Tuesday, December 2, 2008

presentation to Ford Foundation


Allow me to congratulate the new Vice President of the Ford Foundation and to welcome her to Korogocho which is a place we call HOME. This visit comes at a time when Kenya is recuperating from the post elections violence that rocked the country after the disputed presidential election results of 2007. The violence was characterized by death, displacement and destruction. In particular, over 1,500 innocent lives were lost while scores of people were injured. More over, about 400,000 people were internally displaced and a myriad of livelihoods were punctured. Sad to note is that the violence was mainly consigned to areas inhabited by the poorest of the poor like urban slums that include Korogocho. Currently, the soaring food prices and escalated cost of living are making life unbearable for many poor Kenyans especially those in the urban slums.

On a more positive note, this visit comes at a time when Kenya and the United States have provided the world with a remarkable symbol of HOPE through the President-elect of the United States Barack Obama who is a son of a black African from Kenya. Obama’s victory as the 44th president of the United States of America gives us a sense of pride. Our pride for Obama’s victory also springs from the fact that he is a purveyor of hope who endured insurmountable challenges to occupy one of the world’s coveted positions. His victory provides humanity with HOPE and an opportunity for change that the world yearn and need. On a personal note, I feel empowered by Obama’s victory which affirms to the human race that our problems are never beyond our powers to solve them and that we can be what we want to be, we can shape our own destiny.

In this respect, we are elated by the gesture extended to us by the Ford Foundation who has yet again accorded us the rare privilege and opportunity to host one of their senior officials in our humble HOME at this time when the whole world is hopeful that a new dawn has come. Such solidarity is what the whole world and in particular the people of Korogocho require. I am told that her interest to visit Korogocho was spurred by the inspiring stories that she received from some of her team members who had visited us earlier. Doubtlessly, her visit today is confirmation that the many guests who visit our Initiatives have become our great ambassadors who are telling our story as it is. They are telling the whole world the true story of Korogocho, they are telling our story of HOPE.

Korogocho is one of the over 25 slums that are estimated to provide shelter for more than 60% of the Nairobi City’s population. Sad to note is that the 60% occupies just over 1.5% of the land as the rest of the land is occupied by a handful of affluent people. A charismatic and outspoken priest by the name padre Alex Zanotelli who lived in Korogocho for a decade has described Nairobi as heaven and hell side by side as it reflects the inequalities of the highest order. Indeed, the economic apartheid that characterizes our country and urban areas has spawned enormous slums like Korogocho that have become a nightmare. More over, residents of the slums like Korogocho are regarded as illegal squatters by the Government. As such they are denied essential services and permission to grow and develop.
Korogocho was founded in 1950’s when residents were brought from different parts of Nairobi to create room for the ‘expansion and development’ of the capital city. Today, Korogocho hosts a dense population of about 100,000 people and is the third largest slum in Kenya after Kibera and Mathare. Like is the case in most slums in Kenya, Korogocho that houses over 100,000 people is characterized by overcrowding, lack of basic infrastructure such as roads, inadequate essential services such as education and health, substandard sanitation, and widespread violence and insecurity. A wide range of governmental policies and public sector programmes have particularly failed to address problems experienced by a majority of citizens who live in the slums. Most of the residents do not have access to public social services and basic amenities. In Korogocho residents suffer the indignity of poverty and are either unemployed or survive on irregular/informal jobs and trading. A majority of adults living in Korogocho are casual labourers earning poverty wages in the Export Processing Zones and othr industrial factories. Some of the residents are self-employed selling food and vegetables at the Korogocho market and along the pathways of Korogocho. No doubt, unemployment is rampant particularly amongst youth who lack education and life skills to fit in the dynamic job market. Most of them are desperate to make a living and end up engaging in illicit and illegal trades a fact that explains the high crime rate both within and outside Korogocho.

The aforesaid factors would perhaps help us to contextualize and understand the causes of insecurity in Korogocho. The problem of insecurity is as old as the history of Korogocho and complicated as the problems related to land, inequalities, poverty and a litany of other problems. For a long time the name Korogocho echoed insecurity. This is because of the high levels of crime, substance abuse and other forms of violence, violations and exacerbated poverty in the area. However it is vital to point out that Insecurity in Korogocho is brought about by the struggle for survival by the residents most whom are consigned to poverty and a myriad of poverty related problems. Insecurity is not the real problem; it is in fact a manifestation.

As I have discussed prior, the problem of land and in particular land tenure is a time bomb that cause insecurity. In addition, lack of employment opportunities for young people, lack of basic services and exacerbated poverty. In addition, bad governance, lack of necessary Government presence, inefficient police service & Government agencies amongst others form the bulk of the problems that perpetuate insecurity. Nevertheless, the high levels of inequalities & imbalances in the country especially the gap between the rich and the poor could be singled out as one of the factors that fuel insecurity in Kenya and more so in Korogocho.

A great son of Kenya once said that the greatest problem in Kenya is that it is a society of 10 millionaires and 10 million poor people. Consequently, he paid dearly with his own life. But that is the bitter reality that continues to worsen by day. In fact I can safely say that the number is today 10 billionaires and 30 million poor people. No doubt, the people of Korogocho form the bulk of the 30 million Kenyans who languish in poverty and experience unprecedented levels of insecurity. But is this really acceptable?

Human Rights
Human Rights and Security are inseparable. Insecurity is not only a Human Right violation but it also perpetuates Human Rights violations. Insecurity denies human beings the opportunity to enjoy all their Human Rights. It denies people a requisite environment and ingredients to grow and develop. In situations of insecurity education and all other essential services remain inaccessible, lives are lost, people are maimed, property vandalized, development is hampered and more violence is manifested. Not to forget the fact that people remain susceptible to a litany of other problems and violations. This explains in part the politically instigated clashes that have been witnessed in Korogocho in the past and most recently during the post election violence of 2007/2008.

While it is true that insecurity has major repercussions on all facets of the society, Korogocho Youth have suffered immensely both as victims and as the alleged perpetrators. They are constantly harassed and tortured by police to confess ‘sins’ some they never committed. Some of those who commit the ‘sins’ lose their lives to bullets, mob injustice and so on. Statistics by various authorities including the Kenya Police show that Korogocho is one of the leading urban areas in crime and is also regarded as a den of criminals. This explains in part the high levels of police harassment in the area and the high numbers of youth from Korogocho who have died in the hands of the police or the bulk who occupy the prison cells. This is because we have a confused system of governance that blames people for being poor. They assume that insecurity problems can be resolved by the bullet. This explains why the budgetary allocation for security continues to heighten to purchase sophisticated weapons to fight crime. The money would be invested in construction of more factories, markets and other worthy investments to create more opportunities for young people and further remove them from precarious activities that cause insecurity. No wonder dozens of young people from Korogocho are today behind bars, others form statistics of those shot by police or lynched by mob, some are joining sects where they feel they can find redemption; others have eloped and migrated to other areas where police harassment is dismal and so on. Is this the solution to insecurity?

Human Rights defenders are not spared either. They are regarded as enemies of the State and are at times forced to bear unbearable burdens and to pay immeasurable prices for their activism. This happens when you have a Government that is afraid of the voice and will of the people, a Government that does not have people’s interest at heart and is afraid when people mobilize and organize. To exemplify, in July 2006 Francis Ngira who is one of our luminaries was arrested by Police after leading a protest against forceful eviction of innocent residents by Administration Police in Korogocho. All this was meant to scare and to silence him and other progressive and reasonable voices that were arising to campaign against impunity. Similarly, in May 2008, Charles Kimathi Wambugu who was a progressive youth leader and a Human Rights defender in Kasarani constituency was picked by police officers and has hitherto gone missing. Such cases whereby youth and in particular Human Rights defenders are arrested, intimidated and disappeared with by police are today very common in the urban slums.

The foregoing is a catalogue of some of the gross violation of Human Rights that people in the urban slums continue to court and are forced to live with everyday. In addition, to their impoverishment and poverty, they are forced to pay dearly for their poverty.

Community Togetherness as Social Security
But that is not the end of our story. About a decade ago, the youth of Korogocho set on journey to rewrite and tell the full story that Korogocho is not all about suffering, poverty and insecurity. Like Obama, they emerged in tens, hundreds and now thousands to mobilize, organize and to give Hope to the people. It is delightful to note that Korogocho is today referenced as a symbol of hope and an inspiration by many people. Agents of change like the Miss Koch Initiative, Koch FM, Koch Monitoring Team, Cup Kenya and more recently the Kasarani Youth Congress have contributed immensely to the transformation and search for better services and dignified livelihoods. They have helped the community to realize that they (community) have a fundamental role and power to seek and find solutions to their problems. It is probably true that the residents of Korogocho are today more empowered and better organized. They have taken the front seat as the survivors and wearers of the shoe who know exactly where it hurts. They have refused to die! They are using their togetherness to cope with harsh realities and define new possibilities. They are committed to the renaissance that will see the whole of humanity rejoice and enjoy their human rights.

The real hope that was sowed by Initiatives like Miss Koch has today become the magic bullet that is doing wonders in and to the community. There are positive indicators that the efforts are bearing fruits. Today another name for Korogocho is hope and determination to survive. It is then no wonder that people who visit Korogocho today more than ever before come to show solidarity not charity and sympathy. People no longer visit Korogocho to mourn poverty and insecurity but to celebrate the people’s power ad how people’s unity of purpose can be a social security.

Koch Initiatives
Koch Initiative is a forum that brings together specific groups from Korogocho that are united by a common vision of a better Korogocho, a better Kenya & a better World for all. Currently it is composed of selected groups that epitomize the Hope desired by the urban poor like those inhabiting Korogocho.

i) Miss Koch Initiative
Miss Koch Initiative is a renaissance of the Korogocho youth founded in the year 2001 as an intervention against socio-economic and political problems that robbed people of their Human dignity, Human rights and freedom. No doubt, Miss Koch Initiative is today referenced an epitome of people’s determination to define their own destiny. Its four substantive programme include: WADADA- Girl rights, empowerment & education, DARAJA-Human rights, governance, & peace, BADILIKA-HIV/Aids, Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health & Child development, BURUDIKA-Talent, skill and capacity development. True to its mission, the Initiative has inspired the establishment & growth of numerous initiatives in Korogocho and elsewhere.
ii) Koch FM
Koch FM is the first community owned ghetto radio in Kenya. It was founded in 2006 by the youth from Korogocho. The radio is an extra ordinary innovation by the community youth who are truly committed to provide the constituents with the requisite information that is needed for their effective participation in the socio-economic and political processes for greater achievement. The radio inspires community pride and confidence as it amplifies the voices of the people and ensures that they are clearly heard. Its editorial focus includes human rights, governance, gender, health, environment, entrepreneurship, religion, sports, child welfare amongst others.
iii) Koch Monitoring Team
Korogocho Monitoring Team was established in 2006 by people of Korogocho to enhance citizens’ participation in the search for good governance, development & freedom. The Monitoring Committee is today registered as the first Residents Association in the urban slums. It has done a remarkable job of entrenching accountability and transparency in Korogocho. The team has been undertaking an intense campaign that seeks to emphasize the significance of people’s participation in making decisions that affect their daily lives is vital as it ensures shared responsibility, sustainability amongst other benefits.
iv) CUP-Kenya
The Coalition of the Urban Poor in Kenya was founded by youth from Korogocho and currently runs four programmes key programmes with focus on poverty reduction and wealth creation, Human Rights & social justice, HIV/Aids & Reproductive Health, Information Communication and Documentation The organization has played a key role in informing and emancipating the community in various ways through the community newspaper Koch Mirror.

v) Kasarani Youth Congress
Kasarani Youth Congress is a youth Initiative that seeks to strengthen unity, connectivity and collective action amongst youth in search of new socio, economic and political order. The initiative envisions a society with new socio-economic and political order that acknowledge youth identities and freedoms and deal appropriately with their needs.

e) Challenges
i. Though Initiative is meant to strengthen and drum up support for community in the national affairs, it is at times quite difficult to do this in view of inadequate capacity and funds. The initiative would achieve much more if they were adequately supported with the requisite, financial, human, material and technical resources.
ii. The initiative is also constrained in terms of capacity. Capacity development like training, skill promotion and talent nourishment would be essential for the sustainability and growth of the initiative.
iii. The Initiative lacks adequate functional base. Our wish has been to put up a magnanimous centre in Korogocho that would house the initiative and accommodate the ambitious ideas, growth and the overwhelming demands. This is constrained by our squatting at the community centre that also houses various other institutions.
iv. The initiative requires more strategic and programmatic partnerships with like minded organizations. Most organizations are only able to support activities and not programmes proposed by the initiative.
v. Though the Initiative has been able to do a remarkable job in Korogocho it lacks the much required exchange programmes and exposure forums that would provide the initiative with the opportunity to learn and share experiences with other people.
vi. Forging closer links with service providers and other people in authority to deliberate pertinent issues that affect the people of Korogocho remains a major challenge though important for our initiative.
vii. Youth and girls in much of Kasarani Constituency are still virtually absent or poorly represented in the decision making of any kind. They are excluded and at the same time they exclude themselves. There is need for constituency wide conscietization.

f) Way forward
We deeply appreciate the role that people of Korogocho and numerous organizations have played and continue to play to rebuild human dignity and ensure enjoyment of human rights by all. We pay special tribute to members and cohorts of the Koch Initiatives that have made remarkable contribution as purveyors of HOPE in our community. We salute their efforts and solidarity. Finally, we are inspired by the affinity and commitment that has emerged from Ford Foundation. In particular, we are grateful to the Ford Foundation for the honor and the rare privilege they have bestowed on us to host their Vice President. We trust that you shall continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges that deny us the right to live dignified lives. THANK YOU ALL!