Land tenure security initiatives changing face of slums

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 00:00 |
Informal settlements. Photo/Courtesy

George Arwa

The wanting state that defines informal settlements in Kenya catches the eye.

The settlements are more often than not characterised by poor sanitation, poor waste management and inadequate housing among others. 

This is usually a stark difference  to other urban spaces with relative planning and service provision. 

But unknown to many, the sorry state of informal 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 and slum dwellers, commonly referred to as squatters. Some settlements sit on public land.

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

Some of these settlements are expansive and highly-populated making them a hot spot for politically-motivated displacements because of their potential to provide numbers.

Most also 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 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 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 and residents are feeling more comfortable in making investments in their homes.

Many are now putting up decent homes, with permanent structures slowly replacing tin shacks, buoyed by the assurance of tenure rights.

In fact, some residents have reported using their new titles as collateral to access bank loans.

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.

But even with the improvements, there are still matters of concern that need to be addressed to support informal settlements residents.

Unforeseen delays in the title regularisation process has resulted in growing anxiety going by the history of poor land administration in the country.

 There also have been cases of inadequate communication between tenure regularisation teams and communities on, for instance the process and status of the exercise.

Upon successful securing of tenure, a major challenge mainly faced by the beneficiaries is gentrification due to sale of land re-development.

Nonetheless, the challenges should not dampen the spirit of actors, given that tenure regularisation is a complex process and delicate balancing act. 

An effective way of handling apprehension in the process would be adoption of clear-cut guidelines that are bearing fruit for KISIP.

Additionally, the regularisation should be followed closely by upgrading of physical infrastructure to ensure a safe and secure living environment for the beneficiaries. 

It is imperative that a strong strategic partnership is forged between the national and county governments  in the regularisation process. - The writer is head, Tenure Regularisation at KISIP

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