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Sanitation and the Politics of Recognition in Kibera

TamlynMonson6 May 2015

To kick off their field trip to Kenya, students on the MSc Social Development Practice spent much of the day with representatives of Practical Action and Umande Trust, hearing about the ways in which these organisations have worked with local residents to promote productive and liveable settlements in Kenya’s slums.

Part of the day’s programme was a trip to Gatwekera in Kibera, Nairobi, where we visited two of the settlement’s 16 biocentres. The biocentres provide accessible toilets, where – in an awesome reframing – excreta becomes a ‘human investment’ that is collected in a biodigester to produce gas for cooking and slurry that can be put to agricultural use.

Street view from Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) network biocentre. Image credit:  Tamlyn Monson

Street view from Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) network biocentre. Image credit: Tamlyn Monson

Our objective was to understand whether and how these infrastructure projects could help us identify avenues through which such projects can be scaled up to more explicitly political claim making around citizenship. However, the reality of the interventions exposed some of our received assumptions about how such claim making should proceed.

For instance, we found that in advocating for the rights of informal settlement residents, NGOs may also face certain informal political dynamics at higher scales within the state, and therefore opt to advocate for change outside of the ‘direct’, formal channels.

According to Peter Murigi of Practical Action, completed infrastructural investments have the potential to legitimise the claims of informal residents to improved living conditions, this is because in permitting these interventions the state has indirectly recognized the need for change. Rather than explicitly lobbying through formal channels for change, advocates can use these achievements as precedents justifying claims for further practical improvements when opportunities to indirectly influence power holders arise.

Multi-level biocentre in a Kenyan informal settlement. Image credit: Umande Trust

Multi-level biocentre in a Kenyan informal settlement. Image credit: Umande Trust

Witnessing the significant achievements of the Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) Network, both staff and students were struck by the limited role of the state in these achievements: the government’s contribution, according to the TOSHA chairperson Moses Ambasa, is merely to “allow us” to go ahead – with projects realized through donor funding and community labour only.

Ambasa was satisfied with this situation, in which slum dwellers are, so to speak, permitted to solve ‘their own’ problems. Participants felt a tension between the need to give due weight to this community voice, and the need to challenge the idea that residents of slums should shoulder such a disproportionate burden of cost and responsibility in securing basic living conditions.

In an afternoon debrief, students acknowledged various shifts of perception inspired by the visit to Kibera, which exposed many to the complexity and ambiguity of an informal settlement for the first time. This was an exciting and stimulating start to a field trip in which students will soon be entering an unfamiliar field in the secondary city of Kisumu. The reflexive trajectories opened up today will be a valuable asset as students soon begin a practical engagement with the Kisumu Informal Settlements Network (KISN). They will be entering the field well prepared to begin unpacking the various entanglements we always find there.


Tamlyn Monson is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU and a PhD candidate at the LSE. Staff and students on the MSc SDP programme engage in overseas research with Practical Action in Kenya each year – read about the collaboration on the DPU website.

Conducting Research in the Context of Evictions in Lima, Peru

LoanDiep27 January 2015

Children in Cantagallo. Image: Loan Diep

The MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU is currently involved in a multi-year project of overseas field research in Lima, Peru. I was part of this project last year and worked in Cantagallo, a small area close to the centre of the city. My team’s initial plan was to explore the way the construction of a transport megaproject was affecting people working and living in Cantagallo. However, unexpected events occurred during our presence there, and they profoundly changed the situation. The megaproject was evolving more rapidly than expected and a relocation process of the population started in fundamentally different ways than officially announced.

While several families had accepted this and begun to clear their plots in exchange for a controversially low amount of compensation, others were trying to resist and negotiate the terms of their relocation with the authorities. Many families were evicted without an acceptable agreement made, if any at all. However, as the video below attempts to illustrate, the situation differs from one case to another because Cantagallo has been inhabited by families with different histories, and thus, different rights according to the law. This diversity has added to the complexity of the situation: in some cases it has created conflicts within the communities and also hampered possibilities for negotiation with the authorities.

On our first visit to Cantagallo, teenagers were playing football in a large circular area at the entrance to the neighbourhood. On our third visit, the landscape had literally changed within a few days: all trees were being uprooted and little temporary houses had started to mushroom in this same football pitch. We were witnessing the eviction of some and relocation of others. We knew we held no power to make a significant change. I remember the sense of panic that invaded our research group when we realised there was little chance we could realistically and positively contribute to the situation. But there was work to do and opportunities to explore.

We decided to capture the complexities of Cantagallo, understand its intricacies and explore the injustices that have been produced and reproduced over time. Some people had already been evicted in the past and were about to experience the same again. We interviewed them to hear their stories. Despite the events, many people came to the workshop we organised there. More significantly, many people from different parts of Cantagallo came to our final presentation to hear what we had to say. It was really unexpected but they all came to listen, to comment and to discuss.

Most importantly, they did it together. This big communication gap that we had observed and thought was hampering progress in negotiations was being bridged in front of us. This gave me hope that they could jointly engage with the authorities over the following weeks. Today (eight months later), I know the people of Cantagallo have not been able to resist the megaproject despite their collaborative efforts. However, I deeply hope that our work has provided them with some grounds to break the continuing cycle of eviction in Lima.

 

Loan Diep is graduate from the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU in 2014. Her academic background is in both natural and political sciences; she has degrees in Health, Safety and Environment (University of Caen, France) and a BSc in Environment Geography (UCL). Loan is currently working as a consultant for IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) and as a research intern at WSUP (Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor). She is also a Bartlett Ambassador for the period 2014-2017. Her interests lie in environmental politics, climate change, water & sanitation in the Global South.

Read more about the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development overseas fieldtrips.