Bottom-up or top-down? Meeting in the middle at Habitat III

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 21 January 2016

Nairobi hosts over 41 informal settlements, which are home to upward of 706,000 individuals. It is estimated there are roughly 42,000 structures that house nearly 21 percent of the cities population who occupy only one percent of the land. Thirteen settlements are currently facing forced eviction. Housing instability and lack of savings are critical challenges that heighten vulnerability among Nairobi’s urban poor.

A household’s propensity to save has long been identified by the World Bank and pro-poor development economists as a factor in getting out of poverty. In Kenya, the 1990s saw a surge in savings and cooperative credit societies (SACCOs) with both financial and non-financial goals that focused on providing individuals and communities with access to saving and credit markets, and other services. The Muugano Support Trust (MuST) began as a confederation of slum dwellers with the goal of providing savings opportunity to impoverished households. Overtime the organization has evolved into a community-led enumeration and advocacy organization that utilizes an inclusive, pro-poor planning model to address the needs of inhabitants of informal settlements.

As the Secretariat of the Kenyan Slum Dwellers Federation (also known as Muungano wa Wanavijiji), MuST has worked to meet the needs of Kenya’s urban poor through collective action and advocacy. Addressing food security and economic opportunity within informal settlements as a mechanism to increase household wealth is one of the organization’s focus projects heading into Habitat III. Recently Slum Dweller’s International restructured its operational mandate to vest greater decision-making authority with country federations as the true representatives of the urban poor in participating nations. Utilizing a bottom-up approach, MuST develops synergies with other federation organizations, such as the Akiba Mashinani Trust, which is the federation’s urban poor fund. MuST also engages in participatory mapping and slum upgrading projects with much success. Through collaboration with the Urban Poor Fund International, the federation actively works to vest direct control of capital and enable negotiation of poor communities in the decision-making process of formal bodies throughout the development process.

The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will showcase the challenges and opportunities as well as lessons learned in the push to make urban life more sustainable for residents of one of Kenya’s well-known slums on the fringe of Mombasa city. The Matwapa demonstration site targets access to clean water and sanitation, sufficient living space, housing durability and security of tenure. The approach is multi-faceted and includes an e-participation pilot project that offers an access point for a two-way discussion between residents and authorities who develop the projects. This participatory model differs from the rights-based approach advocated by MuST; however, both provide valuable insight into the needs of communities affected by slum upgrading projects across Kenya.

The PSUP methodology employed in Kenya has encouraged a focus on innovative methods of community appraisals and mapping happening in major urban centers. Sustainable urban development and a just cities initiative require inclusive processes to planning and implementation. Grassroots community organizations like MuST are critical in supporting and providing a forum to highlighting innovative approaches, which can been adapted by PSUP demonstration sites. As Kenyan heads to Ecuador in October to showcase its progress in Mtwapa, highlighting the critical work of advocate networks of slum dwellers will be equally important to understand how rights-based approaches can be incorporated in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for Nairobi’s urban poor.

Photo 1: computerwiz417

Photo 2: Meena Kadri

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