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Ideas & Debate

Secure land tenure key to transforming slums

Mathare slum
A section of Nairobi’s Mathare slum. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The wanting physical state that defines informal settlements across the country certainly catches the eye. These settlements are more often than not characterised by up hazard morphology, poor sanitation, poor waste management and inadequate housing among others. This is usually a contrast to other urban spaces where there is relative planning and service provision. This situation is attributed to extreme poverty among the residents of such settlements.

But unknown to many, the sorry state of these settlements — whether Kahawa Soweto in Nairobi, Kasarani in Nakuru, Nyalenda in Kisumu, Ihwagi in Nyeri or Misufini in Mombasa —largely has to do with land ownership issues. Some of these informal settlements sit on land with contested tenure rights between the legal title holders or on public land and the informal settlement dwellers commonly referred to as squatters. Thus, there are settlements found on public land and others found on private land owned by individuals who usually are not physically occupying the land.

Unsure about the tenure of the land they occupy, many opt to limit investment in decent housing and accommodation, haunted by the risk of evictions and demolitions like have happened before in informal settlements across the country.

Some of these settlements are expansive and highly populated making them a hotspot for politically-motivated displacements due to their potential to provide numbers for elective positions. Additionally, most of these informal settlements fall within high value neighbourhoods — such as Mji wa Huruma in Runda Nairobi. This makes them susceptible to land grabbing, especially by investors thirsting for the high real estate returns.

Gladly, a lot of effort has gone towards regularisation of land tenure in many informal settlements. For example, residents of Nyalenda in Kisumu County now have secure tenure through state led initiatives such as the Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement Project (KISIP). With secure tenure provided through KISIP, the uncertainty has been reduced with residents feeling more comfortable in making investments in their homes. Many are now putting up more decent homes with permanent buildings replacing tin shacks, buoyed by the assurance of tenure rights. And the benefits of the new found certainty of land ownership doesn’t end there; some residents have reported using their new titles as collateral to access bank loans.

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Tenure regularisation under KISIP is done with full participation of those living in the targeted informal settlements. This goes a long way in building trust besides yielding an orderly tenure process as the community is involved in the identification, physical planning, cadastral surveying documentation of structure owners and registration of land rights. Residents of the settlements have reported being satisfied with the participatory planning process undertaken in developing local physical and land use development plans which form the basis for survey and registration of individual or group rights to land.

But even with the improvements, there are still matters of concern that need to be addressed to support residents of informal settlements. Unforeseen delays in the title regularisation process has resulted in growing anxiety going by the history of poor land administration in Kenya. Also, there have been cases of inadequate communication between tenure regularisation teams and communities on for instance the process and status of the exercise which has sometimes stoked apprehension. Upon successful securing of tenure, a major challenge mainly faced by the beneficiaries is gentrification due to sale of land to more financially capable Kenyans for redevelopment.

Nonetheless, these challenges should not dampen the spirit of actors given that tenure regularisation is a complex process yet a delicate balancing act that involves making decisions that will impact livelihoods. An effective way of handling apprehension in the tenure regularisation process in informal settlements would be adoption of clear-cut guidelines on the whole process, a system that is bearing fruit for KISIP.

Additionally, tenure regularisation should be followed very closely with upgrading of physical infrastructure to ensure a safe and secure living environment for the beneficiaries. Consequent improvement in the provision of basic services especially circulation routes, water, electricity and security ought to also be accompanied by livelihood enhancement programmes. This will ensure a holistic settlement upgrading process which is sustainable.

The writer is Head, Tenure Regularization at KISIP

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