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The Right to Adequate Housing Mirage

Section 43(1)(b) of the Constitution of Kenya provides that every person has the right to “accessible and adequate housing and a reasonable standard of sanitation”. Rights are interrelated and interdependent. One cannot be deprived of the right to housing and enjoy the right to health, neither can one enjoy the right to privacy when living under an insecure land tenure. The right to shelter also includes the right to security, adequate lighting, appropriate ventilation and access to sanitation facilities. Article 11 (1) of the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) obligates states to recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living including adequate food, clothing, housing and right to the continuous improvement of their living conditions.[1] Kenya is a signatory ICESCR, this convention was adopted in 1966 and ratified in 1972.[2] Additionally, adequate housing is also part of Kenya’s Big 4 Agenda[3].

Rural urban migration and the quest for a better life and access to jobs is the main reason for the rising population in urban based informal settlements. One in every five Kenyans lives in slum areas without access to basic amenities, according to the government, this is fuelled by the influx of people to urban areas as they look to better their lives with expectations of finding higher-paying jobs. [4] For the majority, living in the slum is not a choice but a matter of survival. Forced to live in inadequate housing, lacking clean water, schools, hospitals and during emergencies, the urban poor are blamed for disasters that happen in their localities.

Insecurity of tenure is an everyday headache to informal settlement dwellers not only in Nairobi but in Kenya at large. Woe unto you if your house is near the railway line or on the banks of Nairobi River. Flooding means your house either gets submerged and you lose everything. The right to adequate housing also influences mental health. If you do not have security of tenure anytime you hear the sound of a bull dozer you will always think that it is coming to demolish your house. Another emerging phenomenon is houses in informal settlements going up in flames. This is mainly done when the land in question has been sold off to private developed who want to either put up shops or other forms of building to generate incomes.

Many a times the urban poor only become important during electioneering years when politicians come to woe them for votes. It is not uncommon to find politicians visiting informal settlements during elections, this is because informal settlements although small spaces are packed with thousands if not millions of votes that can secure one a position in parliament. The other years, the informal settlement dwellers form are deemed an invisible blanket. For example, conversations with communities living in Kiambiu informal settlements in Nairobi, report that the settlement does not have a public school despite having a high population of school going children. Thus children from this settlement have to walk long distances to get to the nearest public school or attend private schools at an extra cost.

In informal settlement, ownership of houses varies with some being home owners, land lords and tenants. There no regulatory mechanisms on rent allocation and that how much a tenant pays for rent is dependent on the tenant’s negotiation ability and what the landlord decides. Rent is also dependent on where a house is located. Living near the Nairobi River means you tend to pay less compared to one living near a main road. This is because it tends to be more precarious living near a river because of the impending disaster in case of floods and fire outbreaks. Rent is also dependent on type of building materials used. Tenants more so in informal settlements continue to suffer indignity, this is despite the existence of a Rent Tribunal in the country. Failure to pay your rent on time contributes to further indignity. Some landlords remove the door or windows to force the tenant to pay rent, others report non-payment of rent to the local area chief while other landlords hire goons to come and take away the tenant’s belongings equivalent with the rent arrears. In extreme cases the landlords through away the tenants belonging out of the house , irrespective of whether it is raining or the tenant has young children who will obviously be at risk of diseases .

Access to sanitation and water is depends on how much youth you have in your pocket. To use a toilet and a bathroom you have to part with between 10 shillings and 20 shillings respectively per person. This is privatisation of basic necessities .If your family is large it means you spend more money on water and bathroom. due to lack of an adequate sewerage system, many houses in Kiambiu do not have toilets and some of the houses redirect their waste to the Nairobi River.Flooding of Nairobi river also means that some families especially those living next to the river banks have to relocate , it also means that water borne diseases outbreak will increase, making already vulnerable families spend more on household health budgets. 

In informal settlements charging for toilet services is a booming business and is  major source of income especially for youth.Water is also privatised and water vendors make a kill selling water to residents.During water shortages , the costs of water go up and residents are forced to pay more for this very important liquid.

Overcrowding is the order of the day in informal settlements, and open sewers have become normalised. Security is another challenge and this is compounded by criminalisation of poverty. Young people in informal settlements share that they get arrested more than youth coming from affluent neighbourhoods. In Kiambiu informal settlements young people share that from 7pm you cannot wear smart clothes because when you come across policemen, they will suspect you are on your way to commit a crime. As such young people in this settlement have to put on short and slippers an indicator that they are just chilling at home. This also inhibits the enjoyment of the right to privacy for young people.

Many people would love to get out of the informal settlement and have a better life where they can enjoy various rights and live in peace , in a clean and healthy environment as stipulated by many international human rights documents. But sadly due to a capitalist system that thrives on depriving the masses at the bottom of control of the means of production, they have to contend with the poor living conditions in the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.







  • Health
  • Human Rights
    • Africa
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