Protecting Slum Dwellers’ Rights in Kenya

by Maeve Halpin
Monday, 23 December 2019 10:30 GMT

TrustLaw connects high-impact NGOs and social enterprises working to create social and environmental change with the best law firms and corporate legal teams to provide them with free legal assistance.

This project was nominated for the TrustLaw Innovation Award, that features not only a new and exciting idea or enterprise, but a legal team that used creativity in addressing the issues faced

In Kenya, there are two and a half million slum dwellers living in two hundred densely populated settlements surrounding the capital of Nairobi. One of these settlements, Mukuru, is a place where many people struggle to access basic services and to secure their land rights. 

Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT), a TrustLaw member based in Nairobi, works to deliver sustainable housing and services to residents of these informal settlements.

 “Mukuru is a city within a city. It is private land, occupied by the poorest people within the city but the area is [...] really not recognised as a human settlement,” explains Jane Weru, CEO of AMT. “Basic services have not been provided by the state because of that lack of recognition, so the first thing we want to do is to build that recognition by showing the state that this is an area occupied by people who are in dire need of state intervention.”

Through TrustLaw, AMT was connected to law firms Pandya & Poonawala and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP to develop legal research and propose solutions to addressing the complex and contentious land rights issues faced by residents in Mukuru – using comparative models from the US, UK and India.

“Although current land law and practice in the UK and US is quite different from Kenya, Sullivan & Cromwell’s analysis found helpful insights from land use cases in the UK and US, when the development context in certain areas was more similar to today’s Kenya. We also analysed published literature and presented lessons learned from other developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia,” said Karen Biehl, Associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.

AMT partner, Katiba Institute, thought the comparison between Kenyan and Indian informal settlements was an innovative idea. “India has vast and amazing laws and so many policies that deal with informal settlements and slum regulations and we could possibly use these to come up with a solution that would suit Kenya,” said Emily Kinama, Associate, Katiba Institute.

The legal research informed AMT’s brief, which they submitted to the Nairobi County Council Government. The Nairobi County Council Government has since designated Mukuru a special development zone and undertaken to resolve Mukuru’s development challenges.

This innovative project is a crucial step towards protecting the rights of informal dwellers, who have lived in these settlements for decades, by implementing measures to provide adequate housing and access to basic infrastructure and services.

Farida Poonawala Tata of Pandya & Poonawala said, “TrustLaw provides the right blend of support and liberation, thus making working with [them]  an effective and efficient experience. Working on this project was intellectually and emotionally fulfilling, especially in terms of contribution to social change.”

“The Akiba Mashinani Trust is truly a leader championing for the rights of informal settlement dwellers and their ability to bring together influential stakeholders in the public, private, academic and civil society space is a testament of this. Their tireless hard work and visible passion clearly come out. We are grateful to the commitment shown by the law firms Pandya & Poonawala and  Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and their innovative approach to legal pro bono. As TrustLaw, we were immensely honoured to be a part of their story.” Shalom M. Ndiku, Legal Programme Manager, Africa.

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