Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Listening to the poor

In addition to documenting the unconscionable evictions that have already taken place in Kibera and other squatter areas of Nairobi (hundreds of homes near train tracks and under power lines were slated to be summarily demolished), "Listening to the Poor? Housing Rights in Nairobi, Kenya," (pdf available here) the report issued on March 3rd by COHRE, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, raises many questions about the United Nations plan to upgrade Soweto Village in Kibera.

In particular the UN and other agencies seem to have failed to seriously engage residents in planning their own future, as these two quotes indicate:
· "In Kibera, literally all the groups and individuals talked to during the fact-finding mission lacked accurate information about the Government’s plans."

· "Many residents see themselves as passive, limited beneficiaries, if at all, of the intended upgrading program."

This is a deep flaw in the work to improve Kibera. It may be true that Kenya does not have a tradition of public participation in the political process. But that doesn’t mean that well-meaning agencies should be afraid to try to engage residents in planning for their future. The way forward is bottom-up, not top-down. COHRE calls for "an institutional framework and budgetary support that allows communities to organise upgrading, with government support for the process. Residents should be able to choose appropriate tenure systems, access necessary credit and receive protection against possible violence and harassment from other actors during the process."

The group also urges the government to bring public services (water, sewers, and electricity) into squatter areas.

The Swiss-based NGO has provided a useful overview of the issues that plague the mud hut neighborhoods where 2/3 of Nairobi’s residents live.

No comments: