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.

 
 
 
 

What does the fate of Detroit tell us about the future of Silicon Valley?

Detroit, 2008. Image: Getty.

There was a time when California’s Santa Clara Valley, bucolic home to orchards and vineyards, was known as “the valley of heart’s delight”. The same area was later dubbed “Silicon Valley,” shorthand for the high-tech combination of creativity, capital and California cool. However, a backlash is now well underway – even from the loyal gadget-reviewing press. Silicon Valley increasingly conjures something very different: exploitation, excess, and elitist detachment.

Today there are 23 active Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in Santa Clara County, California. Its culture is equally unhealthy: Think of the Gamergate misogynist harassment campaigns, the entitled “tech bros” and rampant sexism and racism in Silicon Valley firms. These same companies demean the online public with privacy breaches and unauthorised sharing of users’ data. Thanks to the companies’ influences, it’s extremely expensive to live in the area. And transportation is so clogged that there are special buses bringing tech-sector workers to and from their jobs. Some critics even perceive threats to democracy itself.

In a word, Silicon Valley has become toxic.

Silicon Valley’s rise is well documented, but the backlash against its distinctive culture and unscrupulous corporations hints at an imminent twist in its fate. As historians of technology and industry, we find it helpful to step back from the breathless champions and critics of Silicon Valley and think about the long term. The rise and fall of another American economic powerhouse – Detroit – can help explain how regional reputations change over time.

The rise and fall of Detroit

The city of Detroit became a famous node of industrial capitalism thanks to the pioneers of the automotive age. Men such as Henry Ford, Horace and John Dodge, and William Durant cultivated Detroit’s image as a centre of technical novelty in the early 20th century.

The very name “Detroit” soon became a metonym for the industrial might of the American automotive industry and the source of American military power. General Motors president Charles E. Wilson’s remark that, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa,” was an arrogant but accurate account of Detroit’s place at the heart of American prosperity and global leadership.

The public’s view changed after the 1950s. The auto industry’s leading firms slid into bloated bureaucratic rigidity and lost ground to foreign competitors. By the 1980s, Detroit was the image of blown-out, depopulated post-industrialism.

In retrospect – and perhaps as a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley – the moral decline of Detroit’s elite was evident long before its economic decline. Henry Ford became famous in the pre-war era for the cars and trucks that carried his name, but he was also an anti-Semite, proto-fascist and notorious enemy of organised labor. Detroit also was the source of defective and deadly products that Ralph Nader criticized in 1965 as “unsafe at any speed”. Residents of the region now bear the costs of its amoral industrial past, beset with high unemployment and poisonous drinking water.


A new chapter for Silicon Valley

If the story of Detroit can be simplified as industrial prowess and national prestige, followed by moral and economic decay, what does that say about Silicon Valley? The term “Silicon Valley” first appeared in print in the early 1970s and gained widespread use throughout the decade. It combined both place and activity. The Santa Clara Valley, a relatively small area south of the San Francisco Bay, home to San Jose and a few other small cities, was the base for a computing revolution based on silicon chips. Companies and workers flocked to the Bay Area, seeking a pleasant climate, beautiful surroundings and affordable land.

By the 1980s, venture capitalists and companies in the Valley had mastered the silicon arts and were getting filthy, stinking rich. This was when “Silicon Valley” became shorthand for an industrial cluster where universities, entrepreneurs and capital markets fuelled technology-based economic development. Journalists fawned over successful companies like Intel, Cisco and Google, and analysts filled shelves with books and reports about how other regions could become the “next Silicon Valley”.

Many concluded that its culture set it apart. Boosters and publications like Wired magazine celebrated the combination of the Bay Area hippie legacy with the libertarian individualism embodied by the late Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. The libertarian myth masked some crucial elements of Silicon Valley’s success – especially public funds dispersed through the U.S. Defense Department and Stanford University.

The ConversationIn retrospect, perhaps that ever-expanding gap between Californian dreams and American realities led to the undoing of Silicon Valley. Its detachment from the lives and concerns of ordinary Americans can be seen today in the unhinged Twitter rants of automaker Elon Musk, the extreme politics of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and the fatuous dreams of immortality of Google’s vitamin-popping director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. Silicon Valley’s moral decline has never been clearer, and it now struggles to survive the toxic mess it has created.

Andrew L. Russell, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of History, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Lee Vinsel, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Virginia Tech.

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