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Out With a Bang, In With a New Website

Christy Gillmore | Posted August 19th, 2010 | Africa

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Louis and I took a weekend trip to Nanyuki, 3 hours north of Nairobi, to see Mt. Kenya, the largest mountain in Kenya and 2nd only to Kiliminjaro in Africa. We left last Friday afternoon after work and got into a matatu (vans used for public transportation), headed up the road listening to books on tape and pondered what our final trip in Kenya would be like.

About a kilometer before getting to Nanyuki, our matatu suddenly slammed on its brakes and we smashed into a car in front of us. Dazed but conscious, I looked over at Louis on my right and another friend of ours on my left to find them bleeding from their noses. We slowly gathered our things and moved out of the vehicle, where I swiftly fainted (most likely from hitting my head on the broken television that was in front of where I was sitting).

I don’t remember much directly after the accident, but somehow we were moved into another matatu and taken to the nearest hospital, which luckily was right around the corner. At the hospital I recovered, and the other two received stitches. After all the confusion, it became clear how we got there- through the help of kind Kenyans. One in particular, Albert Muchemi, a local mountain climbing guide, stayed with us the entire time until we reached the nearest hotel to settle in for the night.

I’m not going to lie. When I realized Albert was staying with us in the hospital, my first thought was “he’s going to want money for helping us.” I felt ashamed when, after we received the hefty hospital bill that took virtually all of the money we had on us, he stayed with us and called a cab to take us to the hotel. He offered to pay for the cab. The next day, he came to check on us, drove us into town, and told us where to eat and look for hiking (when we felt up for it).


Me, Louis, and the Hakijamii staff at the official launch of the new website.
Me, Louis, and the Hakijamii staff at the official launch of the new website.

As a Westerner in a developing country, it is inevitable that you will be viewed as wealthy. It quickly becomes draining to be incessantly asked for money; you feel that everyone is taking advantage of you. You start to avoid anyone who tries to talk to you unless you know them. You start to doubt why you came in the first place and how much longer you can stand to stay.

The crash put things back in perspective for me. An event that threatens life brings out the humanity in everyone. For that moment everyone forgets about other worries and focuses on survival. After Albert showed us such kindness, I remembered why I came to Kenya, why I got involved in this line of work: people are good. We are all human. We all have the same basic needs. We all want to have food, shelter, stability, and safety. We want to feel dignity, to have a say in what happens to us and our loved ones.


Chillin' out with Marcy Kadenyeka's youngest daughter, Christine
Chillin' out with Marcy Kadenyeka's youngest daughter, Christine

We are leaving in a couple days to go back to Massachusetts. I will become wrapped up in my studies and will no longer have children begging, “just 10 bob, please (11 cents).” The members of Hakijamii not only live within a society that faces enormous poverty and inequality but they dedicate countless hours trying to overcome those difficulties. The community-based advocacy that I have witnessed here is beyond anything I could have imagined. Never have I encountered marginalized groups that are more aware of their situation, more eager to learn their rights, and more dedicated to improving their own lives.

Click here to enter Hakijamii's new blogging site
Click here to enter Hakijamii's new blogging site

Louis and I have worked on creating an interactive website that Hakijamii staff can update themselves through blog entries; the site highlights the work of its community partners. The website has a long way to go, but we trust that the dedicated staff will take over where we left off. Our time here is up, but if you want to continue to follow Hakijamii’s incredible work, you can do so through this site.

5 Responses to “Out With a Bang, In With a New Website”

  1. Emily Switzer says:

    I am so glad you guys are alright!! That definitely would put things into perspective. I know that it will be hard to leave. I am sure that ya’ll have made a huge impact for the better.

  2. Maria says:

    Christy!! I am so glad your ok too!! As I have told you before, you are one of my real life heroes!!

  3. Rebecca Weber says:

    Wow, I’m glad no one was seriously injured! Sounds like Albert was wonderful! I really like the message too in this entry. I’m impressed by all your blog entries (and look forward to seeing you!!).

  4. Dina Buck says:

    Whoa. Christy, I am so glad you and Louis weren’t seriously injured. Have a safe and smooth journey back to the U.S. It looks like you both have had an amazing experience that ended with quite a bang, literally and figuratively! Warmest wishes!

  5. Mary Virginia says:

    Very touching reflection at the end of your time in Keneya. Can’t wait to see you and Louie (or Louie’s nose) on this side of the pond.

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Double Exploitation

Christy Gillmore | Posted August 12th, 2010 | Africa

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The village of Owinohuru, located in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya faces so many challenges that their community organization, the Owinohuru Self-Help Group, is struggling to fight all its battles.

Haki Yetu- “our rights”- is Hakijamii’s main partner organization in Mombasa. Haki Yetu works with community groups in and around the city. John Paul Obonyo is the organization’s Program Officer, and he took us to Owinohuru and provided some history of the village’s issues.

John Paul Obonyo, Program Officer for Haki Yetu, Hakijamii's main partner in Mombasa.
John Paul Obonyo, Program Officer for Haki Yetu, Hakijamii's main partner in Mombasa.

First is the all too common threat of eviction. I have touched on the problem of forced evictions in Kenya (see The Ladder That Runs Down, Eviction Task Force) due to poor land and housing policies. In the 1950s, an Indian family owned the land in Owinohuru. People gradually moved in and set up houses, businesses, churches, and schools. The landowner left, leaving a houseboy to take care of the property. The people of Owinohuru lived there peacefully for 40 or more years. Just recently the landowner (or a relative of, this was unclear when we asked) has spontaneously demanded the land back- likely in order to develop the area- which would force the entire community to leave their homes and livelihoods.

The land case has recently gone to court, and was postponed until September of this year. Though the landowner has papers claiming to have paid KSH 58 million (725,000 USD) for the land, he has not yet produced a title for it. The community hopes that the newly passed constitution, which involves barring non-citizens from absolute ownership of land and power to reclaim grabbed public land, will work in its favor come the next court date. This threat of eviction has consumed the community’s efforts and resources for the time being.

The battery factory, owned by EPZ Metal Refinery Ltd, lies at the entrance of Owinohuru and operates at night so as not to draw attention.
The battery factory, owned by EPZ Metal Refinery Ltd, lies at the entrance of Owinohuru and operates at night so as not to draw attention.

An even more disturbing concern threatens the community’s health: in 2007, a battery recycling factory was installed in the village, producing toxic smoke so thick that community members could hardly breathe when it was operating. Shortly thereafter, people began getting sick, complaining of incessant coughing, difficulty breathing, high fevers, etc. Children were hit the worst and began having trouble learning in school. It was found that several of the children had high levels of lead in their blood.

After outcry from the community, the factory was shut down for a short time, but has since re-opened- operating, shadily, at night. The factory owners refuse to have even a discussion with the community members, doing everything they can to keep it operating.

Because this issue is so heartrending, I have made a video that explains the story through interviews with community members much better than I could ever put in words. Please watch it, and show it to as many people as you can. It seems that the only way for Owinohuru to remove the factory is to bring enough negative attention to the factory that it is forced to shut down completely.

6 Responses to “Double Exploitation”

  1. [...] own the land. They want to sell the land to private developers.  (See Advocacy Project Fellow Christy Gillmore’s Blog to learn [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hakijamii Trust, Christy Gillmore. Christy Gillmore said: Blog about community in #Mombasa #Kenya facing both forced eviction and health hazard from toxic factory http://bit.ly/bHkmrA #apfellows [...]

  3. [...] own the land. They want to sell the land to private developers.  (See Advocacy Project Fellow Christy Gillmore’s Blog to learn [...]

  4. Nicole says:

    Thanks for the good post, Christy. That’s a really terrible situation. A lot of the cognitive and nervous system affects of lead poisoning are irreversible in children even when the source of lead has been removed. Hopefully, there are avenues that can be followed to prevent generations of people living in this town to be plagued by the many negative health effects of lead poisoning (which include not just cognitive decline, but damage to the kidneys, heart, and reproductive system, among others).

    Is there anyway that you could release the name of the company that owns the factory so people could write letters of protest or boycott their products? Also, maybe it would be possible to contact Doctors without Borders in Kenya. I’m not sure if this is feasible, but perhaps they would be willing to send a doctor to Owinohuru and pay to test children (and adults) in the town for lead poisoning?

    Just a few thoughts. Thanks again for the post.

  5. Christy Gillmore says:

    Thank you for the great comments, Dr. Nicole! yes indeed, the name of the company is EPZ Metal Refinery- it’s on one of the picture captions and in the video as well. I’d have to look further into what else the company does to see if people can boycott their products or write letters to them. I hadn’t thought about Doctors Without Borders; I’ll try to look into that. Thanks for the great ideas!

  6. Clare says:

    It’s frustrating that such an obvious disregard for human health is allowed to continue, even at night. Have there been direct confrontations between the villagers and the plant operators? Is there any (non-violent) vigilant action they can take while they await outside help?

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Don’t Lose Sight

Christy Gillmore | Posted August 2nd, 2010 | Africa

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I have been following many of Nairobi People’s Settlement Network’s (NPSN) activities and sharing as much as I could about this incredible group (see blog entries A Living Saint, Eviction Task Force, and People’s Settlements, Not Slums). Now I’d like to highlight its current chairman, Humphrey Otieno Oduor, a man with an incredible story. Few people are able to go through what Humphrey has faced in his life and still manage to successfully dedicate their lives to social justice and equality.

Humphrey during individual interview at his office in the City Hall Annex, Nairobi, Kenya
Humphrey during individual interview at his office in the City Hall Annex, Nairobi, Kenya

Raised in Makongeni Estate in Nairobi, Humphrey moved to the people’s settlement (slum) of Kiambiu in 1996. After the passing of his father, his family was forced to vacate their home, as was the policy for the railway parastatal premise where his father’s job allowed them to live. Humphrey was forced to drop out of school and get a job. Like so many others had discovered, work was nearly impossible to find. Most people in the settlements make a living any way they can, selling secondhand items or food for pennies. Humphrey was desperate to provide for his family (6 of them after his father’s death), so he turned to the only possibility he saw: crime.

For years, Humphrey led a life of drug peddling, robberies, and carjacking. After losing more than 70 friends during that time, he could not bear to be involved in that life any longer. He finished high school and worked as a van conductor. The conditions in the settlements that had caused him to get involved in crime motivated him to advocate for change. He and other youth in his area joined hands to address issues affecting residents living in the settlement by forming a group known as Kiambiu Youth, focusing on environmental advocacy. With the help of various non-governmental organizations like Hakijamii, Humphrey was involved in the formation of NPSN in 2004. He is now the chairman of NPSN in addition to working for the National Youth Violence Prevention Network, both volunteer positions.


Humphrey speaking at a meeting for the People's Budget. See Louis Rezac's blog entry "The People's Budget" for more details on this NPSN yearly activity.
Humphrey speaking at a meeting for the People's Budget. See Louis Rezac's blog entry "The People's Budget" for more details on this NPSN yearly activity.

Telling Humphrey’s story has caused me to reflect on the situation here in Kenya and the developing world more broadly. Nairobi is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, violence and insecurity an every day part of life for those in the slums. What causes these high levels of crime and violence? It’s not an easy question, and one that experts have been contemplating for years. It is not poverty by itself, as there are many impoverished countries that are peaceful and have low crime rates (i.e. Mali, where I lived for 2 years). Rather, it seems to occur when there are high numbers of impoverished people living in substandard conditions very near those who have plenty, which many Kenyans do. There is a lot of economic opportunity in Kenya, one of the main reasons for the large increase in the urban populations. Millions of people never make it to the Kenyan middle-class, though they see that life dangling right in front of them.

Humphrey wishes to see NPSN grow but not lose sight of its mission, as happens too often when donors begin contributing to a solid community organization. He hopes that people will continue to pressure the government to adopt adequate housing and land policies, as well as proper eviction guidelines.

To quote a short film I recently saw, Kibera Kid, “No matter how bad things get, you always have a choice.” Humphrey, to the benefit of many people and to Kenya, has made the right choice.

One Response to “Don’t Lose Sight”

  1. Christa Morse says:

    What a great story of a person looking at the same situation through two very different lenses and ultimately acting on his good inclinations. So many of us aren’t brave enough to let our perspective truly shift and then act on it… inspiring! Also your commentary on the roots of poverty are really interesting, I had never thought of it that way. It definitely makes sense to think that when the injustice of poverty and wealth are held in such stark contrast, crime abounds.
    Hope your work is producing fruit! Peace.

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A Living Saint

Christy Gillmore | Posted July 28th, 2010 | Africa

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It takes incredible passion and commitment to human rights and social justice to do the kind of work that Hakijamii does. Nearly every day the staff is in the office before I arrive and stays after I leave. Each member deserves a separate blog entry, but for length’s sake I will highlight one of them here. Louis has written about Odindo Opiata, Hakijamii’s director, in his latest blog entry.

I have been lucky enough to spend much of my time here with Marcy Kadenyeka, the Community Officer at Hakijamii. She is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. Though she is constantly busy acting as a liaison between Hakijamii and its community partners, often staying late into the night to finish her work, she never turns me down if I ask her for help (which is very, very often). She has truly acted as a mentor to Louis and me.

Marcy Kadenyeka asking questions to government officials at Education Accountability meeting in Starehe district. See Louis Rezac's blog post, "Free Primary Education" for more info about this meeting.
Marcy Kadenyeka asking questions to government officials at Education Accountability meeting in Starehe district. See Louis Rezac's blog post, "Free Primary Education" for more info about this meeting.

Originally from the Western part of Kenya, Marcy moved to Kibera, Nairobi in 1989. Since her arrival in Nairobi, she has been a leader in mobilizing marginalized communities, mainly from the people’s settlements (slums) of Nairobi. Having witnessed atrocities and substandard conditions in the settlements, including 6 people killed during tribal and political clashes in 2001, she wishes to be an agent for change in progressing toward a more equal world. A victim of domestic violence herself, she has provided assistance to countless women including the implementation of a support group for rape victims following the 2007 post-election violence. Despite only completing a primary education, she speaks 7 languages and is one of the fastest learners I’ve ever met.

She was elected as the chairperson for Nairobi People’s Settlement Network (a community partner of Hakijamii) when the organization was founded in 2005. Beating out candidates with university degrees, Marcy was hired at Hakijamii in 2009, an accomplishment she attributes to her spirit and experience with communities. At Hakijamii, Marcy feels that she is working toward her vision of a world where men, women, youth, and children can join together to access justice.

Marcy is the type of person that sees the best in everyone and brings out the best in everyone. If you go to lunch with her, she will insist on buying it despite having 5 children to provide for by herself. Often she surprises her co-workers with goodies like roasted corn and chocolate she bought from a street vendor. Many times I have heard her say, “[so and so] is a living saint,” to describe various people she knows. Indeed, I think anyone who knows her would agree that she, in fact, is the living saint.

Marcy and her two youngest daughters, Laura and Christine. Marcy and her family have lived in this house for 20 years.
Marcy and her two youngest daughters, Laura and Christine. Marcy and her family have lived in this house for 20 years.

Marcy’s personality and passion cannot be captured in words; meet her in this short video interview. Here she discusses the difficulties she has faced living in the slums, what problems are still going on, and what hopes she has for the future.

2 Responses to “A Living Saint”

  1. Rick says:

    Wow – what a neat lady. If someone in Marcy’s circumstance can provide so much inspiration and positive energy to those around her, what excuse do the rest of us have?

    Thanks for sharing her story with us, Christy.

  2. Mary Virginia says:

    Thank you for the video interview. It was wonderful getting to hear her story from her own voice, as well as yours.

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A Hotbed of Innovation

Christy Gillmore | Posted July 19th, 2010 | Africa

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When most people hear the word slum, they imagine a place unsuitable for humans to live, raw sewage running down the streets, flying toilets, and tiny homes with rusty roofs crammed together. These images are all true, as can be seen any time one googles “urban slum photos.” What people don’t imagine is a “hotbed of innovation,” which was how a youth from Kibera described his home in a video he made for a TED talk, broadcast live from Oxford on July 15th, 2010. For those unfamiliar with TED- Technology, Entertainment, Design- the nonprofit is dedicated to the spread of cutting edge ideas, holding various conferences featuring talks by some of the most innovative people today. Chris Anderson, TED curator, gave a talk on the phenomenon of Internet video in the proliferation of new ideas, showing the video made by local Kibera youth. After the video, the camera cut to the audience in Nairobi watching the broadcast, of which I was lucky enough to be a member.

 How I became familiar with all this was the discovery of a new movie made about Kibera, in Kibera, with local actors and local musicians. It’s called Togetherness Supreme, and it has been screening in the Nairobi slums for the past few months. It is not yet available on DVD, as the makers have been submitting it to film festivals worldwide. I contacted the producer, Mercy Murugi, who graciously screened it for a group of about 20 people. The film is based on the true story of a man who got involved in the 2007 Kenyan election and the post-election violence that followed. It captures life in Kibera and Kenya- everything from ethnic tension, corruption, and the woes of street life to love, loyalty, and the vibrant culture of the slums. Truly a unique film and one to look out for in the U.S. soon!


Huge crowd watching Togetherness Supreme photos, from Togetherness Supreme facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/togethernesssupreme?v=photos
Huge crowd watching Togetherness Supreme photos, from Togetherness Supreme facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/togethernesssupreme?v=photos

Togetherness Supreme was produced by Hot Sun Films, started by director Nathan Collett. Hot Sun Films/Foundation also created the Kibera Film School, which trains youth from Kibera each year in film and television production. One initiative of the school is Kibera TV which produces local news reports for online viewing, providing stories difficult to find in the mainstream media. There are similar initiatives, such as Kibera News Network, started by Map Kibera, a project for Kiberans to create a digital map of the currently unmapped area.

 Trailer for Togetherness Supreme:


Projects like these are just a tiny glimpse of what is going on in the people’s settlements of Nairobi, and all over the world. Though Hakijamii is not directly involved in these technologies, the concept of creating awareness and promoting human rights through local agents is the same. Pamoja- together- through community efforts like these, positive change can happen.

4 Responses to “A Hotbed of Innovation”

  1. Dear Christy,
    thanks for the excellent and informative post. We appreciate your support. We are developing a contact list of people around the world who want to show TOGETHERNESS SUPREME later this year and next. They can email info@hotsunfoundation.org for more information. THANKS again!

  2. eric schiller says:

    Hi Christy,

    Thanks for this. I haver also been impressed with the creative activity that can take place in the slums, even under the most excruciating conditions.

    Best to you and Louie,

    Eric and Fran

  3. Mary Virginia says:

    Please keep everyone posted about what film festivals pick up ‘Togetherness Supreme’ or when we can start looking for it stateside!

  4. Mercy Murugi says:


    You can join the Togetherness Supreme
    Facebook page for updates – http://www.facebook.com/togethernesssupreme
    Follow on twitter – @togethernessis

    Mercy M, Producer

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To Speak of Being Left Behind

Christy Gillmore | Posted July 15th, 2010 | Africa

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This past weekend Louis and I went to Garissa, the closest city to the Somalia in Kenya with a large Somali population, as well as a number of minority groups. According to Odindo Opiata, the Director of Hakijamii, the people living in this area are extremely marginalized, with few NGOs even working there. Much of the 10 percent of the country’s Muslim population lives in northeast Kenya.

Life here is worlds away from life in Nairobi. Dry, desert land is home to many pastoralists, camels roaming at every turn. The little agriculture that occurs must be done around the Tana River in Garissa. The small villages around Garissa town are spread out; houses are made of mud, many without electricity or running water.

This farm in the Wailwana community is located next to the Tana River. The river provides the necessary water to grow the crops but the farmers risk their crops being flooded.
This farm in the Wailwana community is located next to the Tana River. The river provides the necessary water to grow the crops but the farmers risk their crops being flooded.


A village in Wailwana, Garissa
A village in Wailwana, Garissa

Hakijamii is has just begun working with the community groups in this area, encouraging them to mobilize the same way as the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network in order to more effectively gain the government’s attention and claim their rights.

Though there are a number of community-based organizations (CBOs) in this area, we were able to meet with one, Nigateni, which was started by the Wailwana community (pop about 8,000). Nigateni, meaning “to speak” in the local language, was started when the community realized how far behind they were in development. “We have been left behind,” stated Ramadhan Divayu Babisami, the recently elected leader, or “king” as the community calls him.


Ramadhan Divayu Babisami, the elected "king" of the Wailwana community
Ramadhan Divayu Babisami, the elected "king" of the Wailwana community

During the few short hours we met with members of Nigateni, visiting their homes and watching traditional song and dance, the numerous problems they face became clear. In Kenya, the literacy rate is around 78%, though the locals in Wailwana estimated that their literacy rate was between 10 and 20%. Only one man from Wailwana had made it through university, ever. They recently sent the first woman from Wailwana to university, using pulled funds from members of Nigateni to pay for the school fees. Why is the literacy rate so low here? Once you make it past the 8th grade, school fees skyrocket and most of the Wailwana community lives in poverty, subsisting on agriculture.

Additionally, one of the villages we visited in Wailwana is located right next to the Tana River. Villagers used to live along the river to have a water source nearby. From time to time, the river would flood and destroy crops and homes. The construction of dams for electricity proliferated in the 1980s, which exacerbated the flooding problem. Dam operators will open the flood gates as the water level rises, offering two days notice for farmers to pick up and move, leaving their crops and homes to be destroyed. The government has started relocating people due to the flooding, but so far has placed them on barren land in small mud houses with no electricity. At one of the relocation sites we saw, Sama Sama, residents were forced to walk 6 km or more each way to their crops and had no nearby water source.

Members of Nigateni are realizing they deserve basic human rights and are working to change their situation. The Wailwana community no longer wants to be “left behind” in terms of living conditions and access to basic services. Hakijamii hopes to bring the CBOs of the Garissa area, such as Nigateni, together so that they can create a strong network that will be heard across the country.

Halima, who serves on the Board of Directors for Nigateni, speaks of the the challenges that women face and what her hopes are for the community:

**I would like to make a special note that The Advocacy Project was connected with Hakijamii through the Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University. Mr. Odindo Opiata, Director of Hakijamii, participated in the program and gained invaluable advocacy skills he was able to bring back to Kenya.

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Eviction Task Force

Christy Gillmore | Posted July 6th, 2010 | Africa

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I continue to be amazed at the efforts by community groups happening around me. Last week we attended a meeting with groups from the people’s settlements and the Civil Society (i.e. NGO) Housing Coalition. The purpose of the meeting: to mobilize community groups to develop a cohesive and pro-active response to evictions- a rapid response mechanism. Though there is an NGO housing coalition, community members often don’t know where to go or which group to contact when an eviction emergency occurs.

Group discussion at Housing Coalition meeting
Group discussion at Housing Coalition meeting

Last week, Louis and I introduced the notorious railway evictions in Kenya. We knew little about other evictions that frequently take place in the people’s settlements. Land rights are a huge issue here; it is difficult to know who owns what land and often deals are made to purchase land where people reside- mostly, the people’s settlements.

In short, there is government-owned or unclaimed land where people settle. They live there for awhile in peace. They build houses and establish businesses, churches, schools, and clinics. Then a developer wants to build on that land. He talks to a few government employees, pays a little money and it is agreed that the settlers will be asked to leave their homes. This is often done at night to avoid riots. Police can come with teargas and guns to intimidate people. Since residents feel there is nothing they can do, many leave without a struggle, unaware that they are entitled to certain rights. Sometimes, though, they refuse to go. If the residents put up a fight, it is common for the developers to find someone willing to make a buck (probably not even that much) to burn their houses, leaving them with nothing. (For more details on this subject, read Amnesty International’s report from 2009) 

The remains of a burned house in Kibera. This resident has spoken out against forced evictions and was likely targeted because of this.
The remains of a burned house in Kibera. This resident has spoken out against forced evictions and was likely targeted because of this.

Now community groups are coming together to try and prevent unfair evictions like these. They know that they deserve a fair resettlement process, that the conditions that force them to live as they do need to be changed. They are working together to create awareness, analyze which settlements are likely to be affected, and lobby and work with the government to create and enforce proper eviction and resettlement guidelines. 

From Hakijamii's website, www.hakijamii.org
From Hakijamii's website, www.hakijamii.org

Whose idea was this “eviction task force”? Who thought to bring together community groups to develop a strategy to work against unfair and forceful evictions? “Oh, that was Opiata [Director of Hakijamii],” says Marcy, the Community Development officer at Hakijamii.

As the days go by and I talk to more people, attend more meetings, and do more research, it is clear that Hakijamii has had its hand in an incredible amount of pro-poor, pro-community, pro-human rights work. One amazing event that Hakijamii and the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network were on the front lines for (that organization members mentioned in passing, as if this was some small feat): the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi. For those unfamiliar, the World Social Forum is THE event for groups to come together to coordinate world campaigns, share and refine organizing strategies, and inform each other about movements from around the world and their issues; it is an alternative to the World Economic Forum, which revolves around capitalist, neoliberal ideas. It’s a space for those trying to create a more just, fair, and democratic world who don’t necessarily believe economics will solve the world’s problems.

3 Responses to “Eviction Task Force”

  1. Nicole says:

    I just wanted to mention an Amnesty International report released recently about the slums in Nairobi. It isn’t strictly related to evictions, and I know that it has been passed around quite a bit, but in case anyone hasn’t seen it I thought I’d mention it. The report is on women’s safety in the slums and how it relates to sanitation. Essentially, sexual assault is so rampant that women won’t leave their homes after dark even to access latrines. Instead, they use bags which they throw out of their windows. In addition, to compounding poor sanitation in the slums and promoting spread of disease, this practice illustrates the constant threat that women face living in slums which are ignored by the government. They can be targeted at work, on the streets, or in their homes and have little to no legal recourse. Police are generally absent from the slums, but when they are present they often pose an additional threat to the women living their. Here is a link to the report for anyone interested: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR32/006/2010/en/6eab2ee6-6d6c-4abd-b77c-38cfc7621635/afr320062010en.pdf.

  2. iain says:

    Very good and interesting post. Getting a clear sense of Hakijamii’s innovative outreach. The legality of evictions – and how to deal with the internationally – is a vexing human rights issue. Check out the Feb 19 2008 decision by the South African Constitutional Court, and other far-sighted judgements by that body. Also, note the campaign by our friends, the Dale Farm Travellers in the UK, against their eviction. Keep up the great work…

  3. [...] I have touched on the problem of forced evictions in Kenya (see The Ladder That Runs Down, Eviction Task Force) due to poor land and housing policies. In the 1950s, an Indian family owned the land in Owinohuru. [...]

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The Ladder That Runs Down

Christy Gillmore | Posted June 23rd, 2010 | Africa

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The following is a short video about Ngazi Ya Chini, a group that was established in order to fight for the rights of the railway dwellers who have been facing possible eviction since 2004 due to a railway expansion project. The video speaks for itself, and for more in depth history, read Louis’s blog.

Ngazi Ya Chini means “the ladder that runs down,” referring to the railroad tracks.

Hakijamii has been on the frontlines of the railway eviction process, providing community groups with the expertise and tools to be able to claim their rights in the relocation process.

10 Responses to “The Ladder That Runs Down”

  1. Rick says:

    Very interesting video, and nicely done, by the way! Your video leaves me wondering – what is your place in this whole railroad eviction conflict? Do you help these people try to stand up against the government (is it the government or the railroad?) to try and avoid being kicked off their land? Is that the role of Hakijamii, and if so, how does an organization like that typically fair in a country like Kenya? Does the government view your organization as a threat, or are they willing to work with you to find a solution for such problems?

  2. Christy Gillmore says:

    Thanks for the great questions. Hakijamii, and several other like-minded NGOs, serve as a link between the people and the government. Because the decision to evict or properly relocate comes down to the government, Hakijamii helps communities fight back. They try to lobby and get legislation changed (there is some pending eviction guidelines legislation now) and to get that legislation enforced. They empower communities to stand up for their rights. It definitely is tricky, but Hakijamii takes a less antagonistic approach, and instead tries to work with the government to change things. In theory the government wants to help these people- it after all doesn’t want negative attention and recognizes the fact that so many of its people are living in substandard conditions. But in practice things are different, and there’s a lot of corruption and greed that gets in the way. It’s tough work, but there are good people out there trying to do good things.

  3. Christa says:

    Nice work on the moving mini-documentary. I’m glad you get to be part of something positive where there is much injustice. On an unrelated note, how does Kenya compare to Mali, culture-wise? How do you like advocacy work? Peace!

  4. Christy Gillmore says:

    Thanks Christa! Kenya is much more developed than Mali and there are so many entrepreneurs with successful businesses. There is a lot more money here, but a lot more inequality (whereas in Mali, everyone was poor pretty much). Most people are literate and somewhat educated here. Ethnicity also plays a big role. They are less animated than Malians, though the same generosity and willingness to be hospitable are there. However, I have only been in Nairobi and therefore haven’t seen what life in rural areas is like, which I’m sure is very different.

  5. DJ says:

    I was awed by the video of the Kenya RR running through such an extensive Nairobi slum, and seeing the work of activists demanding recognition of the himanity of the people living in its path. I was touched to hear your voice asking questions.

    Was the track in the video built during the displacements a decade ago, or is that what you are talking about now? How can people live that close to the tracks without constant deaths from being hit?

    I love your statement: “It’s tough work, but there are good people out there trying to do good things.” It reminds me of my belief that no matter how much misery there is, or how much people are put down, sooner or later the human spirit rises up to improve things. Thanks for sharing the Spirit!

  6. Christy Gillmore says:

    Thanks for your wonderful comments and questions. The track was built a long time ago before people lived there. People slowly moved there- many many years ago- because of the access that the railroad had to town. They have lived there ever since, and parts of the railway were cleared in 1988 and 1995 (the former evictions that the video talks about). I’m not sure of the details, but I think they moved the people so that the railway was clear and could run faster (and was safer). They tried to evict them again in 2005- for some of the same reasons, but also to expand the railway. After taking them to court, the railway agreed to only take 5.2 meters on each side instead of 30. Then there were some derailments and many people died (I believe the biggest happened during the post-election violence in 2007), so that is why the railway now wants 30 meters on each side. It’s definitely not safe for them to be living right along the line like that, but they have not been given alternatives, which is what they are fighting for now. I hope that clears things up! I’ts been difficult trying to wrap my head around the whole thing.

  7. Mary Virginia says:

    The music was incredible on that video. Can you tell me what the estimated cost would be to fairly relocate everyone from the train line? or how much it would cost approximately per person or family to relocate? What kind of numbers are we talking about here?

  8. [...] all too common threat of eviction. I have touched on the problem of forced evictions in Kenya (see The Ladder That Runs Down, Eviction Task Force) due to poor land and housing policies. In the 1950s, an Indian family owned [...]

  9. [...] all too common threat of eviction. I have touched on the problem of forced evictions in Kenya (see The Ladder That Runs Down, Eviction Task Force) due to poor land and housing policies. In the 1950s, an Indian family owned [...]

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The Mirage of Slum Upgrading

Christy Gillmore | Posted June 17th, 2010 | Africa

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In my last entry, I focused on the visit to Kasarani through the Nairobi Peoples Settlement Network (NPSN). The next day we visited the Soweto Community People’s Settlement Forum, another network focused in the Kibera people’s settlement. They have weekly meetings where they learn about different topics, such as what is in the proposed Kenyan Constitution (to be voted on August 4th and the source of much controversy) and gender-based violence. The groups who comprise the Soweto Forum (24 groups, 500 families) do various activities, such as bead-making and urban gardening (see pictures below).

Women from Soweto Forum showing beads that they make and sell
Women from Soweto Forum showing beads that they make and sell

Women from Soweto Forum showing their urban gardening technique, where plants grow out of the side of the rice sacks to save space.
Women from Soweto Forum showing their urban gardening technique, where plants grow out of the side of the rice sacks to save space.

The Forum’s main objective, however, is to make sure that community members are involved in the slum upgrading project that has been discussed by the Kenyan government and UN-HABITAT for a long time now. Initially, there was a settlement executive committee (SEC) established to represent the people of Soweto in this slum upgrading project, to act as the link between the government and the people. However, community members thought the SEC did not provide adequate communication between the government and the community, nor did it represent the people’s needs as they would have liked. To address these problems and empower people in the community to have a voice, Soweto Forum was established in 2004.

To people living in Soweto, “this [slum upgrading] project is a mirage” (John Mwihia Karanja, Soweto Forum chairman). They have been promised new houses for years now. Some people were in fact moved out of Soweto into a “decanting,” or temporary housing, site in Lang’ata, away from their community and what they knew. They were told they would shortly be moved into new houses and land, better than what they had before. These new houses were built, but were given to people from other communities for reasons the Soweto community was never informed about. Those who had been moved from Soweto were left in the decanting sites.

My understanding of these politics is very limited, and what I’ve said here is incredibly simplistic. All I can gather is that ethnicity and money play a disproportionate role in who gets what. Groups like Soweto Forum have a lot to overcome, but one must admire their courage for standing up and claiming their rights.

A short clip of John Mwihia Karanja showing the conditions in Soweto, Kibera:

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People’s Settlements, Not Slums

Christy Gillmore | Posted June 14th, 2010 | Africa

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My first real working week has proved a whirlwind of navigating the seemingly endless number of community organizations that Hakijamii works with. As the first AP Fellows with Hakijamii, we have been trying to create a feasible work plan for our time here. Hakijamii’s work is vast- the best I can compare it to is a Kenyan-focused Amnesty International. We began by meeting with several of the networks that Hakijamii supports- the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network (NPSN) and the Soweto Forum. NPSN is large and incorporates 87 groups ranging across the 168 slums of Nairobi. Soweto Forum is geographically focused in Soweto village, Kibera, and is comprised of about 18 groups.

Our first real site visit was to Kasarani, located in the Korogocho slum, several kilometers out of Nairobi. Marcy, the Community Officer at Hakijamii, took us on the visit.

Marcy is from Kibera, and provided us with a wealth of stories about life in the slums and the difficulties that people in these communities are facing. Perhaps the most important thing that she informed us about was the proper way to refer to these areas. The word “slum” is used regularly- by the media, NGOs, every day citizens- so I assumed this was an appropriate way to describe the settlements. In fact, Marcy informed us, in the past people in the communities had no problem referring to their homes as slum areas. That is, until they discovered the connotations behind the word “slum”- meaning a place unfit for humans to live, a place suited for pigs. This was an insult to the people living there. Though residents were fully aware of the unsanitary and harsh conditions when compared to cosmopolitan Nairobi, the settlements were still livable- people have been living there for decades, after all!

Therefore, residents call their communities “people’s settlements,” and I will do my best to refer to the areas this way. Change must come from the bottom-up, from those the most affected; a small step outsiders can take is to reduce the stigma associated with slum areas by referring to them as the communities do.

Kasarani village is located right next to the Nairobi city dump. I won’t say much on this subject, as Louis has blogged about it, except to say that this is both a blessing and a curse to those who live around it. There are obvious health implications of literally living in the dump- high levels of lead in your blood, respiratory problems, higher rates of problem pregnancies. But, the dump provides livelihood for thousands of people (5,000, according to one blog post). Every day, residents of this area scour it in search of items to resell- plastic bags, appliances, anything they can. The Kenyan government has been discussing the removal of the dump for some time, and the debate between long-term health effects v. being able to buy food today continues. (See pictures below of Kasarani and plastic bags from the dumpsite)

Alleyway in Kasarani, Korogocho

Plastic bags drying after being washed, Dandora dump, Kasarani

Despite the conditions, within this community are an abundance of organizations doing incredible work. We attended a meeting held by the secretary of NPSN, Samuel Njoroge (see picture below, with Louis Rezac), where about 17 groups came to discuss their efforts using theater and entertainment to illustrate the different issues facing the settlements- i.e. HIV/AIDS, water and sanitation, education. Jungle Africa is Samuel’s theater group, and they often perform at soccer matches and other community events. He said that lecturing people is ineffective in getting messages across, but if you entertain them they will listen.

Samuel Njoroge explaining NPSN's work to Louis Rezac

As Americans we might think of ourselves as educated and interested in learning about the world’s issues without the need to be entertained to do so. But how does the average American become aware of the world’s troubles in the first place? I’m thinking of movies like Blood Diamond and Slumdog Millionaire, and famous artists who rap about the injustice of the ghetto (we were also treated to a performance by a Kasarani rapper while there- see link to video below).

We shall be attending a Jungle Africa performance sometime in the future, so stay tuned.

One Response to “People’s Settlements, Not Slums”

  1. iain says:

    Lots of good portraits emerging from your, and from Louis’s, blogs. Look forward to seeing them on the Hakijamii website! I also like your nuanced approach to describing Kibera and the other settlements. Nothing quite does the trick, does it? “Slums” may be demeaning, but “settlements” is neutral and antiseptic and fails to convey the fact that the atrocious conditions are the result of government failure.

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Fellow: Christy Gillmore

Hakijamii in Kenya


advocacy aid cbo community based organization Dandora dump development economic justice environment eviction forced eviction forced evictions garissa gini coefficient Hakijamii human rights inequality informal settlements injustice Kasarani Kenya kenya railways Kibera Korogocho land rights Nairobi Nairobi Peoples Settlement Network ngazi ya chini npsn people's settlements relocation relocation action plan resettlement rift valley railways slum upgrading social justice Soweto Forum substandard housing task force theater UN-HABITAT urban gardening urban slum urban slums world bank world social forum




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