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Mukuru Slum: An Informal City

by Ruth Aine - 28 February 2014

Biblio-InCi05Early last year I was honoured to be a part of a conversation which focused on resilience for equity and foresight. A group of futurists, mainly from the Global South, met to discuss what the regions were bound to look like in 30 years.

One of the interesting sessions included a presentation on what had become East Africa's informal cities/settlements: the slums, the biggest and largest of which can be found in Nairobi Kenya. The biggest is called Kibera, followed by the Mukuru Sinani slum. We also had a chance to visit them.

Before the visit Akiba Mashinani, a community-based project manager working in slums in Nairobi, shared with us some of their findings. They said that 67% of the housing in the slums off Nairobi is in 10x10’ shacks. The land in Nairobi has very high habitations (1.62%) and 57% of the structure owners are ministers, government officials and reputable companies. The latter was very shocking. There are people benefiting from these slums. How can that be humanly possible?

Days later we toured the slums. I was in the group that went to Mukuru Sinai slum. This belt of slums, collectively called Mukuru, runs along the length of Nairobi’s industrial area. Sinai is built on both sides of the petroleum pipeline and a very dangerous place to live. The state-owned corporation, Kenya Pipeline Company, which has jurisdiction over the pipeline, once issued an eviction notice to the residents. The corporation had plans to expand the line, but it did not want to resettle the slum dwellers nor compensate them. The residents, on the other hand, had no legal land title to the land, but to some that is the only home they have ever known. The residents then had to unite to come up with a relocation plan. They were guided by the Akiba Mashinani organization. Such a tale is not unique to Kenya. There are many slums all over the world that share the same tales. Informal settlements share the same woes.

One of the biggest tragedies that befell the Mukuru Siani slum was the fire tragedy. Because the slum is on both sides of a pipeline, on 12 September 2011, the oil pipeline exploded. At least 80 people were confirmed dead on the first day. Witnesses said that the explosion happened after some of the dwellers rushed to siphon off the spilling fuel from a burst pipeline, running through the area. The overcrowded shacks all went up in flames. A sad day indeed.

Everything in slums is informal. From the electricity to the shelters, nothing is ever done up to standard. What I found interesting was, that even while living in these dire conditions, there has been a desire for normalcy. This is why you can find and buy anything that you need in the Mukuru slum - from food stuff to second hand clothes and shoes to building materials. Most of the residents have micro-businesses. There are a couple of primary schools managed by the slum dwellers themselves and built with help from donors and/or friends. Other children go to schools located outside of the slums. The shelters have prices according to the space that they offer. Some are even self-contained with toilets/pit latrines and bathrooms. Others use communal toilets and bathrooms, although not always evenly distributed, given the growing population. So, some use 'flying toilets'.

Visiting the slums one gets a candid picture of what the world's informal cities are all about. And these settlements are here to stay. Unless, of course, we are determined to stop this reality in our societies. Some of these slums have been around for up to 40 years now and have really grown. This means that it will require a lot of investment in terms of time and effort and obviously funding to help them. And maybe one of the things that would speed up this process is if we actually began to see this informal sector as a people and not just a segment of society.


Ruth Aine Tindyebwa
Blogger/Online Communications

Read her personal blog; IN DEPTH which is at www.ruthaine.com

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.



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