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.
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.
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.
Posted By Christy Gillmore
Posted Aug 12th, 2010