Kenya: slum dwellers issue appeal to politicians ahead of elections

 The Kutoka network, a group of Catholic parishes in the slums of Nairobi has issued a memorandum to politicians, asking them to make commitments in this election year to improve life in the informal settlements. The full text follows: We, slum dwellers of Nairobi, are aware of the many injustices we are facing in our day to day lives. Inspired by the Bishops, Pastoral Letter on 2007 Elections 'Love God and Love your Neighbour;' "Kenyans need elected leaders who will handle the perennial problem of land affecting the nation. Some individual people own massive lands and others are born and live in the gutters of our cities and in the mountains. Many others are perpetual squatters and thus are reduced to sub-human living." We feel obliged to share with you our concerns in the hope that they will enlighten, inform and enhance your party manifestos to help you make a better Kenya for all. The Situation Currently, the major towns of Kenya are facing a housing crisis that has widespread economic, political and social implications for the whole country. The majority of people living in urban areas are slum dwellers. Many of these slums, or informal settlements, are located near dangerous and polluted areas including rubbish dumps, streams, mosquito-infected swamps and windy dust bowls. In the City of Nairobi, over 200 slum communities are home to 2.5 out of 4 million people. The residents of Nairobi informal settlements constitute 60 percent of the City,s total population and yet they are crowded onto only 5 percent of the total land area in the City, paying rents to the structure owners. Despite Kenya ratifying the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, the state provides no housing for the poor, who are thus being forced to live in deplorable conditions. The main problem is the lack of land tenure. The constant threat of eviction traps the dwellers into slum condition and a cycle of poverty. Without security of tenure, a slum dweller has no initiative to improve or invest in permanent housing. Vast number of residents in the informal settlements lives in very high levels of dehumanizing poverty, giving rise to challenges such as brewing of illicit brews, prostitution, hunger, drug abuse and trafficking, theft, domestic violence and insecurity. Urban infrastructural services are virtually non-existent in the informal sector. No access to electricity and potable water must be purchased from vendors at prices up to 10 times higher than the rate charged by the local authorities! Over 95 percent of residents do not have access to proper sanitation. Collection of garbage is no longer done by the Local Authorities and thus garbage lies permanently in unsanitary heaps often blocking drainage channels, leading to environmental degradation and higher incidences of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. Corruption is rampant in the informal sector and hence a contributing factor to the cycle of poverty. The Solution The situation is not without hope: comprehensive legislative and constitutional reforms in the area of land rights must be put in place to solve the problem. The government should create the conditions that would allow the achievement of housing rights. The case of the Draft National Land Policy is a good step in the right direction if at all it can get legal (constitutional) cover. We ask to whoever will be elected to enforce immediately a proper legislation to ensure the land tenure of the residents of the slums. This is a policy which will create a chain of positive investments which will improve the Kenyan economy and the life of the slum residents, with no economic costs, only benefits for the government and the whole country. To accomplish this, the Government must: -Halt all processes that violate international and other legal obligations regarding human rights to adequate housing. Zero evictions!! -Immediately cease all allocations of public land until a proper policy and legal framework can be put into place. -Recognize the official existence and tenure rights of those residents currently living in the informal settlements. -Provide security of tenure so that the residents themselves will create new avenues for investments and improvement of housing by converting these areas into community land trusts. -Work to create and implement policies and new plans to help slum dwellers work their way out of poverty. -Hasten the slum upgrading project and free it from the politics of expediency. -Pass the National Land Policy into law. -Draw up a proper Urban Development Plan together with all the major stakeholders. The affected communities must: -Work together with the local government and city planners in order to identify, study, map and develop a new vision of these areas giving availability of services, affordability, habitability and other convenient facilities for the full benefit of that community. -We are therefore happy that the General Elections are coming. This is a great opportunity to evaluate and renew or terminate employment contracts of our MPs, Counsellors and the President. We invite you to take seriously the issue of land tenure as the key to the slum problem. The problems affecting slum dwellers in Kenya are political People will only be able to uplift their lives and eradicate poverty through responsible leaders who will work towards community land trusts in the slums. Source: CISA

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