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Guardian angels helping slum dwellers to claim land

Residents of Mukuru slums have guardian angels who are moving heaven and earth to ensure they are recognised as the rightful owners of the land they live on.

Civil society organisations, local and foreign universities are all lining up to help the residents who have always lived under the constant threat of eviction.

The deeds to the 200-acre plot are registered under powerful individuals and companies and over the years, hundreds of families have been left in the cold after their houses were demolished.

In a suit filed by civil societies last October, the residents argued they were constitutionally entitled to the land. They told the court that the registered owners had defaulted on the stringent conditions that came with their deeds.

“People were given the land and failed to develop it,” said Jane Weru, the executive director of Akiba Mashinani, one of the organisations providing assistance to the community. “They took this land only for speculative purposes,” she added during an interview.

In yet another suit to be filed later this year against the government, the civil societies intend to argue that the state should solve the sanitation problems in the area by developing adequate infrastructure.

In the case lawyers will use provisions in the Constitution guaranteeing the right of Kenyans to adequate housing and sanitation as well as personal security.

The lack of proper sewerage, roads and a water system in Mukuru, they content has increased the chances of contracting diseases, caused a rise in child mortality and crime.

“The conditions in Mukuru are terrible,” said Ms Weru adding, “women really suffer.”

If successful, Ms Were said the lawsuits would serve as precedents for subsequent cases regarding slum dwellers elsewhere in Kenya.

Outside the court, University of Nairobi’s department of urban planning is working on an elaborate plan for infrastructure development in the slums. Students from California and Berkeley universities in the United States, are also helping.

Additionally, the Strathmore Law School and Business School are studying financial solutions for housing and business developments, such as community savings.

“We have to provide possible solutions that the court can work with,” said Waikwa Wanyoike, executive director of Katiba Institute, which is providing legal support.