NEGLECTED NO MORE

Slum upgrading becomes a reality with Mukuru in for drastic change

The pioneer project aims to fix water, sanitation, road problems then provide affordable housing

In Summary

• Sick and tired of slum life, residents have agitated for better living conditions for years

• NMS has started upgrading it in a plan that will extend to Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho

Mukuru slum in Nairobi.
Mukuru slum in Nairobi.
Image: FILE

It is a Saturday morning in Mukuru, one of the sprawling slums in Nairobi City.

Nearly half a million people are squeezed into 100,000 households made of rusted corrugated iron. 

They live a life with limited access to water, schools, roads and even toilets.

Redevelopment plans had been gathering dust until the Nairobi Metropolitan Services took charge. And its director general Mohammed Badi is promising progress within a year. 

"By March 2022, no slum will be without roads, sewer lines and water," he said.

Badi spoke during a virtual discussion on the implementation of the Mukuru redevelopment earlier this month.

Mukuru is set to be a pioneer in plans by the government to upgrade slums, plans which will be extended to Kibera, Mathare and Korogocho.

The slum contains three settlements spread over 700 acres: Mukuru Viwandani, Mukuru kwa Njenga and Mukuru kwa Reuben.

On the day the Star visited, children were frolicking around in the slum, unperturbed by the smell from a nearby open sewer.

Amid the shanties hang uninsulated electricity cables. The danger the wires pose is immense. Electric mishaps often result in fires, which have killed multitudes over the years.

All the power lines are informal, connected by informal service providers. Residents pay 128 per cent more for the electricity.

Canada, through the International Development Research Centre, has supported two rounds of research in Mukuru since 2012.

The research sought to identify solutions to problems around informal land tenure, governance and access to basic services.

The study found that landlords and cartels thrive by controlling the provision of essential services, often through violence and extortion.

Settlers are also at the mercy of cartels, who decide when to kick them out.

Jane Weru, executive director of Akiba Mashinani Trust, says landlords were given special conditions.

"Among these were that the landlords were supposed to develop the plots, a condition they did not meet," she said.

Every time there are evictions in the slum, women bear the brunt. In 2011, they were being evicted from their one-room shacks in great numbers.

By March 2022, no slum will be without roads, sewer line and water
Mohammed Badi

NO WATER, SCHOOLS

In Mukuru, residents also lack clean drinking water. This problem is synonymous with slums, with Mathare, Kibera and Korogocho among the others affected in Nairobi.

Water in Mukuru slum is supplied by informal service providers, who in most cases use flimsy spaghetti pipes prone to leakage and spreading disease, and charge 172 per cent more than formal connections.

Every year, residents of Mukuru lose more than Sh7 billion to cartels — a quarter of the Nairobi City County government’s total budget.

Cholera outbreaks are also common. Sanitation within the slum is also in a sorry state.

Mukuru has only 3,800 toilets for more than 400,000 people. Most are pit latrines that are exhausted manually into open drains and the river. Flying toilets are also common.

The Mukuru slum is also doing badly in education. The slum has about 95,000 school-age children, with only six government primary schools with 8,800 pupils. It also has only one government secondary school.

Some 34,000 children in the sprawling slum attend the 182 informal schools within the slum, while 52,000 are unaccounted for.

The slum is also reeling from poor drainage of surface runoff, as solid waste is dumped along the roads. Stepping stones are being used as coping mechanisms.

Mukuru is also characterised by the poor condition of the road.

A section of Kibera slums from the air.
A section of Kibera slums from the air.
Image: FILE

CHANGING THE NARRATIVE

Sick and tired, the Mukuru residents, with the help of NGOs, held more than 100 direct community consultation meetings and more than 250 barazas and community preparatory meetings to seek solutions.

The meetings were also informed by a number of studies that had been done by research institutions with the financial help of the International Development Research Centre.

The rounds of research resulted in the development of an integrated plan to redevelop Mukuru.

In August 2017, the Nairobi City County officially declared Mukuru a Special Planning Area, putting a stop to any further development in the area for a two-year period, until a Mukuru Integrated Development Plan is produced.

The integrated development plan is now informing the government’s ongoing largest urban upgrading effort.

The Mukuru Social Housing Project will be undertaken jointly by the government and private investors.

The upgrade will cost Sh15 billion and will build some 13,000 new housing units. 

Residents want the state to improve their living conditions. They want legal water, sewer, and electric connections. They need formal, direct connections and affordable rates.

They also proposed that additional sewer lines be constructed and efforts made to ensure every plot has a toilet that is connected to the sewer.

The residents urged the authorities to sink 12 boreholes to supplement the utility capacity.

They said all the illegal informal water connections be removed to dismantle cartels.

The community proposed that all schools that do more harm than good be assessed and shut.

They said all the good informal schools should be registered and supported.

The community said 13 public schools, one per sector (8,000 households), needs to be constructed.

Nairobi Metropolitan Service Director General Mohammed Badi in a meeting on May 21, 2020 at KICC. Image: COURTESY
Nairobi Metropolitan Service Director General Mohammed Badi in a meeting on May 21, 2020 at KICC. Image: COURTESY

TAKING ACTION

Badi promised to address the problems raised by residents. The NMS inherited the sorry state of the slum when former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko handed over some functions to the national government in February last year.

Sonko handed over health services, transport services, public works, utilities and ancillary services, and planning and development.

Badi said the slum is set to get a new face, citing access roads, water, and health facilities.

"Water pipes and sanitation lines in Mukuru Kwa Reuben will be complete by the end of the month," Badi said.

The project had been gazetted but time had elapsed, he said.

"We have renewed it for two years so we can develop without hindrance. Kibera, Mathare and Korogocho will also be gazetted as special planning areas later this year," Badi said.

The NMS boss said 440km of roads will be constructed in the remaining three settlements. Water and sewerage will also be addressed. "This will start by March," he said.

Badi said roads in Kwa Reuben are almost complete, having done 21km. 

The NMS encountered a few challenges after some of the people with structures in the settlements moved to court.

"But since we have gazetted, they have no choice but to comply. We are, however, waiting for court battles," Badi said.

The director general said the owners claim they have stayed in the land for more than 20 years, hence should be given title deeds.

"The land will be repossessed by the government. It is not so easy as they are powerful. However, we have occupied and we do not intend to leave," he said.

Badi said youths from the informal settlements have been involved in garbage collection.

The development is the result of years of waiting for several residents who call Mukuru home.

Badi said the NMS has a dedicated budget to ensure all roads within the settlements are tarmacked.

He said the estimated budget for almost 45km of road in Mukuru, water pipes, sewer pipes and electricity is Sh4 billion.

Badi said a Level 3 hospital will be constructed and equipped to complement a Catholic-run health facility in the area.

"The contractor is already on site. In the next two months, the hospital will be completed, equipped and manned by health personnel," he said.

Badi said illegal water connection has become a thing of the past after water pipes, as well as boreholes, were laid.

This was done with help from the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company.

"We have also dug boreholes in all of Mukuru to provide free and safe water," he said, adding that streetlights are on course.

Badi said once they are done with water, sanitation and roads, affordable housing project will begin.

He said guinea pig projects, where residents will stay as the project starts, have been built.

Edited by T Jalio