Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pitfalls and potential in Kenya's slums


Kennedy Nyangau is standing in a small restaurant kiosk, looking up at new apartment buildings under construction on a hilltop overlooking Kibera.

�When they try to move people into those houses, there will be riots,� he says.

The new apartments overlook the oldest part of Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa. Here most of the houses are built of mud and wattle. There is no sewer system and limited access to clean water. The only roadways are footpaths paved with years of accumulated trash and red Kenyan soil.

Nyangau lives in a Kiberan village called Olympic. His family�s unserviced 10 foot square house is just a short walk away from the new construction. Within the next year, the Kenyan government hopes to move 600 households into the new apartments. The three-bedroom flats will have water, electrical and sewer service. But Nyangau, his wife and his three children will not move to one of the homes. They are promised to residents of a neighboring village in Kibera, called Soweto East.

Kennedy_4_web_4 �Only well-off people will be able to afford to live there,� Nyangau says. �At the end of the day, some people will be forced to start another slum elsewhere.�

As planned, 600 families from Soweto East will move into the apartments temporarily, while their current homes are razed to make way for more apartments. The same 600 families will then move into the new flats back in Soweto East and their monthly payments will go toward eventual ownership of the homes.

But Nyangau says he does not think the multiple moves in these villages on the east side of Kibera will go according to plan.

�[Rent] will be much more expensive for them now,� Nyangau says. �The rent will be much more than what they are paying [between seven and ten dollars a month]. Ninety percent of them won�t be able to pay.�

This housing project is one small part of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, a multi-million dollar plan to improve the lives of the estimated 5.3 million Kenyans who live without adequate shelter. Estimates of the growing Kibera population range from 500 thousand to one million people.

In a government building only a few kilometers from Kibera, the coordinator of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme is sitting at her desk, fielding a flurry of telephone calls. Leah Muraguri says Kibera is unlike other slum settlements in Kenya, or in Africa for that matter. The slum has been in place for almost 100 years. It is densely populated and sits in the heart of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Muraguri says the only thing that Kibera has in common with the other settlements where the program is operating, is the complexity of the interlocking challenges facing any upgrading effort. 

Footbridge_better_4_web_4 With so many private, business, public and non-governmental stakeholders in the slum, Muraguri says there is no way to bring improvements without meeting some resistance. She says the program is committed to not displacing people who live in Kenyan slums. But the question remains as to how they can ensure adequate housing for one million people on a 600 acre site. Muraguri says her agency intends to carefully execute development plans specifically designed for each settlement.

Despite the concerns of Nyangau and some other Kibera residents, Leah Muraguri says she is optimistic about the housing project in Olympic.

�Affordability has been an excuse for many years for not improving the slums,� she says. �The fact is, the cost of a house is inhibitive for almost all of us. We go through loans. And this is a low income person who doesn�t have [access to] a loan. Surely people will not afford, but should that forever be an excuse that these people should never live in good houses?�

Muraguri says as part of the Kibera project, the government will subsidize the rent of people who are moved into the temporary housing. When they move into the permanent apartments back in Soweto East, she says the government will encourage people to join housing cooperatives, so that their small monthly payments will eventually add up to home ownership.

Real ownership is central to improving the lives of people in slum settlements, says Daniel Vilnersson. He works for UN-HABITAT, one of the non-governmental partners to the national slum improvement program.

He estimates that 90 percent of Kiberans rent their homes from middle class Kenyans who have built the structures on public land, without the government's permission.

Kibera_roadway_for_web_3 �You don�t do any maintenance on your house because you are renting it,� Vilnersson says. �I think [a sense of ownership] will go beyond taking care of your house. It will also involve taking care of the drains, taking care of the garbage. We wouldn�t want to have people live in such small places forever, but as the situation is now, it might be better if they have a lease for the land so that they are not squatting and also own the structure.�

Vilnersson says, in the case of Kibera, the onus of handing over ownership lies with the government. The vast majority of Kibera is built on publicly owned land. In an ever-growing city of approximately three million people, Vilnersson says, the 600 acres of Kibera are very valuable.

Back at the Ministy of Housing office, Leah Muraguri says she wants to get rid of the idea that the program should give people free housing. She says the government and civil society can plan, suggest and develop some infrastructure, but they need the cooperation of people living in slum settlements to really affect change in the communities.

Working to own their own homes will help people building equity, Muragari says. It will also improve their self-esteem.

�What I�m so keen to see, is for people to accept that they need to improve themselves,� she says. �They can still afford, by mobilizing their own income, to pay off the cost [of the house.] Once security of tenure is assured, people can actually mobilize finances.�

Kids_4_web_4Muraguri says the Soweto East housing project is unique in the slum upgrading program.  The government is not building housing in most of the five settlements where it is operating. She says elsewhere the agency is focusing on development of social infrastructure such as schools, resources centers and community centers. Most of the program sites also include training and business development projects, intended to help people earn more money.

Muraguri says putting in hard infrastructure such as roads, lights, electrical lines and sanitation, will make it possible for more businesses to invest in the communities. That will mean more jobs and higher incomes for people who live in the area.

�Slum settlements have a very, very high potential to support the [national] economy,� she says. �Within the slum settlements there is a lot of informal industry. There are a lot of products that come from there.�

It is in the interest of economic development, as well as housing security, that the government of Kenya is aiming to upgrade the slums.

Spurred in part by the Millenium Development Goal of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers worldwide by 2020, the Kenyan government is hoping to spend approximately 12 billion dollars on the program over the next 15 years. Some of that money will come from the national budget. More, Muragari says, will come from non-state partners, including the private sector, and national and international civil society.

Muraguri says there are already countless non-governmental organizations at work in Kibera. The program aims to track and harmonize those efforts.

�If one is doing water and sanitation, you find many donors understand water is a basic [need],� she says. �They will put monies there. And then another NGO will do the same. In Kibera we call them spaghetti pipes: so many pipes from several donors. As a government, we want to remove all those pipes and put in one main.�

She says the programme is trying to build NGO�s confidence in the government�s capacity to plan and coordinate upgrades. When civil society projects are implemented as part of a larger plan, Muragari says, they will have a more lasting impact.

�Kibera is a very special area, since it�s so big and everybody knows about it, everybody wants to go in there and do projects,� says Daniel Vilnersson of UN-HABITAT.

In Kibera, Vilnersson and his colleagues are focusing on two infrastructural projects, while they wait to see how the government�s plan evolves. They are building shower and toilet boxes in Soweto East and they are building part of a road into Olympic.

�We�re providing the basic services to make the situation better for the people living there now,� he says. �Spending too much money, when we know the government has a plan for it, would not make sense.�

UN-HABITAT�s role is to give the government technical advice and to help coordinate other non-governmental organisations. At other slum upgrading sites, the UN agency is conducting pilot projects in education, low-cost housing and transportation. Other HABITAT staff members say the Kenyan government is one of the few African administrations that has such a comprehensive and active plan to address slum settlements.

Apts_better_4_web_5 Vilnersson and his colleagues, however, are careful to make it clear that while UN-HABITAT is involved in some housing pilot projects in slums elsewhere in Kenya, it is not part of the Olympic housing project. He says building permanent housing for people in Kibera is outside the agency�s mandate.

�Housing is huge. There are so many people in such a small area, that we would have to build highrises on most of the land available just to house the people who are there now,� Vilnersson says.

Based on his experience working in the settlement, Vilnersson says he understands Kennedy Nyangau�s concerns that moving people from their homes in Soweto to the temporary apartments in Olympic might stir up unrest in Kibera.

Apts_cu_4_web �The problem is that there are only 600 flats and 70 thousand people in Soweto East,� he says. �It will take an enormous time for even that village to be upgraded and when people realize that, of course, something might happen. I don�t think it�s unavoidable. It�s just a matter of informing the community in advance about what is going to happen.�

But standing just outside the gates of the new apartment complex, Nyangau says he and his neighbors are losing faith that the slum upgrading program will have any positive benefit for them.

�We are doubting,� he says. �How can you choose some people to move in there and some people to stay where they are?�

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