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.

 
 
 
 

In New Zealand, climate change is driving an eco-nationalist revival

The green and pleasant land of the South Island. Image: Getty.

“Ten years ago I would have called them settler f*****g land squatters,” Mike Smith, Maori-dom’s most tenacious activist, said last November as he reflected on the agriculture industry’s central role in driving climate change. “Now I have to try and get these people on board.”

Smith is infamous for taking a chainsaw to Auckland’s most prominent tree on a damp October night in 1994 in protest of the “Pākehā” – or white European –dominated government’s fiscal envelope restraining treaty settlements. Now he’s turned his hand to another cause close-to-home for the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population: the environment.

“We’re super vulnerable, like we are to anything,” Smith says. “When it comes to climate change it’s like the poorest people in the world are going to be hit the hardest first, and that’s a lot of us.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears, at least rhetorically, the most sympathetic leader to his cause in a decade. In her campaign launch speech late last year, she made the future government’s position clear: “Climate change is my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

This message should resonate with followers of her Labour party: the NZ left has long nurtured an environment-orientated “culture-of-protest”. So Ardern’s call to arms was bound to gain her loyal support among children of the 1960s and ‘70s, who led the march against nuclear ship visits, spurring on the government of the time to wriggle out from the US nuclear umbrella, and place a ban on foreign nuclear ship visits.

Now, it is to the tycoons of deep sea oil exploration they aim to close NZ’s ports.

In this, Smith is not short of support locally, with marches run by grassroots organisations and international animal welfare funds beginning to gain traction with every day New Zealanders. In this, Ardern’s prediction is correct: the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), is reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an earlier cluster of left-wing pacifists and nature lovers who drove the creation of the nuclear free zone.  

In December, 15,000 passionate protesters marched through the capital. And with the government’s recent ban of offshore oil exploration projects, Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green party co-leader and the head of CANA, is optimistic about similar change to the energy and farming sectors.

The Labour-NZ First-Green party coalition seems focused on setting a new global precedent, weaning NZ away from a United States which has jettisoned the Paris Agreement. The move replicates another 20 years ago, when New Zealand’s anti-nuclear movement was central to an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism. Now, the same sense of going it alone on foreign policy is apparent both locally and in Parliament.

Dr. Gradon Diprose, a senior lecturer at Massey University, argues that this echoes an older expression of colonial nationalism, that saw “New Zealand as a land of natural abundance”. This: “eco-nationalism” is centered on “protecting certain visions of picturesque landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty”. The slogan “Clean, green New Zealand” is prevalent in popular culture and tourism marketing. The public seems to have latched onto it too, and ranked keeping NZ’s waterways “clean and green” top of a recent survey of of kiwis’ top concerns.

Three decades ago, it was the 10 July 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior that thrust local activists’ fears into the public eye, resulting in an almost nation-wide expression of climate-protectionism.


The bombing, a French intelligence operation sparked by Greenpeace’s calls for an end to foreign nuclear testing in the Pacific, galvanised a great deal of change to New Zealand’s overseas defence policies. A lack of censure from New Zealand’s Western allies drove Wellington to distance itself from the United States, while the shock of seeing a friendly nation violate NZ’s sovereignty left many at home seething.

Thirty years on, the foreign policy split throughout the Anglosphere, regarding Russian-Western relations, globalism, and the old international rules-based order, is becoming wider. Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most Kiwis you talk to will shake their heads in disapproval at US president Donald Trump’s scandalous outing last year in Helsinki. But US defiance of internationally brokered climate resolutions is something they can see clearly reflected in rural communities across the country.

The country saw records broken at both ends of the extreme weather spectrum last year. As 2018 kicked off, Kiwis sweltered through the hottest summer on record, while in Golden Bay, a small inlet near the northern tip of the South Island, residents endured the largest flood in 150 years. So, when President Trump tweets “So much for Global Warming”, the majority of New Zealanders look back fondly on NZ’s 1985 decision to boycott the “ANZUS” treaty, putting New Zealand at odds with its war-time ally America on defence legislation.

Public calls to take the same track on environmental regulation have become louder in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, received a frosty “unwelcome” while on a flyby to the capital in 2017, with the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Gardiner Harris remarking: “I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today”. Protests against President Trump’s stance on climate change are beginning to gain greater traction further still, with the hundred-strong “march for science” setting the tone for the new government later that year.

New Zealand certainly isn’t afraid of radicalism, and its activists are persistent. It’s already banned single use plastics in supermarkets. Plenty more is to come, Smith says.

And yes, reform is going to inhibit sometimes vital industries: “It doesn’t matter which way you spin the dice on this, whatever’s being done is going to hurt. People who are looking for a painless way of mitigating climate change, [but] I don’t think there is one.”

But among Smith’s troupe of climate agitators, the feeling is that, without drastic change, “the land”, the heart of the Maori ethos, is going to be hurt far more.

Back in Auckland, NZ’s financial hub, an electric scooter craze is gripping the city. This, too, has gained the support of local environmentalists. In New Zealand, a national sense of pride is always coupled with a certain eccentricity. In a country this size, change always starts small.