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Conflict Coming Up The Line

Recently the World Bank publicly admitted that their resettlement policies needed to be reviewed as it is unclear how many people have been adversely affected by their projects [see Guardian article here]. Too often the main focus of development is the end product and the purported economic benefit often only felt by a few from the already wealthy parts of society. It is rare that the people who will be most directly affected by these interventions are involved throughout the planning, design and implementation of projects. This can lead to exclusionary design, land evictions, physical and economic displacement as well as conflict.

This week we examine some of the challenges and opportunities surrounding the government slum-upgrading program in Kibera by exploring some of the conflicts associated with a new sewer line that is currently under construction (see previous blog on the early stages of the project).

Kibera is made up of 13 villages, all of which have very different physical, social and political characteristics.  The sewer line project has been underway since the end of 2014 and construction was completed in Lindi and Kisumu Ndogo villages earlier this year. When the pipeline was set to continue upstream into the Gatwekera village, the project reached a stalemate due to problems with the personnel involved in the construction, financial challenges, and protests from residents who were resisting the construction of the sewer line in their community.

Image: Map showing sewerlines (contructed/under construction etc and villages of Kibera).

Existing and Proposed Sewerage in Kibera as of Jan 2015, information provided via Athi Water Services Board. Graphic: Bukonola Ngobi (KDI)

Existing and Proposed Sewerage in Kibera as of Jan 2015, information provided via Athi Water Services Board. Graphic: Bukonola Ngobi (KDI)

To find out more about what Gatwekera residents really think about the sewer line members of the KDI research team got on the ground and interviewed members of the community. The interviews showed that most residents believed that the new sewer line will be a good thing that will create a cleaner and more hygienic environment that will reduce the outbreak of disease. However, all community members interviewed raised concerns that the sewer lines will not meet the demands of the numerous users, that  there do not seem to be any maintenance plans in place to ensure the upkeep of the sewer lines and that a multitude of people living in Gatwekera will be expropriated when construction starts.

Further conversations with residents indicated that there will be a breakdown of social networks; or as one youth put it; ‘the neighborhood will be lost’. These concerns are fueled by the way the construction of the sewer line in Kisumu Ndogo unfolded.  Community members were given one week’s notice to vacate the premises for construction to start in the areas where they lived. Although local authorities feel that this time was sufficient, many residents expressed that they had been forcibly removed as their homes were demolished without notice. These evictions and lack of information about the government’s relocation plans for affected persons led to disputes between residents, local authorities and contactors working on the sewer line in December of 2014. This led to protests and demonstrations being held by residents at the District Commissioner’s office in opposition to the sewer line’s construction.

Damaged new sewer line.

Damaged new sewer line.




Structures affected by sewer line construction.


In an effort to placate angry residents, the local authorities spoke to community members through Kibera Peace Committees. The peace committees, comprised of village elders, influential individuals and leaders in Kibera, were created after the 2007 election violence. These groups are responsible for intervening and resolving any conflicts that may arise throughout the development, telling residents the benefits of the project and encouraging affected persons to relocate by themselves, appealing to the government to compensate residents and explaining to residents how compensation can be obtained.

While questions surrounding the method of implementation of the sewer line have continued, rumors have begun to emerge that the construction of the sewer line passing through Gatwekera will begin within the coming weeks.  In preparation for this activity, a sewer line committee has been set up by the local authority to mediate between the government and the community. The committee will provide information to affected persons and guideAn interview with one of these committee members showed that the entire mandate of the sewer line committee is still unclear and will develop as they start working. The committee’s first task commenced on Friday 15 May and involved mapping out the area where the sewer line will pass from Kisumu Ndogo to Gatwekera and making an inventory of affected persons. The establishment of the Sewer line committee is a positive move and can potentially address barriers to effective community involvement and participation, it can create accountability for any harm that could be caused and can help to ensure that human rights are upheld as the development continues.

The tensions around the sewer line project demonstrate the need for clearly defined resettlement policies. They also highlight the need to address the challenges surrounding temporary displacement by developing strategies that outline how communities will be compensated and accommodated whilst construction is underway. Community members should be included and involved in every step of the development process to avoid conflicts and ensure that local knowledge informs project design. With regards to the Gatwekera sewer line, this could be an opportunity to get residents involved in the construction process, organization of relocation plans to minimize trauma and shock, and the development of the sewer line’s maintenance plan to ensure the sustainability of the intervention.

At KDI Kenya we will be closely following the development of the project. Two of our public space projects (KPSP03 and KPSP05) sit on the Ngong River in Gatwekera and we have been talking closely with our community partners, the sewer line committee and local government officials to ensure that valuable community amenities are maintained where possible. At a time of year where cholera outbreaks are becoming more prevalent, and where overflow of open drainage is spreading waterborne disease, we believe that the project has the potential to be transformative, if done in an open and consultative manner. Stay tuned for more updates!

The KDI Kenya team.


References/Related readings:

Guardian Article: ‘World Bank President admits resettlement failures: “What we found causes me deep concern”’  http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/09/world-bank-president-jim-yong-kim-resettlement-land-rights

Back to Development: A call for what development could be by International Accountability Project

Sewer Line Evictions in Kibera  https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=12&v=WCaD8lJpXgQ  



2 Responses to Conflict Coming Up The Line

  1. you are good at your work in kibera KDI.

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