Why are so many people being evicted from the slums of Nairobi?

Daily life in the Kibera slum, Nairobi. Image: Getty.

A new road in Nairobi, Kenya, is set to displace up to 30,000 Kibera slum residents. The bulldozers moved in the early hours of the morning as authorities pressed ahead with a controversial decision to force people out. Professor Kefa Otiso explains why forced evictions are so prevalent in Nairobi, and what can be done to prevent them.

Why do forced evictions happen in Nairobi?

They happen for lots of reasons. But the mains ones are ambitious development plans, the high cost of land, an acute shortage of affordable housing, and a lack of land rights.

Evictions happen when people fail to pay loans or rent, or when they illegally occupy public or private land. They also result from land ownership disputes – though some of these are criminally engineered through irregular or corrupt land deals.

But probably the most visible cases of forced eviction happen when the government reclaims land for public uses like road construction. This problem is not unique to Nairobi; it is prevalent in many other African cities.

The exact number of evictions in Nairobi isn’t known. But they’re quite common in the city and widely reported in the press. They shouldn’t be so prevalent. The 2010 constitution protects individual rights, and should reduce incidents of forced evictions in the city. But poor citizen awareness, high legal costs, a history of unequal land access, poor planning, high levels of corruption and inefficient land markets all mean that evictions keep happening.

Are all the evictions legal?

Some are legal, others are illegal.

Legal evictions use warnings and court orders to enforce the decision, which is carried out by armed police and bulldozers. In the cases of illegal evictions, especially those involving corrupt land deals, such niceties are a luxury. Evictions have been known to happen in the middle of the night, carried out by hired thugs, often with wanton destruction of property and attacks on the occupants.

These types of forceful evictions, whether legal or illegal, are typical in the city’s slum areas. They mostly happen unannounced in morning raids, when residents are either asleep or at work and are therefore less likely to resist. The latest raid also happened in the early hours of the morning.


What impact do they have?

By forcing people out of their homes and denying them their right to due legal process, forced evictions exact a huge negative impact on people’s socioeconomic welfare. They often lose their belongings and potential livelihoods without compensation, and don’t have any other place to live.

Forced evictions also undermine local and national development by destroying accumulated social and economic networks and property. Thus, displaced people often have to start and rebuild their lives from scratch in new locations.

What is the government failing to do?

Kenya is still dealing with the lingering effects of nearly 70 years of British colonial rule which laid the foundation of many of Nairobi’s ongoing social and economic problems, including forced evictions.

The colonial government purposely under-invested in housing for indigenous Kenyans by claiming that Africans were best suited for rural life. In reality, this was a ploy to ensure adequate supply of cheap African labour to European commercial farms in Kenya’s former “White Highlands.”

Moreover, the colonial government restricted African access to Nairobi and implemented other race-based policies which prioritised European and Asian access to the city’s land and other economic resources. As a result the majority of the African population settled in unsafe areas. These became the precursor of many modern slum and squatter settlements that are vulnerable to forced evictions.

While independence legally changed many of these policies, their legacy still remains – not least because the city’s postcolonial governments have retained many of the colonial era’s urban management tools, including forced evictions.

These policies undermined African investment in their settlements because they came to see the city as a temporary place to live. Other African communities, like the Nubian population, recruited from Sudan by the British army for the Africa Rifles regiment, were purposefully settled on public land – which comprises part of modern day Kibera slum. But because neither the British nor independent Kenya gave the Nubians a title deed for the land until 2017, and even then it was only for a small portion of the original land, the Nubians continue to remain stateless and landless for much of their history in Nairobi.

Consequently, they have long been unable to develop their area or stop the growth of the slum that now surrounds them. They, and other Kibera residents, have as a result endured many forced evictions.

Today, Nairobi is in many ways still a city that has an elitist orientation that mostly benefits its relatively small middle and upper class elites. While these elites often live in gated estates, most of the city’s population is concentrated in cramped slum and squatter settlements that lack even basic services and utilities.

Are there lessons that can be learnt from other countries?

Yes, there are many.

First, Kenya needs to complete the creation of its national digital land registry. This will increase transparency and efficiency of the city’s land market, decrease corrupt land deals and reduce forced evictions by lowering the number of land disputes.

Second, more needs to be done to make the 2010 Constitution a reality. For instance, citizens need to be better informed of their rights and responsibilities.

Third, recreate Kenya’s municipal governments which, under the 2010 Constitution, were replaced by County Governments. The municipal structure was similar to the US’s system for running urban areas and is potentially more effective at managing the country’s urban areas and creating more housing.

Fourth, make more use of the urban planning and management experience of international actors – like the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, which is fortuitously headquartered in Nairobi.

The ConversationFinally, Nairobi needs to make its political economy more inclusive, implement proper land reform, domesticate its municipal planning and related by–laws, and create a proactive slum and squatter settlements policy.

Kefa M. Otiso, Professor of Geography, Bowling Green State University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Five ways in which the rest of the world can avoid the homelessness crisis plaguing the US

Housing for all. Image: Nicobobinus/Flickr/creative commons.

Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK, where the number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, yet it is dwarfed by the scale of the issue in the US. More than 500,000 homeless were found across the US during just one night, compared to the UK’s 2017 count of 4,751. Changes in the definition of homelessness and flawed methodologies suggest that the true number for the US could be anywhere from 2.5 to 10.2 times greater.

Millions more live in overcrowded or slum housing, forced to choose between the damage that poor conditions do to their physical and mental health, and the street. All of the US’s housing issues – from foreclosures to evictions to poor conditions – hit communities of colour the hardest.

This is due to a legacy of discrimination, which continues to undercut any commitment to safe and decent housing for all residents, whether in the private or public sector. In my recent book, City of Segregation, I explain how the long, violent history of creating spaces for the white and privileged classes is embedded in a number of practices, which continue in US cities to this day.

Exporting inequality

As private developers and investors seek out urban land in major cities around the world to secure their fortunes, real estate patterns and practices developed within the US are increasingly being observed elsewhere.

In cities as diverse as London, Sydney and Durban, community groups which have been working for decades to improve their neighbourhoods languish with little public or private resource. Meanwhile, developers create spaces for foreign investors and new residents, who anticipate certain protections and privileges such as greater security, high quality amenities and neighbours with similar interests and backgrounds.

This is a driving force behind rising evictions and the criminalisation of homelessness, alongside gated communities, hostile architecture, “broken windows” policing with its focus on prosecuting activities such as graffiti or jaywalking and the growing privatisation of public spaces through regeneration.

But there is still time for other countries to choose a different path. The UK, in particular, can build on the legacies of the post-war political consensus that all residents should have access to quality housing, and its acknowledgement of institutional racism and some history of government anti-racist campaigning.

Both legacies should be improved, but a renewed commitment to a programme of housing and anti-racism are central to increasing equality, prosperity and well-being for all. Based on my research, I’ve come up with five steps which the UK and countries like it can follow, to ensure that future development reduces – rather than drives – homelessness and inequality.


1. Build social housing

Unlike the US, the UK acknowledges a right to a home, and within living memory provided it for a huge swathe of British society. Social housing – whether in the form of traditional council flats, cooperatives or community land trusts – provides a variety of housing types and keeps rents from rising too far beyond wages.

When social housing is widely available, it makes a huge difference to people who – for one reason or another, and often through no fault of their own – become homeless. With social housing to fall back on, homelessness is a temporary condition which can be safely resolved. Without it, homelessness can become a life-destroying downwards spiral.

2. Preserve and expand community assets

Severe segregation in the US stripped entire communities of access to quality food, jobs, education, green spaces, services, banks and loans. Poverty is endemic, and can easily tip into homelessness. While far from perfect, the UK’s post-war commitment to universal provision of services, such as education and health care, and building social housing across all neighbourhoods underpinned a surge in upward mobility.

This achievement should be salvaged from the damage done by Right To Buy – a policy which sold off social housing without replacing it – and austerity, which has prompted a sell-off of public assets and land, as well as the closure of childrens’ services, libraries and community centres.

3. Decommodify housing

A market geared towards building apartment blocks for the portfolios of investors who will never live in them cannot produce the kind of housing and neighbourhoods which residents need, much less at a price they can afford.

While London has been badly affected for some time, this trend is now spreading to other areas of the UK and Europe. Local and national governments must act to prevent global demand for housing as investments from driving prices beyond the reach of those who need real homes.

4. Build communities, not walls

Gates, bars, armed security and homeowner restrictions are all ugly traits of private housing developed within the US context of desperate inequality and racism. The UK has a long and vibrant tradition of community development, creating a supportive built environment and social infrastructure of schools, libraries and other municipal services for residents.

Community assets. Image: Helen K/Flickr/creative commons.

This kind of development, and the social mobility and growing equality it fosters, safeguards public health and safety – not big walls, barbed wire and security guards. The private rented sector in the UK should be regulated to bring it more in line with Europe, where tenants prosper with security of tenure and strong regulation of rents and rent increases.

5. Raise your voice

Those who are bearing the brunt of our current housing crisis must be at the centre of efforts to change it. From tenants’ associations and renters’ unions, to campaign groups such as Justice for Grenfell, it’s vital to support those voices advocating fairer housing rights.

This also means rejecting austerity’s constant cuts to public services, funding social support for physical and mental health and ensuring that homes are safe, decent and secure, to create a safety net for those who are working to improve their communities.

The Conversation

Andrea Gibbons, Researcher in Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.