Slum invasion: Expect more shanties in the foreseeable future

Kibera slum in Nairobi

Kibera slum in Nairobi

Not too long ago, only the moneyed lived in places like Lavington, Kileleshwa, Kilimani and Lang’ata in Nairobi.

The ambience in these estates was enviable, with lots of greenery and well-maintained roads.

Besides, most of the houses were either bungalows or maisonettes in individual compounds, so the residents enjoyed peace, privacy, and security.

However, this once serene atmosphere has been rudely interrupted, with flats springing up in some of these exclusive areas as developers seek to make maximum use of whatever land they have.

In fact, the past few years have seen places like Lavington gradually lose their poshness and slowly degenerate into crowded residential areas.

Churches and highrise buildings have been slowly coming up in these areas, to the chagrin of the residents, who are now putting up a spirited fight to stem these developments.

In Lavington, for instance, several residents’ associations have been fighting to prevent any further development, saying it would lead to noise and disturbance.

“Residents are frequently disturbed by noise in the nearby Gatina village,” they complained in a letter to the Nairobi town clerk dated 27 May, 2011.


The residents along Chalbi Drive have been up in arms against the construction of a church nearby.

They argue that a church will create a lot of human and motor traffic in the area, which is likely to lead to encroachment on neighbouring properties and road reserves.

They have also been fighting to stop the construction of flats on a seven-acre wetland in the area that was sold to a private developer.

The wetland has been a subject of controversy for a while now. In 2007, two government regulatory agencies differed over plans by Dyke Holdings Limited to construct houses on it.

For instance, on 21 May, 2007, the then permanent secretary for Water and Irrigation, Mr Mahmoud Maalim, wrote to Dyke Holdings, saying: “Your proposed housing development would be construed as an encroachment.”

And on 29 April, 2013, some Lavington residents wrote to the National Environment Management Authority, protesting at the new developments in the area and asking it to intervene to prevent further degradation of their environment:

“The area in which we live is notable for the peaceful and quiet environment and light traffic, which makes it pleasant for living,” they wrote.


This has not stopped housing complexes from continuing to spring up in the area. What is even more remarkable is that near every posh estate there is a slum.

Land expert Ibrahim Mwathane says the trend is likely to continue, given the growing need for labour. “The posh estates will always need certain services, which are readily provided by the people who live in the slums.

When such people live far from their workplaces, they end up putting structures on the nearest unused land, as is currently happening,” he says.

It is a fast-growing trend and residents of high-end estates in town now know that waking up to the sight of corrugated iron makeshift shanties next to their architectural beauties every morning is a reality.

The expansion of shanties (commonly known as vijiji) in these estates is going to be a thorn in the flesh of the affluent residents for a long time to come.

It is not just the exclusive estates that have suffered due to this negative development. The situation is even worse in what were once nice and clean areas like Buruburu and Lang’ata.

Those who have lived in Nairobi for a long time will tell you that Buruburu estate was once a favourite of the upper middle class and those living there were considered to be doing pretty well.

Indeed, many fresh university graduates got together to share houses in the estate because it was prestigious to live there.


But Buruburu is now a pale shadow of its former self, with some of the houses having undergone extensive modifications, making them barely recognisable.

Thanks to additions commonly referred to as extensions, some of the compounds are crowded and the once well-maintained public areas are now covered with piles of garbage.

The estate has been invaded by hawkers, and in some sections security is so bad that you can be robbed even during the day.

The original, neatly trimmed hedges have been replaced with perimeter walls with spikes or pieces of broken glass on top to provide security for the multi-storied extensions landlords have built next to the main houses in their quest to earn more money in rents.

The situation is even worse in Lang’ata, where a slum sits smack in the middle of the space around which Southlands, Park 1 and Park 2, and Civil Servants estates are built.

The Southlands kijiji, is giving the residents of the neighbouring estates sleepless nights. A walk along the road between the slum and the estates gives one a feel of just how bad the situation is.

Burst sewers flow by the road, which is a beehive of activity, with a host of wines and spirits shops attracting customers who become a nuisance once they have taken one bottle too many.

Benson Nyang’ori, the chairman of Park 1 Estate, says the slum has turned their lives upside down, adding that he does not understand how people can be allowed to encroach on someone else’s property.

“These people have put up shanties right next to our perimeter walls and gates. They have even tapped our electricity and we constantly suffer power surges,” he complains.


He adds that the walls now serve as urinals and dumping sites for the slum dwellers, which leaves an overwhelming stench around the area. An area resident who insisted on going by just one name, Mike, recalls the area’s pleasant past with nostalgia.

“I remember the days when we would pass through the now occupied land to go to the neighbouring estate. Try that now and see what happens to your nice shirt.”

Thanks to the slum invasion, some Lang’ata residents are moving out. The once-favoured estates are no longer the paradise they once were, not only because of the deteriorating security, but also because of environmental issues.

Burst sewers, now a common sight, take forever to repair and the once-empty spaces are now crowded with all sorts of structures.

Not surprisingly, there are frequent altercations between the slum dwellers and the residents of the neighbouring estates.

But even as the residents of these estates cry out for help from county officials, experts say that, if anything, the trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

Mwathane, the chairman of the Land Development and Governance Institute, says that as the need for labour rises, so do the informal settlements attract more people.

“These estates are like magnets in attracting labour, and the symbiotic relationship has been noticed in the human settlement,” he says.

He notes that, although evicting the slum dwellers might seem like a good solution, it would not be easy and could break the labour chain.

“Eviction might not be the best option in dealing with this prevalent problem. These slums are the equivalent of dormitories for those supplying labour to the high-end estates,” he says.


Surveyors and planners say these settlements are undermining the status of the estates. Interestingly, despite the fears expressed by residents around Southlands slum, Lang’ata police boss Elijah Maina says cases of insecurity are rare in the area.

“I would not dismiss fears that the kijiji is a potential security threat offhand, but so far things have been calm,” he said.

The slum dwellers insist that they have not encroached on anyone’s land. The chairman of their association, Abdulahi Ahmed, claims that the land rightfully belongs to them.

“We have been here for more than the 12 years, as stipulated by law before one claims ownership of a parcel of land. This land now belongs to us,” asserts Abdul, as he is popularly known.

The slum dwellers base their argument on Section Seven of the Limitations of Actions Act, which states that an action may not be brought by any person to recover land after the end of 12 years from the date on which the right of action accrued to him or, if it first accrued to some person through whom he claims, to that person.

Abdul, and the other settlers are prepared to put up a fight to resist any attempts to evict them. He denies that the slum residents are a nuisance to the residents of the neighbouring estates, instead blaming the residents for their own woes.

“Take for example their complaints about robbery. Do you expect a poor man to steal from anyone?” he asks. “When that rich child who knows only a lavish lifestyle wakes up to the harsh reality that it is no more, they will resort to stealing. But we, the poor, are blamed,” he reasons.


Mr Elijah Ayieko, who has lived in Southlands Estate for a long time, says that not all kijiji people are bad, but acknowledges that there are a few who cause insecurity.

“With the kijiji here, you cannot talk on your phone freely before somebody knocks it out of your hand,” he lamented.

He adds that there has been a sharp decline in moral behaviour, with prostitution becoming a major activity in the slum in the evening. He says it is sad to see girls as young as 12 and 13 being exposed to prostitution.

Ayieko and other estate chairmen say their pleas to county officials to have businesses that are close to the road removed have gone unheeded.

In a bid to upgrade slums, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN Habitat in 2003 to improve the livelihood of almost 1.6 million households living in the slums — it is estimated that there will be 5.3 million slum dwellers by 2020.

The Kenya Slum Upgrade Programme, initiated in 2001, is expected to cost $13 billion (Sh884 billion).

The programme entails a variety of activities, including community mobilisation, preparation of town development plans, solid waste management, and improvement of physical shelter.

In 2011, the government initiated the Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project.

According to an internet report on the programme, the government is expected to manage the project while the Ministry of Housing and the relevant local authorities implement it.




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