Answering the crowds: James Orengo, Kenya's minister of lands receives the petition of slum dwellers
A movement is gathering ground in Kenya to mark the country's 50 years of independence next year in a different way. It is calling for a year of jubilee for the poor and marginalised. CMS mission partner Colin Smith is part of it, and he was there at a recent significant step forward.
. Photo: Colin Smith/CMS
Today is the first anniversary of the fire in Sinai village
in Mukuru slum which killed over a 100 people and displaced hundreds more.
It was a single tragic event in the life of a community which over the past year has experienced violent forced evictions as spiralling land prices have meant that the poor are being driven off the land in the name of development.
Today is also the day when a few hundred members of slum communities around the city marched to the law courts and on to the lands office with petitions to prevent evictions and in a bid to expose the illegal acquisition of public land and the demand that it be returned to the government.
Under a previous administration, the petition alleges, land was given to well-connected individuals on the condition they would develop it to provide light industry and jobs. No light industry appeared, the poor occupied the land and the title holders use the land as collateral for massive bank loans.
Now as the land has grown in value title holders plan to sell, literally under the feet of slum dwellers, who live 318 families to each acre.
Given that individual title holders own as much as 100 acres, the scale of the problem is vast.
Today was the first step in a legal and PR battle by an embattled but increasingly determined community who will not be driven off the land.
The fight forms part of the Kenya Jubilee Campaign but with much of the work being orchestrated through the excellent work of the Kenya Federation of slum dwellers Muungano wa Wanavijiji. Below is a brief report on the day.
On the march
We began with a march from Uhuru Park to the Milimani law courts. I guess there may have been about 150 of us initially but more turned up later on. It was a noisy but good humoured procession which briefly brought the transport to a halt on Valley Rd. Not quite 2 Chronicles 20:21 but clergy of various denominations led the way accompanied by less than tuneful vuvuzelas! It was a good mix of old and young, male and female.
At the court we heard from the advocate Paul Muite and his associate, who presented the petition, and from religious and community leaders. There was vehement passion in the words of community leaders, sensing a rapidly approaching crisis and demanding that their human rights be recognised.
I spoke with a group of women from a smaller slum on the edge of Nairobi. They had lived there since 1989 but now feared their homes were under threat. They were there in solidarity.
Banners at the gate
Once the lawyers entered the court the “party” moved on to Ardhi house (the Government lands office) for, what I of little faith considered, the impossible task of getting the Minister of Lands out of his office and out to meet the crowd.
He was to receive a petition requesting that, in the interests of transparency, enshrined in the new constitution, the owners of lands in Mukuru should be made public along with the status of the land as to whether titles remain (or ever were) legal.
There were banners at the gate, a sit in across the guarded entrance, a mock invasion (ok – had us worried for a moment!) a bit of good humoured and gloriously irreverent chanting and, miracle of miracles, after about 45 minutes the gates opened and everyone followed through to hear the minister address the crowd and publically receive the petition. He was accompanied by the Permanent Private Secretary and the Lands Commissioner (just in case a government minister was not enough).
There followed a powerful and impassioned speech by a community leader, well measured words by the Minister and the promise of a briefing tomorrow with Jane Weru, director of Akiba Mashinani Trust, to be followed by a visit to Mukuru to see the situation on the ground. Finally a Pentecostal bishop closed this extraordinary meeting with prayer.
From here it was a jubilant journey back to the court to hear how the petition had progressed. I had to go at this point but I gather the result is that there is a complete ban on any transactions on Mukuru land and no evictions until a court hearing on the 20th.
It is an amazing result and a case study in advocacy – brilliant and thorough research, community mobilisation, very good PR, then press the issue until either the truth of the argument or Luke 18:4 prevails.
Clearly it is nowhere remotely close to over, but it has begun, and if it is the urban poor vs the 'Tycoons' then today Mukuru opened up the score!