Resistance awaits Kenya slum upgrade

June 13, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 13 – As the setting sun casts its orange rays over the tin-roofed shanties of the sprawling Kibera slums, a mother is rushing against time to finish up the evening chores.

After a rather eventful day, Mary Otieno (not her real name) must wash her children’s uniform and prepare the evening meal. She and her four children – aged 16, 13, eight and four – live in a one-roomed mud shack in the world’s biggest slum.

Mary is a housewife but she sometimes operates a small business of cooking food which she sells to workers at construction sites.

But she is a homeowner. She bought her tin-roofed house three years ago and parted with Sh15,000.

And that, right there, is the reason why she is a worried woman this evening. She could be among 1,100 families targeted for relocation in a slum upgrading programme.

“I don’t know whether they will pay me back my money before they move us to the new houses.”

Under a government, UN-Habitat project, these families are due to be moved to modern brick houses within a month.

“It is a good initiative but it will depend with how they are planning to move us,” she told Capital News. “If they refund my money I will move. If not it will mean that I lose my Sh15, 000 investment.”

The government of Kenya has been working with the UN Habitat since 2001 on a slum upgrading programme aimed at improving the housing conditions for slum dwellers.

An initial 600 housing units are complete, and progress on the sewer is almost finished.

According to Bishop Handa, the chairman of the settlement committee, about 1,100 families in Soweto village classified as zone A will be moved into the new housing units mid this month.

“However these houses will be used as transitional ones,” he told Capital News. The plan is for the families to pave way for the demolition of their present shanties and construction of better houses in their place.

“If a person is living in a one roomed house, they will be moved into a one room…where they should accommodate their entire families,” he says.

But not everyone in the village is happy with the initiative.

“They have built these houses for the rich people here at Otiende (a middle income estate nearby),” says Truphena, a Soweto resident. “They just want to evict us from Kibera because we are poor.”

“Let us stay here where we are used,” she says in reference to her present two-roomed shanty. “If they want to improve our livelihood, let them construct for us toilets.”

Truphena’s main fear is that they will be evicted from the slum altogether in the name of relocation. “They will take us there then after some time throw us out and bring in the rich people,” she says.

However, Samuel Okoti is a bit accommodative of the idea: “So long as they don’t lie to us it will be okey. We really want it to work because at least the environment will change.”

He also lives in a one roomed pole-and-mud house where he pays Sh1 000 per month for rent. The government and UN Habitat intend to build two bed roomed self contained houses where they (slum dwellers) will pay Sh600 per month for about 20 years.

“This will be like a subsidised mortgage for them,” says Housing Minister Soita Shitanda.

The Minister however appreciates that eliminating the slums will be a challenge because more and more people are settling here.

“What has been of concern is that the existing laws are not good enough for slum eradication programmes vis- a- vis the spread of slums,” he says.

“You will find that these people who create slums are normally empowered through chiefs and the provincial administration and yet when we go out for slum eradication programmes, the law does not allow us to stop a chief from allocating land for slums.”

UN-Habitat Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka says the reason they want to upgrade areas like Kibera is because they don’t want to move people far away from their livelihoods.

“The people in Kibera are paying rent so the idea that they live there for free is not correct. Our rent surveys show that the pay back period for people investing there is only nine months,” she says.

At least $1.8 billion will be invested in the whole housing project “This is a pro- poor mortgage system,” says Mrs Tibaijuka.

“The rent they are paying is very high for the quality of shacks they are renting there.”


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