Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) chief executive officer Henry Ochieng’ has been spearheading the campaign to have safe and clean neighbourhoods in urban areas. He shares his thoughts about KARA’s mandate and objectives:
Tell us about KARA and what it stands for.
KARA brings together people living in the same geographical areas with the intent and purpose of improving their neighbourhoods by addressing issues affecting them. They may be homeowners, tenants or both.
Who are your members?
The alliance brings together 865 resident associations spread across the country and proactively engaged in initiatives aimed at promoting access to public services at both national and county levels. The formation is legally registered with the law requiring a minimum of 20 members for an association with voluntary members.
For how long has the alliance been in existence?
KARA was registered 23 years ago as an apex body mandated to facilitate the formation of resident associations and coordinate their activities with a view to tackling service delivery challenges in a structurally unified voice.
What are your core areas of concern?
We focus on the realisation of grassroots-based good governance and public accountability while focusing on environment, education, land, security and judicial issues, and overall consumer and related taxpayers’ concerns.
Construction standards in our country are wanting; what are you doing to tame rogue landlords?
Construction is manned by the National Construction Authority, which checks on standards. Our role is to have technical teams that monitor construction works. We have also partnered with Nema (National Environment Management Authority) over environmental issues and county governments on administrative matters. We are building a digital platform known as ‘Hatua’ where members can share information and reports on happenings around them.
Rent cases between landlords and tenants have been a thorny issue for a long time. Care to comment?
Tenants and the landlord have a contractual agreement, hence we do not involve ourselves mostly with their disputes. We encourage them to solve them within their contractual terms through mediation or arbitration. However, we normally intervene when the issues raised affect the entire estate.
Some time back, Karen Residents Association wrote to the office of the deputy president concerning delegations that flocked to his residence, were you involved?
No, we weren’t involved in the issue. We were, however, encouraged by the bold move and urge associations to be proactive by taking charge, attending to and solving security, transport and sewerage challenges facing residents. We are an umbrella body and only step in when issues are out of their reach and control.
County governments have a policy that requires all residential houses to have alternative solar and water harvesters. Do you follow up on this requirement?
We look at the policy if it can affect or benefit our members and repackage it in a way that it makes sense. In a real sense, all estates need to have all amenities in order to be habitable. Unfortunately, some landlords flout guidelines issued by county governments that do not have enough resources to enforce some of the laws. It all boils down to goodwill and prioritisation.
Most of our residential areas lack social amenities, how have you been addressing the matter?
We follow up to see to it that in cases where encroaching on public land has taken place, we ensure the illegal structures are brought down and the space given back to the public. Where we have spaces, we need them to be secure. As an association, we ask our members to try and identify public utilities and secure them by fencing them off. For a long-term solution, we are identifying all free spaces, and reaching out to the government to issue title deeds registered in the name of the relevant association, and we have made great progress.
Why it is that security is a major concern in many neighbourhoods?
This is a concern for everyone that needs collective responsibility. As KARA, we highly encourage the utilisation of technology like CCTV cameras to deter crime. Security may include night patrols, erecting security barriers and enlisting the services of guards and engaging in activities like removal of garbage, planting of trees and setting up sidewalks that improve the appeal of a neighbourhood.
What are some of the challenges you encounter in your operations?
Challenges exist in every setup and those experienced by an association can derail the functioning of the organisation. Secondly, not everyone speaks the same language. We find some antagonism to sabotage the work of associations and leadership.
Third, there are limited resources to work optimally; some activities require resources to plan for them. Like legal matters, which require financial resources to have good lawyers in courts. Finally, low participation of residents in the activities is caused by several factors.
Among these factors is the inability of the leadership of associations to involve residents in agenda-setting. When this happens, residents may be tempted to think that the association is not pursuing a neighbourhood agenda, but a sinister, diabolical agenda.
Your parting shot?
We appeal to residents in all our setups to embrace and form associations which will be a vehicle in addressing their problems. We request them to come on board to strengthen their voice in order to get value for the taxes they pay.