By Shadrack Mbaka
Kenya’s capital, Nairobi has some of the dense informal settlements, which often lack adequate water, sanitation, and other infrastructure or social amenities. However, despite these challenges, there is increasingly goodwill from the Kenyan Government and multilateral development partners who have been keen to improve the standards of informal settlements.
One such flagship project that specifically targets upgrading informal settlements is the Railway Relocation Action Plan, currently being implemented by the Kenya Railways and funded by the World Bank. About 10,000 families living on the railway reserve in Nairobi will eventually be relocated to a new housing scheme from September 2015. This project seeks to develop a model that seeks alternatives to forced evictions.
Muungano is collaborating with the Railway dwellers federation in Kibera in supporting its members to develop more stable livelihoods, and working with government to demonstrate how city redevelopment can avoid evictions and minimize transfer of city populations. Founded on the interrelation between slum-dwellers and the nearby railway lines, the project seeks to mainstream their strong social and economic ties to the area.
The households occupying the land belonging to Kenya Railways Corporation in Nairobi’s Mukuru, Kibera and Kaloleni areas will move to the low-cost houses built at a cost of Sh.7 billion. The single-room self contained houses measuring 20 metres by 20 metres and comprising a kitchen, sleeping area and a toilet are located in Makadara, Kaloleni and Kibera.
Vitalis Ongongo a consultant engineer with the project observed that the project is on course and better still the trend of greater participation by the railway community groups, “More and more project related events now ensure that representatives of the project affected persons are present; more and more evidence of what the poor have achieved through dialogue and negotiations with the Kenya Railways Corporation and national government demand that their intervention is seen as having impact within the project.”
The slum-dwellers resisted an attempt by Kenya Railways Corporation to move them; Muungano wa Wanavijiji played a pivotal role in ensuring that all the project affected persons were accounted for. Through a social process; the federation supported the affected communities through community orgnaising. All residential, businesses and institutional structures were documented and mapped. The final detailed report was then presented to the Kenya Railways Corporation for processing and planning.
During the first phase of the project, the government encouraged community participation and involvement in order to target pockets of settlements, divide them into zones, then zone by zone, hand out eviction notices and demolish the buildings. The former occupants were then moved into ‘decanting sites,’ which are essentially one-roomed corrugated iron sheet rooms with well-plastered floors that are temporary homes for the project beneficiaries, who will later on move to the more permanent houses upon completion. Currently, there are more than 9,000 housing units under construction in the project.
The decanting sites are where a lot of the trouble sets in .They offer adequately-constructed housing units, and the rents are actually as low as what the slum-dwellers pay for their shanties. However, they are located many kilometers from the original location. Additionally, resettled households are not given the opportunity to reorganize businesses and schools. According to Engineer Ong’ong’o, “Currently, the beneficiaries are parting with between Sh.500 to Sh. 1000.”
Peter Mutunga, a project beneficiary and a member of Muungano wa Wanavijiji expresses optimism that the Kenya Railways will ensure that the current rent rates would not be arbitrarily revised upwards.”
The housing project is not a commercial venture but a project meant to safeguard the lives of the Kenyans, who are seen as courting death by living near the railway track. Their relocation is set to secure the railway corridor, which has witnessed a number of train accidents in the recent past. Kenya Railways is also expected to put up public schools and churches to benefit the new occupants in Kaloleni and Kibera. Those who have been conducting business at Mukuru and Kibera will also stand to benefit from the more than 900 stalls that have been built in the two areas.
However, to most communities, this project offers a moral lesson on an eviction moratorium. Wilberforce Onyango, a resident of Kibera’s Soweto East village, said, “We as communities living in informal settlements, though as much as we appreciate these mega-development projects, we would feel safer upon the adoption of the Eviction and Resettlement Guidelines.”
The Kenya federation of the urban poor, Muungano wa Wanavijiji engaged in many community-driven initiatives leading up to the project to upgrade slums and to develop new housing that low-income households can afford, and to improve provision for infrastructure and services (including water, sanitation, and drainage).
Although the project has had challenges particularly in the decanting phase, Muungano is working with residents to ensure that the promised housing benefits are realized and the PAPs coexist with the railway infrastructure and installations while also maintaining strong community ties.