What Happened to the Slum Upgrading Program?
While taking an afternoon siesta yesterday, I was woken up my alarm just in time to watch the mighty Manchester United loose to Liverpool. But during the game, I kept wondering how come these days we don’t hear much about the Kibera slum upgrading project. I asked myself so many questions, questions that beg answers. Is it that the project that was started has now stalled? Or is it on its way to stalling.
The Kenya Slum Upgrading Program (KENSUP) was a result of a meeting in November 2000 between the then President of Kenya and the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT at which the Executive Director offered to spearhead a slum upgrading program for Kenya starting with Nairobi’s largest slum, Kibera. The program was jointly funded by the UN-HABITAT/World Bank Cities Alliance and the Government of Kenya. The choice of Kibera was obvious- it is the biggest slum in Kenya and success at Kibera would be a major coup for the country and such success would be replicated across other slums. Support for the program was huge, the government of Kenya, the World Bank, and donor countries.
The main objective of the program was to improve the overall livelihoods of people living and working in slums through targeted interventions to address shelter, infrastructure services, land tenure and employment issues, as well as the impact of HIV/AIDS in slum settlements. Clearly success of the program would have transformed very many lives.
The initial plan was to temporarily relocate residents of Kibera to Athi River area, build the low cost houses and the relocated residents would be welcomed back to Kibera- in the new houses. Off course the main problem would be in profiling the residents, the landlords and the land in habited by Kibera. Looking at the program documents, adopting the plan for upgrading the slum and implementing it as proposed would have worked. It must be noted that the government did quite a lot in creating the necessary support framework including committing resources in support of the program. I the then government a high five!
The minimal successes achieved have been with some key challenges. For instance the process of clearance of slums was a night mare. The process was challenged by more than 80 people, and the Kenyan High Court has stated that the government could not begin demolition works until the case was heard. But clearance was permitted for those who chose to leave voluntarily. The 80 plaintiffs were a mixture of middle-class landlords and Kibera residents who claimed that the land in Kibera was theirs and hence the government had no right to demolish the shacks. It must be remembered that many interests were at stake in this project. Verification of land ownership in Kibera was always going to be a problem because of multiple claimants over the same piece of land. But when challenged to produce original titles, I am sure many claims would disappear because many of the claims are-am sure-fraudulent.
In addition, the program was designed with community participation in mind as a key element. However, the process of community participation seems flawed in that communities that were targeted by the project do not seem have been fully engaged or willing to participate in the initiative.
This to me is the biggest threat to the elimination of the slum. When the issues of relocation to Athi River came up, politicians sprang into action. I remember hearing comments like, “moving the people to Athi River would amount to relocating Raila Odinga’s votes which would have serious consequences for Raila Odinga in the 2007 elections. I strongly feel politicians let us down on this program. I wish Raila Odinga had demonstrated more leadership by speaking out openly and loudly on why it was important to implement the program as designed. I wish he had managed his grassroots machinery to deliver 100% commitment on the project from his supporters and politicians alike.
The Way Forward:
Its not yet lost! There is need to review and consolidate the successes achieved to date. There is also need to take stock of the challenges encountered in this program and corrective measures undertaken. With the renewed energy by the government to sort out land problems in the country this might be the best opportunity to revisit the Kenya Slum Upgrading Program. It is important for the program to work because it would provide a learning curve for similar housing programs across the country and the counties.