Regeneration in Kenya




Regenerated Slum

Regeneration in Kenya

A chance to create a vibrant environment for all Kenyans

The just ending Kenyan tropical winter reminds us of the need for proper housing for protection against the vagaries of the weather. But housing and good surroundings is about more than the weather.

“Having a secure place to live, is one of the fundamental elements for human dignity, physical and mental health and overall quality of life, which enables one’s development,” so says a February 2007 report to the UN Human Rights Council. “As such, the right to adequate housing has received a wide recognition as a fundamental human right in a number of international instruments and declarations, regional instruments and national laws,” the report further says.

It does not seem so in Kenya. Beyond the beauty of now unfolding phenomenon of newly rebuilt roads, the cosy hotel lobbies and boardrooms many workers in Nairobi troop home through potholed roads, mucky streets and filthy dark alleys to get to their backstreet slum dwellings. Once inside, the cold bites bitterly as those who can afford food put together a humble meal. The lucky children struggle to do homework under lanterns and candles. After the meal they slip under tattered blankets to sleep.

Tomorrow would be another day where they would walk through the same alleys and streets to school carrying the indignity of living in these squalid conditions, that is if it wasn’t for the exposure to disease.

Poor living conditions especially in this season expose people to serious communicable diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis and meningitis to name but a few. Even during better seasons there is the risk of malaria and hygiene related illnesses.

This scenario is replayed in other towns while in the rural area, the filth is less but the housing conditions are often no better.

In our last article on housing we explored different models of changing the landscape as far as housing is concerned. We noted that in East Africa, Tanzania and Kenya have National Housing Corporations whose main objectives as defined in their plans are to have a decently housed nation. They both tend to supplement the private sector by building housing units for sale or providing land with services for self build projects. Due to the scale of housing inadequacy their otherwise good projects reach very few people. At the moment Kenya provides less than 30% of the required housing, meaning it is unlikely to dent the need for housing in the next twenty years. We were unable to obtain the policy in Uganda but just by visiting Kampala it is obvious that the country is seriously challenged in this area as well as housing developments seem to be coming up haphazardly in places without infrastructure.

In Kenya, slum areas in particular present special challenges.

A former General Manager (GM) of the National Cooperative Housing Union (NACHU) who worked on several slum upgrading projects says of the situation in slums: “Many people in these areas came to the city to get an income which would enable them develop their rural areas. It was a sojourn. In the beginning it was a temporary life as they prepared to retire back home, hence the life in temporary shelters. Over time however poverty kept people in the slums where a new way of life developed. Many are near the work place making it convenient and cheaper to stay in these shacks. New economies fitting to the way of life have developed and people learned how to cope.” He added.

Attempts to develop these areas by successive governments have proved difficult. Land is partitioned without legal authority. Structures are built without plan such that there is no room for amenities. There is no land tenor and often the parcels are used as political gifts. It has therefore proved difficult to develop the land due to ownership wrangles and social complexities of relocating people during redevelopment. There is also the question of poverty which stops many from having an income that can finance a decent dwelling.

There had been a general lack of interest in these areas as the bulk of decision making regarding economic, social and political development is done centrally ignoring affected communities, hence one reason for policy failure

In the last decade, there has been efforts to engage communities within development objectives. This is where the potential lies for Kenya.


Although the issue of urban redevelopment and sustainable development has been addressed in Vision 2030, much of the policy framework cannot be implemented properly without paying attention to the grassroots. At the local level, the complexity of creating and implementing schemes and projects to develop villages, towns and districts can make the process of regenerating and developing unachievable. Regeneration can help by facilitating collaboration of local stakeholders, fostering the renewal of communities and physical environments allowing Kenyans to experience the rewards of their own initiatives.

It is easy to think regeneration as nothing but a pipe dream especially with the current global economic recession and in Kenya’s case, a painful rebuilding of our nation following the 2007 General Election destruction. However, it has never been more important than now to begin to address this issues which if left as it is will continue perpetuating deprivation and inequality.

Regeneration is an extensive process that reverses physical, social and economic decline in an area. As a result, it has had many guises and certainly has had its fair share of criticism for its failures in the past, particularly in its effect on low-income communities and the destruction of existing social and economic systems.

There has been a fundamental shift in implementing regeneration policies from just urban renewal, to fostering community development. This approach facilitates not only improving the physical environment, but empowering the community to be more actively involved in the development and maintenance of their neighbourhoods. In this way, as a stakeholder in the development process, communities effectively become the drivers of change in their neighbourhoods and areas.

For this to work, there has to be a clearly designed regional development policy framework that can strengthen regeneration schemes in addition to devolving power to regional and local bodies such as provincial government, municipalities and councils. Devolving powers requires appropriate laws to be developed and implemented effectively. However affected communities should be involved in the creation and implementation of regeneration strategies.

Even without the devolution of powers, regeneration can increase the level of engagement, allowing communities to shape the services that are provided in their areas. This gives them an incentive to have a more active interest in the local development program. It also improves community cohesion and provide more localised solutions that are more efficient and in many ways equitable.

In reducing the rural-urban disparities, we can potentially reduce moral hazards and therefore feelings of marginalisation, mistrust and damaged social capital currently felt by the public. In terms of redeveloping existing urban centres, it can provide the catalyst to transform these areas into business hubs. It can also provide employment, education, health services and thus increasing the quality of life for residents. As the community has been engaged in the development strategies, they are much more inclined to collaborate with other local stakeholders such as the government, private sector and civil society. Communities can even begin to shape the decisions on existing local initiatives such as the Constituency Development Fund.

Areas such as Salford in Manchester, UK and Xitiandi neighbourhood in Shanghai are good examples of regeneration projects that brought successes to the area, including empowering communities and retaining traditional aspects of the economy, but combining them with modern urban living. The increases in property values and uses for the area have been beneficial to their economic growth from a state of deprivation.

This would help incorporate the current urban sprawl into the cities, and provide vital services such as sanitation and roads, an inspiration especially in the metropolitan areas of Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and other regional hubs.

Despite the successes of regeneration, care should be taken when implementing regeneration strategies because if poorly implemented, regeneration strategies can be a disadvantage to the people they are supposed to benefit.

In cases where there are conflicting stakeholder interests, the community may feel disengaged from the entire process, and therefore not support or even work against any of the regeneration initiatives. This can delay or stall the regeneration process in the area. In addition, market inefficiencies may result in little demand in the area regardless of all the regeneration strategies implemented, resulting in low economic value.

Regeneration can also bring high risks and low returns particularly when the project developers and contractors have to work in densely populated and congested areas and in harmony with existing development. There could also be labour and materials scarcity.

Nevertheless, these issues can be factored into project development, by ensuring all parties in the process are involved.

Regeneration need not be just a pipe dream for Kenya. In order for us to become competitive globally and resolve economic disparities, we must seek to revitalise areas that have faced neglect. Not only can it change the physical infrastructure of the local areas, it would provide Kenyans with the motivation to be a part of the change that we so desperately yearn for. But most importantly, regeneration will inspire generations of Kenyans like it has many communities around the world. That is why the government and all stakeholders should consider regeneration as a development strategy.

Regeneration Side Bar

What is a slum?

By ……..

Slums are neglected parts of cities where housing and living conditions are appallingly lacking. Slums range from high density, squalid central city tenements to spontaneous squatter settlements without legal recognition or rights, sprawling at the edge of cities. Some are more than fifty years old, some are land invasions just underway. Slums may be called by various names, in different parts of the world but they share the same miserable living conditions. These settlements lack basic municipal services such as water, sanitation, waste collection, storm drainage, street lighting, paved footpaths, roads for emergency access, schools and clinics within reach and safe areas for children to play. They also lack places for the community to meet and socialize.

Slums are worsening as the average age of people in cities is increases and the average age of slum dwellers is decreasing. The youth suffer most from these unhealthful conditions.
The visible disparities between slums and better-off neighborhoods increase the social tensions in poorer areas while the unplanned growth of settlements makes conventional service provision complicated.

Over 300 million urban poor in the developing world have few options but to live in these squalid, unsafe environments where they face multiple threats to their health and security. 200 million of these are in Asia,over 50 million in LAC, and over 60 million in the unserved areas of Africa’s cities which are now growing at a rate unprecedented in human history. Slums lack the most basic infrastructure and services, causing occupants to be exposed to disease and vulnerable to natural disasters.

Experience has shown that slum upgrading projects are associated with social and economic benefits that are particularly high. For example in a recently upgraded area of El Mezquital, Guatemala, infant mortality rates fell by 90% and crime by 43%. Regularization of land tenure results in significant private investment in these communities – US$7 private investment for $1 of public funds.

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