Urban development domains

ACRC’s analytical framework uses the concept of urban development domains to transcend both sectoral and traditional systems-based thinking. We define domains as fields of power, policy and practice that are relevant to solving particular problems and/or advancing specific opportunities in relation to cities.

This blog series delves into each of our eight urban development domains, providing an overview of their context within African cities and what we are seeking to interrogate and better understand through our research.

You can also listen to our podcast interview on informal settlement upgrading with Joseph Muturi, leader of Muungano wa Wanavijiji and chair of SDI’s board of directors, below.

By Beth Chitekwe-Biti, David Dodman, Diana Mitlin and Smith Ouma

In most African cities, more than half of the population live in informal settlements. Residents of such settlements often lack basic services and infrastructure, also facing unsafe housing and insecure tenure. In these challenging living conditions, the social networks that residents develop within their settlements are crucial for livelihoods and mutual support. Upgrading has been widely adopted as an intervention by governments to deal with the challenges in informal settlements. When done properly, upgrading can be transformative for residents and their communities.

Benefits of upgrading for residents

Rather than disrupting vital networks by uprooting and relocating residents, upgrading programmes are the best way to improve quality of life within informal settlements. Such programmes can improve neighbourhood infrastructures while low-income residents remain in situ, thus preserving their community networks.

Upgrading helps to reduce poverty, by enabling low-income households to secure lower-cost essential services, such as water and energy, to gain higher social status, and to benefit from increased access to more fairly distributed resources (such as drainage and roads). It can make settlements more resilient to the impacts of climate change and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing efficient infrastructure that reduces risks and improves housing quality. Upgrading tends to consolidate cities and avoid city spread, which also contributes to reduced emissions.

When residents have access to the services essential for good health and flourishing home-based enterprises, a virtuous cycle ensues. With improved health and more profitable home-based enterprises, they are able to earn higher incomes, which in turn enhances their general wellbeing. The needs of vulnerable groups – such as female-headed households, disabled people and marginalised minorities – can also be addressed through well-designed upgrading programmes that include appropriate provision to enable them to access services.

Upgrading particularly takes into consideration the important role of women in securing access to basic services for their households, and recognises the challenges that they experience in accessing basic amenities like water. Women living in informal settlements often have to travel long distances and endure long lines at access points for basic services like water. Additionally, their personal safety can be at risk whenever they  access these services at night, especially in areas that are not properly lit. Children and people living with disabilities also benefit from improved roads and pathways, and better public space.

The work involved in upgrading creates income-generating opportunities that can directly benefit local companies and residents. This is particularly helpful for both skilled and unskilled workers if contracts are issued within the community. In many cases, young people within these settlements will be directly employed in upgrading projects, with local entrepreneurs able to subcontract work. 

Cockle Bay informal settlement in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo credit: Paul Simpson, Development Planning Unit UCL / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Upgrading implementation

Residents need to organise effectively and actively negotiate with authorities and other development partners to ensure that informal settlements upgrading is inclusive. It is particularly important that the most marginalised residents, such as tenants, are organised, so that they can protect their interests. The upgrading process then has the potential to enhance the power of residents’ associations.

Effective implementation needs to pull together a complex mix of elements, from systems of bulk infrastructure and service package provision, to planning and building regulation reform, and affordable modes of housing/tenure regularisation. Implementation will, for instance, require that residents’ and tenants’ associations collaborate with external experts such as planners, engineers and architects, who will in turn work with landlords and their associations. Other actors, such as informal service providers, and formal utility providers, including municipalities, land regularisation agencies, micro-finance agencies and municipal planning departments, will also play critical roles during these upgrading processes.

Elite perspectives

Central to ACRC’s research approach is the analysis of political settlements at the city level, including how urban residents are impacted by the decisions of powerful groups. From the perspective of city elites, informal settlement upgrading can enhance their popularity and electoral success. Infrastructure installation can also lead to increased payments of rates and service charges.

Some politicians may use upgrading interventions as patronage to secure political loyalty from the upgraded neighbourhood residents, including those who share a similar ethnic composition. They may, for example, write off loans related to upgrading and land titling. Politicians also use local community leaders during upgrading interventions, and these leaders may exploit residents in relation to rent, access to land and service charges.

Some politicians, however, prefer to focus on creating a “modern” city, rather than upgrading informal settlements. In inner-city, high-density informal settlements on private land, there may be considerable opposition to upgrading from those with claims on the land, as it could be redeveloped (displacing the population) and thus secure considerable profits.

Overlooking Nima settlement in Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: Peeterv / Getty Images

Issues of contention

The scope and scale of upgrading covers a wide spectrum. It may be minimal, limited to providing communal services, or avoidance of eviction threats. Or it may be complete, providing levels of integrated infrastructure and services that are available for formal housing within the same city. Alternatively, minimal improvements may be followed by a series of upgrades over time, resulting in an incremental model.

Upgrading informal settlements is complex and can be contentious. The challenges vary, according to on whether the land is publicly or privately owned. Residents may not see all aspects of the process as beneficial. Reblocking – the moving or reshaping of household plots – may be required to comply with planning regulations and to install infrastructure and services. This can be disruptive to residents and communities and, in some cases, some residents may be displaced.

Most importantly, some of the costs of upgrading are generally transferred to residents, which can be a challenge to low-income households. Furthermore, tenants are less likely to be included in upgrading interventions, as those with stronger claims on the land prefer to capture, rather than share, the enhanced value of their asset. With improved infrastructure and service, rent rises are likely and the lowest-income tenants may be forced out.

While some models for upgrading have been developed, too little upgrading has taken place in African cities. Existing upgrading has lacked affordable options for the lowest-income residents, and tenants are frequently displaced. Upgrading efforts have not addressed the growing significance of adverse climate change and the risks this poses for residents. There have been limited system reforms, and a lack of inclusive options, due to the fact that upgrading has not taken place at the city scale.

ACRC recognises that upgrading requires the support of key actors and context-specific approaches. For example, in inner-city, high-density settlements, medium-rise houses or apartments are likely to be required. We also acknowledge that community participation and involvement in implementation are important for successful outcomes.

Improving understanding for effective urban reforms

The informal settlements domain seeks to understand the political economy and the politics of informal settlement development through the perspectives of both low-income communities, and government officials and local-level politicians who engage with these communities.

The domain will document the growth trajectories of informal settlements in 11 African cities. It will examine the city systems that make a difference to people’s quality of life and wellbeing within these informal settlements, the external pressures (and opportunities) facing the settlements, such as climate change, and the ways in which organised communities have sought to address the needs of residents of informal settlements at the city scale.

To achieve these objectives, the domain team will interview key informants, both at the city level and within the neighbourhoods being studied. The team will analyse household budgets and carry out geospatial analysis to provide a sense of the quality of structures and services at a macro-scale. It is anticipated that the domain’s work will contribute to urban reforms and facilitate a better understanding of how to systematically deal with the challenges in informal settlements.


The full podcast transcript is available below.

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Smith Ouma [00:00:09] Welcome to the African Cities podcast. Thank you very much for joining us today. I’m Smith Ouma. I’m a postdoctoral fellow at the African Cities Research Consortium. I’m delighted and it’s truly an honour to have with us Joseph Muturi. Joseph is the chair of the board of directors of Slum Dwellers International, that is SDI. He is the national community leader of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, part of the Kenyan Slum Dwellers Federation. Joseph has played a central role in negotiating and implementing projects to strengthen security of tenure and improved living conditions for urban poor communities in Kenya. Welcome, Joseph, and thank you for joining us. First of all, it’s a big congratulations from all of us here at ACRC on your recent appointment as the chair of SDI’s board of directors. Congratulations from all of us, Joseph.

Joseph Muturi [00:01:03] Thank you very much. Once again, nice to see you, Smith.

Smith Ouma [00:01:07] Good to see you, too. I think it’s good to start with a brief explanation for our listeners on who SDI is and where it operates. So could you please tell us something about SDI?

Joseph Muturi [00:01:20] So basically, SDI – Slum Dwellers International or Shack Dwellers International – is a network of national federations of people, especially living in informal settlements and slums. People basically who don’t have access to secure tenure of shelter, affordable housing, decent housing. People who more or less don’t get any services, any recognition, who are invisible when it comes to the city level planning and allocation of resources. That’s basically how SDI operates. We have a federation like Muungano wa Wanavijiji, which is made up of organised groups in informal settlements in the major cities of the countries that we operate in. So those federations are the ones who make the Slum Dwellers International network. Plus, the slum dwellers identify professional organisations or civil society organisations that offer technical support to the federation. So we have planners, we have architects, we have finance people, we have social workers. So these are the people who on a day to day basis, work with federations to meet or to obtain whatever they want or whatever they aspire to get, be it if they are pursuing advocacy on secure tenure. They are following up on decent housing or they are following up on water, services and etc. So at the moment, SDI operates in around 35 countries, mostly in Asia, Latin America and Africa. But we have a very big presence in Africa as we have a secretariat in Cape Town, which also supports the national affiliates in fundraising, in learning, in knowledge sharing especially in community exchanges. And how SDI organise this, we organise slum dwellers around building savings, organising women around daily savings, around women cooperatives, and we also organise federations and community groups around data collection and mapping. And that’s our backbone. We realise that a lot of cities, a lot of national governments don’t have information about their own informal settlements in their cities or in their municipalities. So what SDI does, we come to the negotiating table, we provide slum dwellers with information that the city doesn’t have. So we use the data that we have collected the maps, the mapping and the information that we have. This is information collected by slum dwellers themselves with support from our technical people. We use it as leverage, we use it to negotiate. The other thing that we use in our advocacy strategies is creating very strong partnerships with government, both the local, city and national governments and creating very strong partnerships with other civil society organisations and academia.

Smith Ouma [00:04:54] Thank you that’s a very good summary, and it appears that SDI’s orientation is to very much work with the communities and I understand that you’ve also done a lot of work with communities. So I think our listeners would perhaps be interested in understanding what prompted you to engage in the work that you’ve been doing in yours, Joseph. Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself, your personal journey and your work with communities in informal settlements?

Joseph Muturi [00:05:21] So for me, my personal journey, I was born in one of Nairobi’s biggest slums, that is Kibera. I went to school at both primary, secondary and a little bit, I did two years of college. I, like my late mother, was trading in one of the biggest informal markets called Toi market. And at that time, Toi market is basically situated where the land was very prime. So the land was grabbed by very well connected individuals within government and outside government. So my first encounter with forced evictions and demolitions happened in Toi market in 1996 and my mother was trading there. Then it happened again in 1997. And I think for me, that was the turning point. That was the anger. And I think it’s what up to date, what drives me to do what I do. I still maintain that anger, I still maintain that fire in the belly. I usually say the day I lose that anger is the day I will not get interested in this work. So that prompted a few of us. I joined a group of people who are now organising the market and we went to court. Of course, as you know, everywhere there’s two sets of laws, one set works for the rich and the other set works for the poor. And usually the law doesn’t work too well for the poor. So we lost.

[00:07:08] But the one thing Toi market is still there because of different strategies we used. So I got my interest in this work. So we went around organising other informal settlements and markets that were facing similar challenges. They were under threats of evictions. Some of them had been demolished forcefully. That’s when we started organising around Nairobi. We formed Muungano wa Wanavijiji. The movement became a self-mobilising movement. Although I’ve been involved in mobilising in other cities, Nakuru, I was deeply involved in organising the federation there, Kisumu, Timau, all the way to Mombasa. So at the moment I can say the federation is a self-mobilising movement. I think it’s the biggest social movement here which addresses land issues, housing issues and services.

[00:08:16] From there, I think my journey I became a leader in Nairobi, until years later I became one of the coordinators of the federation, and got involved with SDI around the same time. But we are still fighting for the market rights that SDI brought to us, organising around daily savings, around data, organising around negotiating with the powers that be, negotiating with the city. Then within the SDI structure, I moved on to form the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation, Tanzania, I’ve been involved in basically organising most of the federations in West Africa. And at that time, SDI was of creating a second tier leadership, I found myself part of that second tier leadership. And up to sometime last year, I became the president of the network and now I also sit as the chair of the board of SDI. So for me, that is it. I’ve never done anything else. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last more than 20 years. Just community organising, advocacy work around housing, around land, around tenure issues and fighting evictions.

Smith Ouma [00:09:43] Thank you. It’s fascinating and quite interesting that you’ve gathered all this experience working in different cities, not just in Kenya, but also in Africa with other SDI affiliates. So I know the World Bank places the current population living in urban informal settlements in Africa at around 54%. In your experience, working in informal settlements, not just in Kenya, but in other African cities, what would you say are the key drivers for the growth of these informal settlements?

Joseph Muturi [00:10:12] I think, for example, just to give a specific example and context, I’ll take my city of Nairobi. And I think part of what led to the mushrooming and the growth of informal settlements, number one was centralisation. I think the government has centralised everything within the city. If you wanted to go to university, if you wanted the good schools, or the good jobs, if you want to take an ID, if you want to take a passport. I think that centralising everything and all the factories were within the city. So if you wanted a good job, it meant that you came to live in the city and at that time, I don’t think the city was prepared in terms of services, in terms of houses. The city was not prepared to get all this influx of economic migrants, people who came to look for jobs, look for opportunities. So we didn’t have adequate housing and the little services being provided in terms of sewer, in terms of water, in terms of also the electricity connectivity, in terms of the transport infrastructure, in terms of roads, was not adequate to cater for all these people who are migrating to the city. And I think the resources became strained. People, for example, the lack of housing, people who had resources invested in building informal shacks. And the shacks kept on growing because the migration of people to the city didn’t stop. And so we are looking at a phenomenon now, where if you look at Nairobi now, where all, most of, all the informal settlements are full, so we have started now building on top. We have started building multistorey informal settlements. So that was one of the key drivers of the growth of informal settlements.

[00:12:29] And then we have others where people are attracted to the city, they think that the city has a good life, especially young people. So they come to the city looking for opportunities. But they come here, they realise it’s not. So basically the allure of the city, they are attracted by the lights. They think the same misconception that Africans have that you see everyday people die crossing, going to Europe is that misconception that, everything there is a land of opportunity. So it’s the same. People are still coming to the city and when people basically have some sort of employment in Nairobi, when they move back to their rural areas, I think there are people in the rural areas that are attracted by the big cars, the nice fashionable clothing. So that also drives people to the city and the government doesn’t cope well, the city doesn’t cope well in terms of providing services, in terms of providing housing. And I think that most of the cities have given up in terms of now addressing these issues, they have no clue where to start, how to start addressing this issue.

[00:13:52] When it comes to this issue of housing, most of the government, both city and national signatories to all these United Nations charters on affordable housing and every year in the World Urban Forums, wherever they promise, I don’t know, the magic number is usually 10,000, 15,000 housing units. Some are very ambitious, “we’ll do 200,000 housing”, and none seems to deliver. None has even delivered 200 housing. I think the government gave up. Plus the challenges that also come in providing housing, affordability and I think to an extent, the land issue, because if you look at the city of Nairobi, government doesn’t own any land, so for it to get land to do housing. So apart from a few pockets of areas that the government has land, the rest they have to procure from the market. So those are just examples why the issue of slums, they continue despite all the talk, despite all the declarations, despite all these very catchy cities without slums, blah blah blah blah. Nothing seems to change. And I think our cities, our national governments gave up or they don’t know how to provide adequate housing, affordable housing to especially low income groups. If you’re travelling the city of Nairobi, there’s a lot of middle income and higher income, middle class and upper middle class housing. Every day, people are investing in those houses. They are empty. But nobody has figured out how to do housing for people in the low income bracket.

Smith Ouma [00:15:47] It sounds to me like you say that the government is a key stakeholder in terms of addressing some of these issues that have been identified. And from what we know, governments have largely intervened to upgrading initiatives, and upgrading has been proposed and widely adopted as an intervention to deal with some of these challenges. In your experience, what are the identifiable pitfalls in the approaches to upgrading that have been pursued and how can upgrading be done properly?

Joseph Muturi [00:16:18] Probably, I cannot say that I can with authority talk about how upgrading can be done properly. But I think there are some lessons that we keep on repeating. Government still doesn’t get it. They keep on repeating the same mistake. It’s the issue of doing things the old way and the usual failed ways, and we expect different results. So once again, I speak to the context of Nairobi and remember Nyayo Highrise was a slum upgrading project, we were supposed to move into those houses. These houses ended up being middle class housing. So if you look at the Kibera upgrading, government has land, but number one, what lacks is also the community consultations, the community participation. What kind of housing do they want? What are the standards, what size of land do we have? How can we fit this bill? How are we going to use this piece of land, this piece of land that we have, to accommodate all these people? So in Kibera I think that in 2002 we were promised 200,000 units by the former regime of President Kibaki. Uhuru came with his Agenda 4, still promising the 200,000 housing units, all these counties are promising they’ll be doing 2,000 housing, but none seems to deliver.

[00:17:47] So I mentioned number one is the land question, land in the city and counties, even in other places is very expensive. So whilst we have to figure out how do we unlock the land question, that is one of the pitfalls. Then number two is the affordability. So how do you make sure that you build houses – and not everybody is looking at social housing, not everybody is looking at free housing – housing where poor people can be able to afford? So number three is also at the macro level. A lot of people don’t want to invest in housing. A lot of people don’t want to invest in housing, especially low income housing. They think it’s a risk. They think they won’t get a return for their investments. And I don’t think, there has been a lot of practice, but I don’t think anybody has ever figured out or understood how to do low-income housing finance.

[00:18:58] So there’s the financing question and then probably the corruption that is involved. So we can do designs every step of the way. I think there’s a lot of corruption in the construction industry. So the houses end up being 10 times what it was projected. So that’s I think it’s another pitfall. But the most important one is not involving, there’s not enough public participation. So if you look at the Kibera, the designs that were done, if you look at the first decanting site that was done by the government up there in Langata, people were, basically the idea was to build housing and the government built housing. They built a decanting site, but they didn’t have a plan after that. So you realise that you are getting people from where they were used to pit latrines, you take them to a flushing toilet. You are getting people who are basically some of them were using firewood, you are taking them to a nice kitchen. Some of them ended up using firewood. Some of them ended up using when flushing the toilets, not using the proper whatever in the toilet. So we ended up with clogged drainages because they didn’t have a plan, a management plan, for this instance. So eventually, the people who came from Kibera ended up renting those houses and moving back their shacks. And the other thing was also the designs, I don’t know who came up with this very stupid design where you just build a house and two families share one common sitting room, one common kitchen, one common. So those are, I think, some of the challenges and I think why a lot of people don’t venture into this, why government is still not getting it right. It’s still their financing. Nobody has.

[00:21:00] So for federations, we have tried and we have done pilots. But they end up being just pilots because number one, we realised that community savings alone cannot be able to build your house. We have explored doing incremental which also takes a lot of time, given that these are people basically who have no income or very low incomes. So it takes a lot of years, I remember Kambi Moto when it started, we did the first was it, I can’t remember the name of it, we did it for two years. And when you calculate 10 years later, we had just done over 100 and something else in Kambi Moto. We started in Gatope. Same, same thing. Not enough capital. So communities put up their deposits. They put a foundation. Then it gets taxed as Muungano, as an organisation, as a fund. And I think most of them SDI, where they have housing funds, they are struggling, they are strained because we have big federations and we have meagre resources. So we realise that that was also a challenge, the lack of financing.

[00:22:20] So the other challenge at that community level is you realise that even within the informal settlements, there are people who work and there are people who don’t work. So the federation basically works for poor people. And we find that after every process, the poorest of the poor didn’t commit because they cannot make the deposits, they are always being pushed to the next phase, next phase, next phase. So that’s the other challenge, but we have come to realise that community savings alone cannot be able to provide housing. It will take some time. So we need a combination of probably subsidies. And one of the things that the federation, most of the services, especially the technical services, are subsidised, which also brings down the cost of the housing, architectural engineering. The NGO pays for that which does lower the prices. So we’re also trying to come up with designs where we also lower the cost of the housing like sharing walls, building with the latest technology that is available, not just brick and mortar. And then also, we have come to realise that for us to deliver housing for all, not only for the poor, we need a combination of the community savings and the community participation, probably providing some sort of labour or something. We need something to be subsidised. We need the government or the city to come in, to provide resources, to provide technical services. And of course, in terms of capital and financing, where we need private sector. But I think also there’s a realisation that private sector alone, the market alone cannot provide for housing. For them, I think the market is the bottom line, it is the profit, everybody, every developer wants to invest where he can get a return. And most developers think investing in informal housing is a risk, it’s a risk that they won’t get their return for their money as soon as possible. And for us, we think we have come to, yes, community savings and doing pilots is important, it’s to showcase cities and government, yes. If we join forces as government, as city, as private, we can be able to deliver.

[00:24:57] And I think for Kenya, our experiment with markets, with borrowing from the market, we had a lesson that we will never forget. We got our fingers burnt really bad. We borrowed from the bank and that’s when the interest rates were moving from 16% and at one point they had got to 26% . And so we had to quickly liquidate our guarantee so as to save the community from all this interest. So I think for us to provide housing, it’s a combination of everything and everyone, and I think government is a key stakeholder. The city, county governments are key, very key, important stakeholders. I think they can be the catalyst, they can they can bring all these actors together.

Smith Ouma [00:25:54] Yeah and we also recognise that communities are also significant and must be involved in all of these.

Joseph Muturi [00:26:00] Exactly. Community has to be at the centre of it. They have to be at the centre and not only at the centre, to lead the process in terms of what do we want.

Smith Ouma [00:26:11] And based on that, are there any successful upgrading initiatives that you can tell our listeners in the cities that SDI works in? Can you give us any examples?

Joseph Muturi [00:26:21] We have got a number of cities we have in Namibia, in Gobabis, in Windhoek. They have done upgrading I think in Cape Town. There have been upgradings done in Zambia, Tanzania in Chamazi. I think all of our cities have done pilots successful and we are also looking at skill. But also in some areas there has been a push and upgrading not done by the community itself. And I think also in the Philippines, in India, there are so many case studies of where federations working with cities have delivered housing but also think in some areas there has been a push by federations for government to provide housing. For example, if you look at the Mukuru SPA that was done recently by a number of stakeholders, a process that has been going on for the last two or three years, it pushed and it triggered the government to put a budget to do 13,000 housing units in Mukuru. But that was because of that Mukuru SPA. So we are looking at all these initiatives. We had the community and the federations themselves have not delivered, but they have been part of a process that pushes the government to provide housing. So there’s a number of areas that the federation has pushed the government to do 100% financing for the housing.

Smith Ouma [00:28:03] Thank you for sharing that. And before we close I have just two more questions, one related to climate change and another on the future of the SDI movement. On the first question, we know that the adverse effects of climate change are particularly severe for low income urban residents, particularly those who inhabit informal settlements. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about this, and particularly on the ways that upgrading can contribute to climate adaptation and mitigation?

Joseph Muturi [00:28:34] So I think number one Smith, you have to recognise for us the issue of climate change some years back seems like a foreign, we thought those are just first world problems. We thought those are European or American problems. We thought climate change is just snow melting somewhere in the North Pole, people cutting firewood in the Amazon forest. But I think there has been recognition and it’s a discussion that is just starting here in Africa, in terms of the effects of climate change, also recognising that climate change is here with us. So if we look at number one in terms of food security, we are realising that farmers no longer depend on their traditional methods of rainfall, which nowadays is rare. And we have seen rivers drying up. We are seeing lakes swelling up. We are seeing this very hot.

[00:29:36] I’m going to look at the specifically informal settlements, and this is something that SDI has been trying to push for a number of years, was also the recognition and to shine a spotlight on the effects of climate change, especially in urban and more so in informal settlements. If you look at the flooding that is happening, for example, Smith, you have been to Mukuru, if you look at the flooding that happens in Mukuru, it’s not because of what is going on within Mukuru. It’s water that is coming upstream. It’s water that is coming from the city, which has got nothing to do with the residents of Mukuru. It’s burst sewers upstream, it’s all of the rubbish upstream that ends up in Mukuru. So we are beginning to see a lot of flooding, a lot of fires, which also the flooding comes with adverse effects of diseases, waterborne diseases like cholera, and they are leading to outbreaks of all these things. And also, as I said beyond just creating awareness of these effects is also the discussion around climate change has been very elitist. It happens at very fancy UN, Europe, in New York, in Geneva. And for us, we have been trying to demystify the climate change debate, to localise it. You’ll find that in terms of mitigation, in terms of adaptation, people over the years, women in informal settlements have been doing this, but they did not know it was connected to climate change. So in terms of energy, women are making briquettes from whatever materials are available instead of charcoal, Looking for alternative to cooking energy. We are looking at solar. We are looking at recycling of plastic. We are looking at recycling of many things. We are looking at in Mukuru we are supporting women who are doing recyclable, sanitary pads . So all this, they didn’t know it has got a connection with climate change. So those are the things that we want to amplify.

[00:31:50] So looking at how we are looking at the issues of climate change and they’re dealing with the effects in terms of mitigation. And if you look at the Mukuru, the SPA, the plan, we are looking at planning and we are looking at housing beyond just the four walls. We are looking at housing at the community level in terms of public spaces, in terms of planning proper, the drainage, getting connected to the sewer. So there’s a lot of we are looking at planning. We are also looking at green spaces. We are looking at the road infrastructure. In the early years of this organisation, we were looking at the challenges within. We are looking at how do we get housing in our communities. We need to look at how do we get our community integrated? How do we get our communities connected to other parts of the city? So for Mukuru, we are looking at how do we get connected as a pilot? We have roads that link Mukuru to other areas of the city. Nairobi Metropolitan and the county government are putting up a sewer that will to connect Mukuru to the city sewer. We are looking at the road infrastructure. So I think in terms of mitigation is to look at housing, is to look at the community at large, to look at that integrated process with community participation. And I think in some areas, one of the groups we are supporting, they have been reclaiming the Nairobi river, negotiating with the structure owners there, clearing, and they are creating safer spaces for children, they are planting trees, they are planting grass. So we are looking at basically green neighbourhoods.

Smith Ouma [00:33:41] It is fascinating and quite interesting to me how the communities themselves are taking initiatives locally that will benefit their settlements but have wider ramifications on their environment in the city and also on climate change generally. And I know the youth play a particular role, important role in these kinds of initiatives. So lastly, what do you see as the future of the movement and particularly on the participation of the youth across the network?

Joseph Muturi [00:34:12] So I think one of the things that is very clear and it’s I think in the past years and in our strategic planning, there was the mention of youth, but it comes to implementation. We have not been very good at implementing the youth agenda and I think we ended up creating something called the Know Your City TV, where young people document, tell their stories about the informal settlements themselves, other than people coming to tell their stories, both positive and negative. But now we are looking at beyond just training young people to be filmmakers, documenters, photographers. So very specifically, and I think it will come up in our next strategic plan, and so I’m part of the second tier leadership. So now we have the second leadership knows the first tier leadership. So we are trying to build a second and a third, and the way we are doing this now, we have started organising young people not only to create their own space or to find things that they are comfortable with to music, sports, culture. We want to integrate them in the day to day activities of federation in the advocacy work, in the data collection. So one of the challenges and the realisation is that we realise that young people, when it comes to mapping the data collection and using tablets to collect data, they are all within their communities and at that, they come, work, get paid, go home. But they don’t follow up on this information or why we collect this information. And for us specifically for Kenya, we have started deliberately and intentionally to bring part of the national coordinators, who are 12, we have brought 12 young people to be part, not as tokenism. We realised that most of the federations, they bring one or two young people, the token young person, and so for us, we don’t want that attitude of tokenism.

[00:36:19] So one of the areas and it’s good that you mentioned we have a project with WWF, a five year project, which is called the VCA, Voices for Climate Action, and we are intentionally and deliberately targeting young people to build resilience champions. But we are also using that to integrate them into the federation. We have started and we have already built a very strong movement of young people on the climate change space. But now we are also getting them interested in other advocacy work and it is coming out. They are looking at reclaiming grabbed public parks. They are looking at housing in the informal settlements. They are looking at advocacy work in terms of getting services. So those are things that in the next five years there’s going to be a change.

[00:37:17] The other thing we did something called an Impact Lab with MasterCard, where we got young people. So I think for us, the discussions about it here in Kenya, where we looked at despite all the resources that government is putting in, despite all the interventions that religious organisations are putting in, in terms of all the resources, the manpower, the technical, that civil society is putting in, nothing seems to change, especially among the youth in informal settlements. And we knew we have a problem right there. So we wanted to have a space where we get young people who have not been workshopped, who have not attended any civil society meeting. And they tell us specifically, what do you think are the challenges in your communities? Who do you think is responsible and what is their responsibility? And we had a three day, very successful workshop where we brought very new people. So one of the things we realised for me, I’ve been since I was, I think, 24 years and my orientation has been fighting for land rights and housing. So if you put me into a space where I’m supposed to talk about challenges, I’ll specifically tell you the biggest challenge is land and housing. So if you find young people who have worked in the human rights space, if you go to Mbare, there’s the issue of extrajudicial killings by police, if you tell them what is the biggest problem you have here, they will tell you, it’s the police who are killing young people. But then we wanted people who are green, and we came up with after the three days of Impact Lab, we came up with ideas that also we want to create a movement. And I think judging from what has come out, it’s also to challenge how to equip young people with the skills to challenge government on how they work, how they interact with young people, informal settlements. It’s also to challenge civil society organisations, northern NGOs, local NGOs. Yes, it’s a good idea, but at the moment this is not our priority to challenge them on what you are getting wrong and this is why.

[00:39:40] We are also thinking about even going deeper. If you look at all these projects which are under funded and you look at most even our local NGOs, most of the processes that they are engaged in, most of the projects that they are engaged in, especially youth projects, they are resource based. They are they are based on the resources that they are getting, somebody sitting somewhere in London, we set the agenda, this is what I want to do here. Is two shillings good? One two three. Then they will bring in somebody, a university student from somewhere, go do your monitoring and evaluation, which nobody gets to read. So we are also thinking that young people can also do that monitoring and they can evaluate, is your project really working? Does it have an impact? Well, for us specifically just to sum up this intentionally, we are now beginning a very, very, very aggressive mobilisation and organisation of young people into this space, into the network, not only in things that they are comfortable with. Most of them tell us the issues of land, housing, it’s our parents who are following up on that. But I think now we want to get them and it’s positive we are seeing them. We want to use the climate change space because one of the targets for that is to create young climate change activists. Many, many of them. And also, we are beginning to see that change, that energy. We want to tap into that energy, that anger, we want to tap into that knowledge and the skills that they have.

[00:41:30] You know, even one of the things that we are looking at, even the conflicts within informal settlements for many cities in Africa and especially in Nairobi, there’s always violence during this election period. And we are looking at the moment, we are looking at a country of middle majority youth who are not employed, who are learned, some of them have got the skills, some of them have gone to university, but they are doing jobs that they think they shouldn’t be doing. You have university graduates working as touts, we have college students, IT students doing menial jobs, which they think is demeaning. And for me, from where I stand, a catalyst for conflict and their anger is having well educated people doing jobs that they were not trained for. That is a timebomb, waiting to explode. So the assumption that people in informal settlements are not learned, stupid, blah blah blah. It doesn’t hold. At the moment we have very, very learned people in informal settlements. But you have people who organisations have invested in skills, but they don’t have the capital, they don’t have jobs, they don’t have. And the situation is more, it’s more risky when you have that set of educated young people in informal settlements who don’t have jobs. So for us, we are looking at this youth, we are looking at the future of SDI is going to be youth.

Smith Ouma [00:43:18] I think that’s a sound reminder that we need to and we must amplify the voices of beneficiary communities and particularly those who are most affected by the issues. If it is the youth, if it is women, then we must amplify their voices in any kind of engagement. And I think that’s a good point for us to end, and we thank you very much, Joseph, for joining us today and for sharing with us. I wish you all the best in your new role, and we look forward to hearing more on the important work that you and SDI are doing. Thank you very much, Joseph.

Joseph Muturi [00:43:51] Thank you very much, Smith. Thank you for having us. And with the new role, it’s challenging, it’s time consuming. But just on a lighter note, I usually tell the network that they chose me because if something goes wrong, they wanted somebody to blame. And so if something goes wrong, blame it on that one. But thank you very much for having me and thank you for having us. Thank you very much.

Smith Ouma [00:44:29] You’ve been listening to the African Cities podcast. Remember to subscribe for more urban development insights and interviews from the African Cities Research Consortium.


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Header photo credit: master2 / iStock. Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya.

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