Ongoing efforts by President William Ruto to improve access to affordable decent housing are well-timed.
President Ruto is expected in Kibera today to launch a mega affordable housing project at Soweto B where 5,000 units will be constructed. This will be the biggest social housing project ever undertaken in an informal settlement.
However, as these ambitious projects kick off, it is important to avoid repeating past mistakes. Remember the first slum upgrading project initiated by the late President Mwai Kibaki which gave birth to ‘Canaan estate’? It was a well-intentioned initiative but instead of ending the slums, we had the middle class occupying the houses and the intended owners going back to the shanties. This was largely because the community was not involved.
Kenya’s future is young, urban, and grassroots. Three-quarters of Kenyans are below the age of 35, and the number of those living in our cities grows every day. This young, urban generation is our future, but half of them live in the challenging environment of informal settlements. Kenya has a chance to support them by building our society from the grassroots up.
Hustling is our reality. I was raised and lived in Kibera for 23 years. Hand to mouth existence, the hustle, is something familiar. To push change, I founded the Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco), which now works in 54 settlements, serving over 2.4 million people.
We support the government’s ongoing endeavours. However, we suggest a phased approach to creating change in the informal settlements.
It is important to work with community experts, the council of community elders, and the Lands Ministry of towards land recognition and ownership. The government should aim to upgrade housing for residents, rather than displacing slum dwellers who will then create new slums as the middle-class move into the new houses.
It should implement rent-to-own strategies and ensure that those who move out are moved back in, and think about not only housing but also commerce and marketplaces as these are intimately connected in our slums.
To deliver basic infrastructure and services to households, it is important to continue the progress made in formalising electrical connections and paving of roads in Kibera, extending the sewage system, connecting Kibera to the city garbage system, regularising trash points and working with proven water distribution models like aerial piping and others to get water to every household.
Similarly, it is vital to provide education opportunities. Kenya has one public primary school for every 2,000 Kenyans. However, in Kibera, there is less than one school for every 50,000 residents. Build five new schools to serve Kibera’s 13 villages.
At the same time, the government should support healthcare for low-income households. NHIF is today not accessible to the urban poor. Create a scheme accessible to all and set up a task force focused on solving young people’s issues.
Mr Odede is the founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities and member of USAID Advisory Board