Residents in Kibera informal settlement watch their homes destroyed in a a forced eviction
With Nairobi’s slum population growing by six per cent a year, and currently standing at 55 per cent of the city's population, the Church in Kenya is calling for a year of jubilee to break the cycles of poverty.
. Photo: © Barrack Oluoch
In 2013, Kenya marks 50 years of independence and support is gathering among Kenyan Christians to make the focus of the celebrations a biblical jubilee with positive results for the poor.
A general election is also due in March 2013, and there is much concern to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence of 2007 that left 1,300 dead.
The Kenya Jubilee movement is inspired by the biblical vision of a "year set apart as holy, a time to proclaim liberty throughout the land for all who live there" (Leviticus 25:10). CMS mission partner Colin Smith, who has worked for many years in Kibera, one of Nairobi's largest slums, has been a key facilitator of the movement.
One hundred delegates met to galvanise the movement at a seminar sponsored by CMS in May. They included professors, church leaders, lawyers and residents of informal settlements. A steadily growing team is now working hard to bring others on board, with a key focus on land rights and securing tenure on property for residents of the informal settlements.
The National Council of Churches in Kenya has now taken up the process and co-sponsored a workshop – with Colin and others – aimed at training 70 facilitators to carry the vision of this jubilee and inspire others to take action.
"One Specific, aim is to press for a bill on evictions and release of land to ensure secure safe and affordable housing for people living in slums," says Colin.
Living in houses made of mud, cardboard and iron sheets, slum dwellers are crammed into settlements, typically of more than 1,500 people per acre. They also often face the constant fear of forced eviction, where land has been appropriated by the wealthy and powerful.
"Fifty-seven per cent of all structure owners in slums were found to be either ministers, civil servants, government officials or politically connected businessmen who are the biggest beneficiaries of the continued existence of slums according to UN Habitat," said a report from the workshop.
In one Nairobi constituency alone, five mass violent evictions were carried out between September 2011 and January 2012, says the report, with the result that, "Thousands of families were displaced, innocent people killed and property worth millions destroyed during the demolitions."
Among the efforts going on is a mapping exercise to determine who owns what in the informal settlements. This is being done by Akiba Mashinani Trust who have been consistently pressing for a Jubilee celebration that addresses the needs of the urban poor. The Jubilee campaign will need to take in awareness raising, community education and high level political and legal work.
"We still have a long way to go but the church is increasingly coming on board and it would now seem that the churches’ united contribution to Kenya’s national Jubilee celebrations will include the proposals outlined by the Kenya Jubilee group," said a statement from Kenya Jubilee.
The Jubilee group is now preparing training materials "to enable churches and local communities to think through what it would mean to apply Jubilee principles to their own context."