Embracing Community Leadership through Housing Rights Activism

Drawn deep in his thoughts we meet William Musembi, the Chairman of the City Carton Residents Association. City Carton is a small informal settlement spanning approximately 4km, situated near the Wilson Airport in Nairobi City. With the sight of massive road excavators and grinders at the edge of the community, Musembi dreads when the huge metal machines will land on their iron makeshift houses and displace the 700 slum residents.

Pondering on the next move for his community facing imminent eviction, Musembi commonly known as Mzee wa kijiji said, “I have lived in City Carton since 1970 with my family. All my 7 children have been born and raised in this community. For the past 30 years, this has been our home, yet the government wants to deny us what is rightfully ours with no consultation or respect for human dignity.” The ongoing road construction that will cut through the settlement has been a thorn in the flesh for the slum residents. Mzee adds “every day we live by grace waiting for the worst to happen to us and our properties. It has happened before so we know how cruel it can get”.

Most of the people living in the community have not only been subject to human rights violations but also face a myriad of economic challenges such as poverty. They survive on under 1 US Dollar a day and can hardly access basic needs such as health services, clean water and adequate shelter. Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) has been known to victimize slum residents because they are poor and hold no power against the wealthy evictors.  These forced evictions amount to the criminalization of poverty by authorities who should ensure equal rights for all.

However, these violations inspired a bold move. Musembi’s journey began in 2013 when his activism grew and his passion for defending human rights came to light. This was birthed during a forced eviction court case between the residents of City Carton and Moi Educational Centre. Despite the prolonged duration of the case and financial constraints Musembi never lost hope in the case. In 2013, he was referred to Naomi Barasa, Campaign Coordinator of Amnesty International Kenya who guided them through the right procedure for evictions according to International Human Rights policies on evictions.

“On May 10, 2017, we were forcibly evicted when we tried to question the land ownership. We consolidated some resources to cover legal fees to take the case to court, but we were unable to raise enough funds. We quickly sought for legal redress at Kituo cha Sheria who agreed to cover the remaining costs for the legal fees.” – Musembi. The court ruling declared that the affected residents be compensated Kshs.84 million but Moi Educational Centre appealed the ruling. They are yet to be paid.

Challenges experienced as a human rights defender:

Musembi reported that the journey has not been a smooth one. “Most of the times it feels like I am alone in the fight for human rights in City Carton, I also face intimidation from authorities like KURA. They have threatened me countless times that if I continue to pursue the case, they would forcibly evict us.” He also faces a disfranchised community with some members having little knowledge on the importance of fighting for human rights. Others have joined him in pursuing what he terms a noble cause and have shown solidarity in defending the community from human rights violations they face.