THE BLOG

Security of Tenure for the Urban Poor: A Critical Tool for Sustainable Social and Community Resilience

01/27/2013 12:08 am 00:08:43 | Updated Mar 28, 2013

Nairobi is a thriving metropolis that unfortunately suffers from high
levels of inequality and violence. Sixty-five percent 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. 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 for
a 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 conducts
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 for
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 (USD
653,600) 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.

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
from 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.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Rockefeller Foundation on resilience, a topic being discussed at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos. To see all the posts in the series, click here.