One of the worst things about living in an informal urban settlement is the constant sense of uncertainty. At any moment, your home as well as your source of livelihood could be turned into rubble. This is the daily reality for residents of Mukuru, one of the largest settlements of Nairobi. Lying adjacent to an industrial zone in the east of the city, more than 90% of the sprawling area is disputed
For residents of the Mukuru kwa Njenga area, the worst happened on 8th October 2021, just as the short rains were starting. More than 75,000 residents suddenly had to face much more than flooded homes and paths turned into muddy pools. Under the guise of clearing the path for road expansion, government bulldozers destroyed adjacent homes and businesses, eventually clearing an area estimated to be up to nine times the standard road reserve.
The evictions exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities within the greater settlement. A 2020 Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis identified Mukuru as one of Nairobi's three most food insecure
locations. So what were the public perceptions of the brutal evictions of slum dwellers, who were already languishing from pandemic-related loss of livelihoods?
Documenting violations of food security as a human right
TMG’s Urban Food Futures team analysed media reports from 8th October 2021 to 14th January 2022 to understand media portrayals of the situation in Mukuru, with a focus on reports touching on food insecurity among the evicted population.
Forty-four media articles on the Mukuru evictions were published during the review period. The greatest coverage, with 15 articles, was by the Star, Kenya's third-largest newspaper. This was followed by The Standard, the second largest newspaper, with eight articles. Kenya's largest newspaper, the Daily Nation, and KBC Digital, a government-owned outlet, accounted for four articles each. The remaining 13 articles were published by an assortment of print and broadcast media, including K24, Citizen, Capital FM, with some international coverage by the Guardian UK.
Understandably, most of these articles focused on the immediate struggles of evictees, and the underlying human rights violations that were underway. In a report on 29 November 2021, for example, Citizen Digital highlighted the plight of hundreds of people "...soaking up in their makeshift houses as rains continue to pound the city...living in fear of contracting waterborne diseases..." Similarly, KBC Digital reported: ‘Locals claim the manner the demolition is being carried out is inhumane and incentive to the plight facing many including the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.’
At the same time, many of the articles highlighted growing food insecurity amongst the evicted residents. On 16th November 2021, The Star quoted one resident as saying: "There is that pain that words cannot express. From a landlord, I have become a homeless beggar. Sleeping outside on the chair and begging for food from well-wishers." Still in November, Citizen Digital expressed the plight of a new mother who “now depends on well-wishers to feed her one-month-old baby boy."
The Guardian of 8th December 2021 reported that "Mary Bosibori's husband, Bernad Mogaka, was killed by falling debris as he tried to salvage belongings from his partially demolished house... Bernad was the breadwinner and left behind a young family." The Star shared a similar story, stating: “Samson Otieno, 32, was shot dead by police during a protest over demolitions... he left behind three young children aged between seven and three. Who will take care of them when we all relied on him?"
The Star captured the lamentations of Muema, the owner of one of the numerous informal schools that were demolished: “We spent at least Sh2.5 million to put up the school. We had six teachers who have now lost their jobs… we were also providing three meals to keep the children in school and ensure good performance."
The role of local agency
Although most of the articles we analysed were not written explicitly with the threat to food security as the focal point, this topic still came out strongly. The media reports illustrated how the demolitions disrupted all four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilisation and stability. Despite pointing out the government's responsibility in addressing the food demands of those affected, however, there was little to no public response to the unfolding crisis.
Instead, efforts to address the most urgent needs of evicted families have been driven by concerned individuals, and community-based organisations such as an initiative by the Muungano Alliance
to support the establishment of community kitchens. This response reflects hard lessons learnt from the protracted Covid-19 crisis that self reliance and building on social capital is critical for survival.
The problems in Mukuru are far from over. Many families are yet to find a new home. Most people are yet to recover their sources of livelihood. The impact of the demolitions opened a wound that will take time to heal, if it ever does. As these communities try to recover that which was lost, an empathetic response can help restore people's dignity, along with filling stomachs. As the above-mentioned media reports have done, telling the stories of communities, and speaking for the voiceless, can help to unleash empathy, and open up opportunities to rebuild broken homes and communities. But much more organising and alliance building must take place to reform governance structures that are currently skewed towards the powerful, while leaving the majority stripped of their basic rights.
Edited by Wangu Mwangi
Photo credit: Muungano wa Wanavijiji