sharing how things work in the slums and how communities take up the responsibility of implementing solution oriented for slum development,” recalled Mr. Mabala.

Mr. Sammy Mabala, Commissioner of Lands, Uganda addressing the KUT members

Mr. Sammy Mabala, Commissioner of Lands, Uganda addressing the KUT members

Solving the Puzzle

Government urban planning programmes, have a similar script; secure funding, hire heavy weight consultants, develop a contingency plan and implement a project that affects millions of lives and livelihoods. In his speech, Mabala recognizes that governments and supporting departments ought to work with urban development stakeholders to… “Mobilize people’s potential in changing slums; as a result of this realisation we partnered with SDI and National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) to improve informal settlements in Uganda. The second objective is to influence policy on urbanization, the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development is finalizing on the details and soon it will be tabled in parliament for adoption- the policy focuses more on redevelopment of slums, build and harness Private Public Partnerships and improve towns access to basic services in municipalities; sanitation, access roads, water provisions, electrification of informal settlements etc. The third objective is to empower the people on policy formulation, participation and implementation. Uganda has 400 Municipalities, this seems a daunting task, which will take time, and we need to expedite this process. In the spirit of the East African Corporation let us share strategies to improve our towns, learn lessons from others and implement them in our own towns.”

From the officiating remarks three key pillars emerge;

  • Unity-For communities to address settlement priorities they must be united, but how..?
  • Mobilise savings-For communities to attain unity it is important for communities to have a stake and a voice in community processes through savings for solving settlement problems
  • Partnerships; let’s all partner with stakeholders in order to benefit from the synergies

The Power of Data and Information

“Governments lack adequate data to plan for informal settlements. This therefore offers a starting point for the SDI global networks to harness partnerships with other stakeholders to achieve community goals.”-Josephine Lubwama, Kampala City Capital Authority

The Hub improves capacities of urban poor communities to remain true to the urban agenda by negotiating for space to be part of the city. Of course this wouldn’t be easy if these communities are not organized, lack proper learning, monitoring and evaluation Systems, membership, financial and information systems, plans to aide their vision and most importantly, concrete data to state their claim to the city.

Splashed on the conference hall at the Pope Paul Memorial Hotel in Kampala, were sheets of paper, engraved with analysed data, giving a holistic purview of informal settlements in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (KUT).





Community led settlement/city wide profiling to gather city wide data

Community led settlement/city wide profiling to gather city wide data

Does data wield power? Communities took to the floor to give practical testimonies of how data has transformed their settlements and built bridges between slum dwellers and their governments. It was notably clear that data transforms into the kind of power urban poor communities can utilize to negotiate, leverage resources and work together with government for development.

Collection of community-led data, packaging and understanding this information remains a primary asset for negotiation with city-governments and their compiling becomes an opportunity “to learn to mobilize” communities towards communal actualization.


SDI is a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 34 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate federations network at community, settlement, city, and national level rooted in specific methodologies such as ; Savings, mobilization, advocacy and problem solving strategies. Key areas of focus are; Learning exchanges, Projects, advocacy, Monitoring and Evaluation, Evictions, partnerships and linkages. Some of the key areas that federations capitalize on are;

  • Strengthening federation systems
  • Learning, Capacities and Exchanges; Some of the Learning Centres are ;Kampala, Accra, India, Capetown
  • Settlement Insitu upgrading
  • International Advocacy
  • Long term sustainability


Do Federations need to Learn, Monitor and Evaluate?


Learning; federations learn by doing, practicing, sharing, and reviewing past experiences, clear documentation strategies and through well thought out and planned exchanges. Well defined LM&E frameworks build strong and functional systems for federations to create opportunities for learning and creating good and implementable plans that will result to better outputs. Clear vision not only impact settlements but empowers communities to position themselves to address city wide issues.

Monitoring; This sounds big, however, to communities monitoring involves; field visits, reporting, auditing of community groups and financial systems, generating activity and project reports that tracks growth, impact assessment, budgeting and developing work plans, tracking and proper open channel communications.

Evaluation involves analyzing whether planned activities and projects have taken place and if not why? Federations most often reflect on the project/activity, the capacities involved, review possible successes and challenges and outputs and adopt strategies to endvour the projects/activities. Through the country indicators, federations are well aware of the country reports on different federation fronts. This therefore enables the federations reflect on the positive and negative changes within the federation.

Monitoring and Evaluation is important to slum dweller federations because:

  • it provides consolidated source of information showcasing project progress;
  • it allows actors to learn from each other’s experiences, building on expertise and knowledge;
  • it often generates (written) reports that contribute to transparency and accountability, and allows for lessons to be shared more easily;
  • it reveals mistakes and offers paths for learning and improvements;
  • it provides a basis for questioning and testing assumptions;
  • it provides a means for agencies seeking to learn from their experiences and to incorporate them into policy and practice;
  • it provides a way to assess the crucial link between implementers and beneficiaries on the ground and decision-makers;
  • it adds to the retention and development of institutional memory;
  • It provides a more robust basis for raising funds and influencing policy.

Incorporating the Youth in the federation Agenda

Federations have embraced the youth by developing activities and projects targeting the Youth below 35 years, albeit this initiative is yet to gather enough momentum. Movements are geared towards targeting the Youth by innovating programmes/strategy that are attractive and sustain the momentum of the Youth. Youths need the support to take up different roles such as; Profiling, enumerations, documentation, research among other activities as a way of keeping them engaged.

Twaha Bishaverka explains, “We appreciate the platforms federations have accorded the youth but we need to come up with strategic programmes that entrenches the youth to fit in the mainstream agenda.”“Youths need to draw up proposals on IGAs and share for planning. This is a sensitive group with special needs that warrants personal initiative.”-Michael Kasede-NSDFU

Erickson Sunday from Kenya said, “Youth agenda is discussed in low tones since they have not transitioned to engage and occupy the space to assume the first tire of leadership and they lack mentorship and sensitivity to build on their innovations. The Youth need to reflect beyond take up, and improve their capacities to change their environment.”

EmpowHER  in federation building


As curtains closed on the 12th East African hub, one important subject popped up, what the role of women in federation, settlement and city is building? The federations challenged one another to embrace women empowerment and leaderships of the federations. “We should shy away from only appointing few women leaders as symbols of gender sensitivity. It is the women who keep the savings groups alive and strengthened.”-Jockin

EAH took stock of the affiliate growth in every country in result areas such as savings, tenure, housing, sanitation. With this communities compound a level playing field for engagement.

Innovative funding model allows urban poor to determine their own future

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Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town

                                      Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, one of South Africa’s largest and fastest growing informal settlements. Photograph: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

Rose Molokoane, who helps allocate millions of dollars to urban improvement projects around the world, lives in a South African informal settlement. She has spent more than 20 years organising urban poor communities, helping them to pool savings and obtain land and housing. Molokoane is also a prominent member of Urban Poor Fund International, the first global fund to give poor people direct control over development spending in cities.

“We are sick and tired of becoming the objects of development,” she told an audience at a conference in Brazil last year. “We want to build our own destiny.”

The fund was launched in 2007 by Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a network of community-based federations in 33 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Since then, it has channelled more than $17.8m (£11m) in capital and technical assistance to more than 150 community-run projects in cities.

The innovative fund lets poor communities define development strategies and manage capital from neighbourhood to global level. Urban poor federations and supporting NGOs in the network submit proposals for community projects, which are evaluated by a council of long-time federation leaders, including Molokoane. Money allocated is accompanied by strategic advice from a board of government ministers.

Resources flow through national funds to local savings collectives, mostly made up of women, that contribute their share and implement projects. Recouped money feeds back to a national revolving account. Ultimately, the goal is to create a robust network of national funds that can independently attract government and private-sector investment and help shape urban development agendas.

The fund has financed (pdf) the construction of 50,000 homes, secured tenure for 20,000 families, and supported projects in 18 countries. Without high overheads or fancy consultants, it has directly benefited poor families.

While the tangible outputs are impressive, the greatest gains don’t fit neatly into a spreadsheet. Unlike most development financing, the fund invests as much in social processes as physical projects. By supporting strategies like learning exchanges and community-based surveys, it helps urban poor groups build skills and connections across cities, regions and continents.

The fund also allows poor communities to attract external resources and make a political impact. Capital helps federations leverage finance from governments, banks and donors, while demonstration projects encourage broader investment or policy shifts. For example, projects have produced pro-poor changes in building regulations and attracted state housing subsidies. The fund also helps give poor groups a voice in municipalities and international circles. The bottom line is not full cost-recovery for atomised projects on three-year timetables; it is long-term political transformation.

The benefits of this financing model were evident in Mukuru Sinai, an informal settlement hugging an oil pipeline in Nairobi’s industrial zone. In 2009, the fund awarded $315,000 to a savings collective of 2,000 families who, renting homes on private land there, suffered constant threats of eviction and gas explosions. Armed with capital, they got a bank loan to buy 23 acres of nearby land for just over $1m, and a government pledge to provide infrastructure. Tenants are now drawing up plans to build homes, partly subsidised by developing for-sale housing on the plot. Leaders are hopeful not only that the project becomes a pilot for other informal settlements on private land in Nairobi, but also that locals will share lessons with communities in Kenya and beyond.

The cost-effectiveness and broad impact of this financing model points to the need for placing urban poor communities at the helm of development spending in cities. “All successful urban initiatives have been ones that have placed people’s knowledge and people’s action at the centre of the process,” says Diana Mitlin, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development who has worked with SDI for more than a decade. “That doesn’t mean professionals are not needed, but it means professionals acknowledge the limitations of their role.”

Despite its success, the model faces challenges. The international fund needs to attract money, because it does not recover investments. But many donors either lack understanding of the fund’s innovative strategy or consider it too risky.

“It’s much easier to cushion yourself behind different agencies and make sure you get your money back,” says SDI co-ordinator Celine D’Cruz. “It’s much more risky to give the money straight to the mouth of the tiger. But that is exactly where the real change is meant to happen.”

Leveraging external resources and getting cities to partner with urban poor groups is also a challenge. Success stories abound, but in many places there is a long path from occasional compromises to lasting partnerships and policy changes.

The fund’s success also depends on strong community organisations. Many SDI affiliates have mobilised for decades, but newer members require time to ensure that individual projects yield stable federations and political gains. The organisation’s network extends to 388 cities and expands constantly, but the fund remains limited if only member groups have access.

To make a bigger impact, D’Cruz believes urban poor funds must be established on a city scale, governed by community leaders, civil society groups and city officials, and implemented with a strong community base.

“That would be a dream,” D’Cruz says. “And actually, it’s such a simple solution. It cuts through all the red tape.”

Tanzania Profiling Exchange Report

Collecting information about urban poor populations has not been a serious, systematic priority of national governments or cities throughout the developing world. Such censuses, when undertaken, are often conducted in frequencies too sparse to accurately track the rapid growth of slum areas or informal settlements.  Often by the time the data is analyzed and made available to the public and city governments, it is already outdated and its usefulness as a planning tool diminished. Of even greater concern is the total exclusion of many informal settlements from the city’s planning agenda. Their tenuous relationship with local authorities makes them invisible to infrastructure plans.  This is exacerbated by spiraling costs, which makes retrofitting very expensive.  The end result is that high costs are used to justify why cities fail to install water, sewerage and drainage facilities or plan land use for slum areas.The SDI rituals of settlement profiling and community led enumeration have long been utilized by slum dweller communities to provide an up-to-date, accurate on the ground account of conditions in these slum areas. In order to achieve this SDI has continued to urge strong member affiliates to support upcoming affiliates attain set milestones. In the month of May the Kenyan affiliate had the opportunity to support its East African Counterpart, Tanzania build its profiling capacities. Below is a link to the activity report

Sierra Leone Profiling Report

On the 7th of June, 2014, the Kenya SDI affiliate  team  traveled to Sierra Leone of a profiling mission. The team  had a joint meeting with the CODOHSAPA, FEDURP and representatives from the Ministry of Lands at the CODOHSAPA offices. The purposes of the meeting was deliberating on the preparations made, settlements mobilized for data collection, the approach to be adopted, finalizing on the work plan and the data needs. CODOHSAPA’s mission is to create space and opportunity through facilitation for the transformation of lives of poor people in deprived communities. This mission is pursued through the following programme thrust: settlement planning and upgrading; environmental sanitation and management; livelihood and reproductive health support; capacity building and empowerment; advocacy and governance; and, research and communications.FEDURP is the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor with a mission to mobilize the poor in deprived communities to actively and meaningfully participate in their own development initiatives and processes. FEDURP’s philosophy is based on three pillars: collecting people through group mobilization; collecting money through daily and periodic savings; and, collecting information through settlement profiling, mapping and enumeration. This is justified that these three elements: people, money and information are key resources for negotiating and lobbying.

Below is the detailed profiling report



By Shadrack Mbaka and Grace Watetu

The world may be a fast paced environment that sustains life, but one thing remains clear; as communities, citizens and professionals tend to innovate ways of disposing shit, more so on the need to develop facilities that manage shit! Yes shit- there is every reason to support people, especially urban poor communities to get adequate access to decent sanitation infrastructure and facilities, however, the most important challenge, is how to get these facilities connected to the sewer grids, addressing issues for spaces as a result of the dense populations existing in informal settlements and lastly social and technical planning of the sanitation investments, do they emanate from communities or are they imposed on them?

The past six months has seen Muungano wa Wanavijiji (federation of Kenyan Slum dwellers) holistically engage in intense city wide profiles in five counties, namely; Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Machakos and Makueni. Data analysis points out that 90 per cent of informal settlements in these cities prioritized sanitation as a key element that these communities are facing as a major challenge that ought to be addressed.

Kisumu, through the federation is just one of the fifteen counties that have come out to utilize the city wide profile report to begin searching for long-term solutions to sanitation in informal settlements. Sanitation is a societal problem that warrants cooperation between stakeholders with communities at the helm of strategy development. In this journey, communities have partnered with the County Government of Kisumu, Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company (KIWASCO), Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Muungano Support Trust and Engineers without boarders-UCL to begin brainstorming on possible solutions.

A courtesy call to the Excellency Governor of Kisumu Jack Ranguma by the project teams

A courtesy call to the Excellency Governor of Kisumu Jack Ranguma by the project teams

Community Planning, Unraveled!

Community participation in projects unravels the capacities of communities to plan and define solutions for their own problems. One such communities are; Nyalenda and Kibos informal settlements in Kisumu County. The key starting point was to begin looking at cost friendly sanitation designs that address their issues. It is at this point that Engineers without boarders took up the initiative to take both through a community led design rich picture session, with regards to sanitation project development that would later turn out into design, Muungano wa Wanavijiji then was responsible for social mobilization and awareness creation, MuST supported in planning and partnership linkage while the county government of Kisumu supported with the secure of possible project sites in Nyalenda and Kibos settlements respectively.

Affordable designs mean sustainable designs. In order to address the issue of sustainability both communal designs proposed the inclusion of sanitation blocks with toilets and bathrooms, laundry components, water tanks and taps, a community hall (resource centre) and flexible spaces that would be used for warehousing and rental to private businesses. These ideas then beg the question, how affordable would be the designs to the urban poor in Nyalenda and Kibos settlements. In the course of continuous feed backing processes between the community, engineers without boarders and Muungano, ewb-ucl embarked on research on affordable designs that could include all the communities’ dreams.

Community presenting a sanitation rich picture

Community presenting a sanitation rich picture




One key proposal made to the community is the use of shipping containers as an architectural proposal to drive down the cost of construction.

Alexa Bruce

Alexa Bruce

Alexa Bruce the outgoing president of engineers without boarders-UCL explains, “Recycling shipping containers has been popular for a while in Europe and there are some amazing innovative designs made out of containers. In Africa, this all still very new, however in South Africa there are a number of examples of successful projects that have used shipping containers for low-income housing and sanitation blocks. We were instantly taken by the idea and convinced that shipping containers would be an innovative and appropriate solution.”The technical; teams from MuST and ewb-ucl shared the proposal with the communities in Nyalenda and Kibos whom welcomed the idea of using the container as a structural outlook owing to the affordability of the containers as it drives down the cost of construction.

Shit collection and Management

The community did not only reflect and dream about the designs but also the collection system of the sanitation blocks already designed. The selected project sites for both Nyalenda and Kibos seem a little bit way of from the main sewer lines, thus making the option of connecting to the sewer a lesser considerable plan. Based on previous geological reports and media reports it was suspected that both Nyalenda and Kibos sites would offer a formidable challenge to the project as a result of high water table, which would also make the option of septic tank a risky affair due to the high risks of ground water reservoirs.

Nyalenda Sanitation Site

Nyalenda Sanitation Site


The sanitation block in Kibos intends to serve communities in the local market


According to Devung Patel a civil engineer student and a member of ewb-ucl, “water tables can vary significantly within a short distance however and our information and data on the issue is at quite a low resolution. To make sure we decided to dig a hole on both sites to observe the depth of the water tables and the soil conditions on site. The water table in Kibos is low enough that a septic tank and soak pit provides good primary treatment of the waste without contaminating groundwater and would not need to be emptied at a frequency that is unrealistic for the community to manage.”

Testing the water table in Kibos

Testing the water table in Kibos

This project aims to promote the creation of accessible and affordable sanitation solutions in informal settlements in Kenya. In cooperation with local partner organizations, Muungano Support Trust has been lobbying on a local, national and international level to encourage local authorities to create or improve their social infrastructure policy in order to ensure access to social housing with potable water and sewerage facilities for the urban poor. In Kisumu, the collaboration with local water company and the county government involved activities directed at forming a social sanitation and housing policy fund that has two focal points: finance creation for improvement of housing and sanitation development, and capacities improvement of communities.

In reference to the Nyalenda scenario, the community is yet to make a sound choice between going the septic or the sewer way. And as a way of figuring out the most suitable option, Muungano wa Wanavijiji has begun the initiative of lobbying the Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company to support Nyalenda proposed project connect to the main sewer line which is approximately 2.5 Km away from the proposed site. According to KIWASCO’s’ head of Commercial division Frank David explains, “the company has been able to connect about 10 per cent of the city to the main sewer, a situation that the company expects to address by improving this number to about 20 per cent in the next couple of years and is for this reason that our pro poor division is working closely with communities living in the informal settlements to formalize infrastructure serving slum dwellers for them to enjoy better services.”

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leaders in a discussion with the Kibos Community

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leaders in a discussion with the Kibos Community

Feed back!

Muungano believes that the information reservoir exploited from communities must be taken back to communities as a way of encouraging communities to heed ownership of the pieces of information to foster discussions and predominantly effect change. Nyalenda hosted the first meeting to scrutinize the designs they had proposed on a rich picture. With the support of Engineers without borders, the community was given back the proposed designs accompanied with detailed explanations of every design components based on the prescribed community priorities.




Cost being an important facet of any development, ewb-ucl introduced the concept of shipping container architecture. The designs were given back to the community organized in small groups, the aim being that each member would voice his or her opinion of the draft designs. Finally the consensus was reached at a larger forum on; the uses of flexible space, where they wanted the sanitation block located in relation to the street, and what the laundry facility should include and also enhance the business models offering sustainability to the project. A similar process was also repeated encompassing the Kibos Community. In his scrutiny of the designs, the Nyalenda B member of the County Assembly James Were acknowledged that the designs reflected the interests of the community and thanked ewb, MUST and the County government spending time with the communities and yielding such results. He also reiterated that he will support the Nyalenda community secure the land for the project.



The entire conceptualization and operationalisation of the community process was indeed unique and accommodative in developing a community concept design. It is the belief of the federation that such a process will be building blocks for other communities to steadfast develop solutions to problems or challenges identified by them. The Communities from Nyalenda and Kibos, with the designs already in their vaults, are now more than ready to effect the project, with resource mobilization already taking shape through savings, partnership building with stakeholders and seeking opportunities for resource mobilization.

The team is currently working hard to incorporate the communities’ feedback into the designs, as the final design will be handed over to the community on 22nd July 2014.


Muungano Partners with Engineers without Borders UCL on Sanitation

Alexa Bruce, Nairobi (

So, as the blogging season begins for EWB UCL, with all of our teams heading off to their respective destinations, I contribute here on behalf of our Kenya Project with Muungano Support Trust. Before I delve into the excitement of all the activity that has been going on, I will begin with an overview of the project and its objectives for those who are not familiar with the project to date.

Project Overview

Muungano Support Trust (MuST) is the technical secretariat to Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a settlement based federation of slum dwellers across 300 informal settlements, representing thousands of urban dwellers in Kenya. ‘Muungano, a movement of the urban poor was formed by slum dwellers to address the challenges of forced eviction, with a keen interest of addressing matters of secure tenure and livelihoods of the poor communities’. In a new collaboration for this academic year, EWB UCL is partnering with MuST to engage in a participatory design process of a community sanitation facility in two locations: Kisumu and Naivasha. Through a series of participatory workshops over the month that will be spent in Kenya, the EWB UCL team will work on the design of the facilities through an iterative process, incorporating the desires, aspirations and feedback of the communities into the design following each meeting with them. The Federation, through their savings scheme, along with the local WASCO, will then be responsible for funding and implementing the construction of the sanitation facility.

In the second week of June 2014, I took the opportunity to stop over in Kenya for a few days, ahead of the arrival of the rest of the team at the end of July, and travel to Kisumu with MuST for a stakeholder meeting with the various parties involved in the project.

A news clipping on the state of sanitation in Kisumu

A news clipping on the state of sanitation in Kisumu

Firstly, it was such an amazing trip. MuST were very hospitable and it was an extremely interesting crash course in getting to know the organisation. As much as you do your research online and have conversations over Skype, this was the kind of insight one can only get by travelling for 6 hours in a car with the Secretariat’s Director, Irene Karanja and our contact and Programme Manager, Leonard Kigen. We travelled up to Kisumu where representatives from the federation were gathered (the National Chairman, the Treasurer, The Secretary and others) as well as community leaders from the slum we will be working with in Nyalenda. Also there was a representative from the local WASCO, who will be co-funding the sanitation facility (along with money from the communities savings schemes), and the locally elected county council representative for Nyalenda. Upon arrival, a member of the federation handed us a clipping from the newspaper of that day, and how timely it was, affirming the relevance of the project in our eyes. The article discusses the appalling state of the slums sanitation facilities and describes how “when it rains, the waste from the latrines floods most of the houses”.

The meeting involved introductions and how each was involved in bringing the project where it is today. The work described by Muungano to establish sanitation as a priority for the community was also important context to the project. Following this was an outline of the expectations of each of the representative parties with regards to the project. It was in this meeting that I was introduced to the unique and powerful way in which every member of the Federation greets one another and introduces him or herself. The member of Muungano begins by interlocking his/her fingers and declares, ‘Muungano (unity/federation)’, in response, other Muungano members chime ‘nguvu yetu (is our strength!)’. This initial call is followed by any combination, of all or none, of the following:

‘Akiba…. Mashinani! (savings at the grassroots)';

‘Pesa zutu…. uamuzi wetu! (our money, our decision!)';

‘Ardhi na makao…. Haki yetu! (land and shelter is our right!)'; 

‘Uoga…. Umasikini milele! (fear/cowardice will make us poor forever!)';

‘Umoja…. Silaha ya maskini! (unity/organisation is the weapon of the poor!)';

‘Chingli!… Chingli! (Shillings/our savings)’

‘Chingli!… Chingli Chingli!!

‘Chingli!… Chingli Chingli Chingli!!!

There was something very striking about a chorus of people answering in unison to the greeting of their peers. It reminds me of the exhilaration and power that one feels witnessing the call and answer of a Samba band, perfectly in sync. A strange parallel to make I know, but hopefully some of you out there have either played in one or witnessed this and can understand where I am coming from. To everyone else, I am probably making no sense!

A group photo of the Nyalenda Community, Muungano Federation, EWB UCL and MUST

A group photo of the Nyalenda Community, Muungano Federation, EWB UCL and MUST

Also at the meeting were representatives from a nearby informal settlement called Kibos. This community has emulated the Muungano model by mobilising themselves putting a savings scheme in place. A sanitation block was built in their slum but it collapsed before it had even been used and is now in a state of disrepair. They informed us that they had mobilised their community and that we absolutely had to go and visit the site as the community was waiting for us. We travelled to the site where the community was in fact waiting for us and another similar introductory meeting ensued. The meeting was mostly in Swahili so I only got brief translations from Irene, but the community was essentially expressing their desire and readiness to engage with a similar process to the project in Nyalenda. They were ready and waiting with their site and wanted to know when we would come back. Our capacity to engage with Kibos in a similar process, as well as with the other two communities we are committed to, is something we at EWB UCL are in the process of discussing.

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leaders in a discussion with the Kibos Community

Erickson Sunday, Federation Leaders in a discussion with the Kibos Community

We got a call late in the afternoon from the locally elected county representative who had been present at our previous stakeholder meeting in Nyalenda, informing us he had managed to secure a last minute audience with the County Governor. We therefore travelled to the government building in Kisumu CBD for the meeting with ‘his excellency’. Everyone was excited as this was a big break for Muungano but the last minute nature of the meeting left little room for nerves. In the meeting that followed the various members of MuST and the federation introduced themselves (of course in the true call and answer style of Muungano) and essentially pitched Muungano to the Governor. He liked what he heard. He stated he had never quite witnessed a greeting like it and was struck by how ‘those who appear to have nothing have something’. He followed his own pitch as to what his vision for Nyalenda is (Nyalenda is notorious for its appalling sanitation and general services as you can tell from the press coverage shown above! and so is the focus of his 3 year development plan). It was inspiring if perhaps a little ambitious and idealistic. I felt his intentions were true and he often reiterated that he does not wish to evict the residents of Nyalenda as is feared because this would encourage informal settlement to move elsewhere, merely shifting the problem rather than solving it. His views seemed to align with that of Muungano and a fruitful relationship is likely to develop. Most importantly for us, he committed to providing the land for the sanitation facility in Nyalenda. Here are a couple of photos of the group with the County Governor.

The delegation that paid H.E. Jack Ranguma a courtesy call were MuST Executive Director Irene Karanja and Chief Finanace Officer Leonard Kigen,, EWB UCL, President Alexa Bruce, MWW-SDI Kenya National Chairperson Rahid Mutua,National Treasurer Fatuma Saleh and National Executive Member Erickson Sunday and Nyalenda B Ward Manager Bernard Nyadida



The team then met with the community leaders to establish a preliminary itinerary and walk around the four potential sites for the sanitation block. Some photos of the sites are shown below.  That’s it for now but keep an eye out for our next blog at the beginning of July when the project gets fully underway!


Nyalenda Sanitation Site

Nyalenda Sanitation Site





By Shadrack Mbaka

“Our goal has remained constant: to work step-by-step with the community through the long-term process of addressing Food Safety, and to a larger extent food security. Our job is to ensure that the people living in our informal settlements are not being exposed to potentially dangerous levels of food contamination as a result of a dented sanitation infrastructure. “-Edwin Simiyu (during a stakeholder consultative project forum in Mathare)

Nairobi is home to approximately 2.5 million slum dwellers in about 200 settlements distributed across the city suburbs. This figure therefore represents about 60% of the Nairobi population, which unfortunately occupying just 6% of the total land.

Mathare settlement Aerial view

Dilapidated Infrastructure

In a recent food security (Safety) study conducted in three major informal settlements, namely; Mukuru, Kibera and Mathare it is evident that these informal settlements lack basic services, including sanitation, and are directly associated with joblessness, low-income levels among the urban poor, and insecurity and in order to match up to what the environment has offered them, urban poor communities have turned to a myriad of strategies, based on the harsh conditions of living in informal settlements, so as to improve their livelihoods and household food security, including urban agriculture. However, given the lack of formal sanitation services in most of these informal settlements, residents are frequently exposed to a number of environmental risks, including biological and chemical contaminants.

Dilapidated Infrastructure, Mathare-Bondeni

Dilapidated Infrastructure, Mathare-Bondeni

In the Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya, some households practice urban agriculture called sack gardening, or vertical gardening, where groceries such as kale are planted into large sacks filled with soil. Given the nature of farming in slum environments, farmers and consumers of this produce in Mathare are exposed to environmental contaminants due to the lack of formal sanitation systems. The study was conducted in collaboration with Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Muungano Support Trust, International Institute on Environment and Development (IIED), The Buttler Development Planning Unit and the Informal Sector Food Vendors associations in Mathare, Kibera and Mukuru.

Data Collection by the Community

Data Collection by the Community

Community led Balloon Mapping Exercise

Community led Balloon Mapping Exercise

Food Vending in the informality

Majority of the food vendors are located in environments characterized by open drains, open sewers, heaps of garbage and along dusty roads in the urban informal settlements, this is so because it is a basic display marketing strategy to attract customers living in the respective slums. The open drains are chaotic in that solid wastes are disposed in them; this results in blocked and smelly open drains. The blocked and smelly drains attract insects such as flies and disease carrying vectors; thus the possibility of causing diseases and illnesses when they get into contact with food. Major drains are used as places of waste disposal which results in flooding due to clogging when it rains. The open drains also act as breeding sites for mosquitoes and other diseases causing vectors which could result in malaria outbreaks. Open sewers produce bad odor and attract insects which cause food contamination. The heaps of garbage are another nuisance which attracts insects and rodents such as rats. Rats on the other hand get into food resulting in food contamination and spread of diseases.

Making of fries, Mukuru

Making of fries, Mukuru

Fish Vending, Kibera

Fish Vending, Kibera

In the cause of the study, there have been reported cases of food contamination/food being unsafe whose symptoms included diarrhea, stomachaches and vomiting. There were also reported diseases outbreak of especially cholera, typhoid and diarrhea. Diarrhea is a common killer disease especially among children below the age of 5years. The causes of these cases of food contamination were dirty selling environments characterized by open drains, open sewers and heaps of garbage, inadequate water, poor hygiene by food vendors and lack of storage facilities.

Is Food really affordable to low income earners?

The ever skyrocketing costs of food has pushed desperate communities into extreme poverty rendering them incapable of feeding their families or paying for basic services such as health care, rent, and school fees. In urban informal settlements, lack of security tenure makes the average standard of living more unbearable, with no means of growing their own food, slum dwellers are entirely reliant on what they are able to buy at their local markets, at times on credit. Kenya’s severe drought in the last two years has crippled the nation’s food production and driven the prices of available food supplies even higher. A majority of the poorest slum residents can now only afford one meal a day. The rising costs of food are forcing the poor households to make tough choices: Often a time they are forced to choose between doing what it takes to put one meal a day on the table and paying fees to keep their children in school or paying for medicine and health care. For single-parent families (single mother headed households), conditions are precarious indeed. Besides rising rates of malnutrition in children fewer than five, are forced into day care centres and the long-term impact of children being pulled out of school, one of the consequences of the urban food crisis are increasing numbers of women and young girls seeking an income as sex workers.

Remedying the Situation

In a positive attitude change; based on the data gathered by IIED, Development Planning Unit and Muungano Support Trust the findings were shared with the respective communities in Mathare, Kibera and Mukuru. The findings offered the communities an opportunity to have self introspection of how best they will override the systems of detrimental sanitation and food safety systems. One of the key action points so far is for the communities to reach out to one another to set a “gospel” on the need to boost food safety and improve the hygiene conditions in informal settlements. As rightly in the words of Mbatia, a Mathare based youth Environmental activist, “Unity is strength, hence it gives us the power to conserve our environment, since it us who consume what we consume and throw away the care of what damage it risks our society, we have seen before and we continue to see today that most of our garbage end up in our rivers, hence in a spirited to keep our residential areas it is important to join hands as a community and work together with other stake holders such as the Nairobi City County Government to make it a reality.”

Poor garbage disposal

Poor garbage disposal

Chief  Ombati speaks to one to Kibera residents during the Kibera Food vendors Association stakeholder's meeting in Laini Saba, Kibera

Chief Ombati speaks to one to Kibera residents during the Kibera Food vendors Association stakeholder’s meeting in Laini Saba, Kibera

Secondly, these communities have lined up a series of joint cleanup activities in Mathare, Huruma, Kibera and Mukuru. As the communities in these informal settlements embark on a new season of work to continue the cleanup of the respective settlements, it has been worth taking a few moments to review all of the work that has been done in the community over the past half decade, and what they are doing to ensure the continued health and safety of citizens. The Muungano affiliated Food Vendors Association remains firmly committed to taking actions that help protect public health and restore the ecological integrity of the food sources, land and water and sanitation infrastructure in the community.

“Our objective is to target low income areas so as to steadily change behavior by virtue of creating awareness on food safety and sanitation which would result to cleaner, safer and healthier environment for families to live in and grow,” Said Julia Wacera of Bondeni Food Vendors Association, Mathare.

Lastly, the communities have begun changing the personal hostilities they have about seasoned environmental stake holders, such as the revered Nairobi City Council ( now under the Nairobi County Government), who have been accused of being unscrupulous in distorting the communities in exchange for poor services. The Communities have brought onboard the NCC as a partner in the planned cleanup exercises. The youth too, within the organized and registered youth groups have the vital role to be the environmental conservatives of the informal settlements, by being the trusted waste managers and disposal agents, while the local administrations, Community Organising Trainers, Community Health Workers; Community Based organizations play the pivotal role of sensitization and awareness creation in the informal settlements.


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