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Residents of the city’s Mukuru settlement also suffer the “poverty penalty”, meaning they pay three to four times more for services such as electricity than residents with superior services in wealthier neighbourhoods. There is a complex informal and highly commercialized web of power and governance structures behind the price discrepancy, where landlords and cartels thrive by controlling the provision of essential commodities and services, often through violence or extortion.  

Every year the roughly 492,000 residents of Mukuru lose more than KSh 7 billion (almost CA$91 million) to these cartels — a quarter of the Nairobi City County government’s total budget. Kenya’s constitutional reform in 2010 provided hope in confronting decades of exclusion and lack of access to justice for the poor, but the conditions in informal settlements result in part from gaps in or failure to implement existing laws and policy.

The IDRC-supported project Unlocking the poverty penalty and upscaling the respect for rights in Kenya’s informal settlements built on previous research efforts that have developed legal, financial, and planning models, providing a first approach to unlock the poverty penalty. The solutions address technical and governance obstacles to the security of land tenure, upgrading, and improving service delivery that ensure basic rights and living conditions for Mukuru residents in Nairobi City County.

As a direct result of the project, on March 13, 2017 the Nairobi City County government declared the Mukuru informal settlement a Special Planning Area. This declaration paves the way to redevelop the Mukuru settlement, with the potential to improve living conditions and ensure basic rights for hundreds of thousands of residents. As a first step, the project team will work with the county to pilot solutions such as community-driven plans to upgrade neighbourhoods and strategies to regularize property rights.

Participants in a street march.
Akiba Mashinani Trust

On March 14, the government of Kiambu County, which bounds the northern border of Nairobi, declared its intention to create a development plan for Kiandutu settlement. A participatory process will see the provision of a long-term legal framework for integrated physical, social, and economic development for the area.

Using tools such as community engagement, the project helped the residents of Mukuru assert their economic power and promote respect for their rights. For example, the project successfully halted forced evictions of residents. In Kiandutu, research supported the proactive efforts of the county government to address informal settlement challenges. The work in Kiandutu aims at stemming problems before they occur, which could then guide policies and practice across other peri-urban centres nationwide. Once living conditions are improved, residents can tap into their economic potential and escape the current cycle of exclusion and poverty.

The two-year project was coordinated by Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT) and implemented in partnership with the University of Nairobi, Strathmore University, and Katiba Institute. The University of California, Berkeley joined the consortium later as a strategic partner. 


Top image: SDI-Kenya