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.
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)
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.
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.
Posted By Christy Gillmore
Posted Jul 6th, 2010