Horror and Hope in Kenya's Informal Settlements

November 15, 2011

Man surveys the wreckage of his home
Man surveys the wreckage of his home

By Mariah Ortiz, Kenya Country Specialist for Amnesty USA

Imagine you are sleeping in your bed, and suddenly you hear the sounds of a bulldozer outside your window.  You have to run outside to avoid being crushed.  You escape, but your home is flattened before your eyes . . .

Now imagine that you are walking home, and the sewer suddenly ignites.  You cry out as people around you burst into flames . . .

These might sound like scenes from a science-fiction movie, but they are the frightening, everyday reality for many Kenyans living in informal settlements, where poverty is rampant.

Last month, the Kenya Airports Authority decimated houses in the Kyangombe slum with little notice, leaving many homeless. In September, an explosion ripped through a Nairobi slum, killing scores of people.  The exact cause of the explosion remains unknown, although it is believed to be linked to a gas leak from a nearby industrial depot spilling into an open sewer, which then ignited.  It was a horrific scene of people being scorched to death, choking on acrid smoke, and community destruction.

This explosion highlights the plight of daily life in Nairobi’s many slums.  Far-reaching effects of poverty, such as inadequate sanitation, insecurity, and the government’s failure to even acknowledge that slums exist contribute to the general uncertainty of life for many of Kenya’s citizens.

Forced evictions only exacerbate this situation. Last summer, the Government of Kenya sent bulldozers to flatten people’s homes in Kabete, leaving hundreds of families homeless and destitute.  Slum dwellers who previously had makeshift homes and means to earn a modest livelihood (often via entrepreneurial market stalls) are left with few resources, and even fewer options.

But there’s growing momentum for Kenyans living in slums to claim their human rights. The High Court of Kenya has affirmed that Kenyans have the constitutional right to adequate housing and reasonable standards of sanitation. And the High Court recently issued a stay on planned evictions in Sinai – the community where the explosion occurred – prompting a powerful statement this week from Amnesty International Kenya.

Join us in building on this momentum – tell Prime Minister Raila Odinga to stop forced evictions, and ensure basic services and human rights for Kenyans living in informal settlements! Take action today.