About 2 million people – half of Nairobi’s population – live in slums and informal settlements in squalid conditions. They lack basic services, such as running water and sanitation, and suffer from discrimination, insecurity and marginalisation. 

Thousands of others have been evicted and their homes destroyed by government bulldozers - often with as little as 72 hours notice.  Many do not have land ownership documents to prove they owned the land where they built their homes.

The housing sector was negatively affected by the post-election skirmishes in 2007 that led to destruction of housing, leaving many Kenyans without shelter. The impact of these skirmishes was worse in the slums and informal settlements. In Nairobi, about 9,000 housing units were destroyed, affecting close to 100,000 residents. Other urban centres most hit by the post-election skirmishes were, among others, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru and Naivasha. 

Some of the consequences of housing rights problems in Kenya include: worrying statistics on gender violence, HIV/AIDS infection rates and crime in economically depressed neighbourhoods where there is little access to decent shelter and social amenities. 

Gender discrimination persists within land and housing practices. Kenyan women are routinely disinherited from their homes and lands.

In 2005, the Kenyan government adopted a national housing policy in which they promised to progressively realize the right to housing for all of its citizens. Despite this promise, the government has failed to provide accessible and affordable housing to millions. There is a weak, outdated institutional framework to facilitate housing development for low-income people and a lack of appropriate legal framework and guidelines for informal settlement activities. Statistical data and other information relevant for planning and decision making purposes are not available. 

Although the Kenyan government has adopted a human rights-based approach in its water policy, government planning and expenditure does not prioritize the poor in delivery of basic services. Adding to the problem are the informal cartels that exploit poor neighbourhoods by demanding informal taxes and service charges from residents for basic services that the government should provide.

Slum upgrading is slow and under-resourced, and slum residents complain that they are not being inadequately consulted about the upgrades they require. The government has yet to develop a slum-upgrading policy.

Security of tenure is a fundamental requirement for progressive integration of the urban poor in urban areas and a basic component of the right to access adequate housing. 

In 2006, the government pledged to issue national guidelines on evictions. It has yet to approve the draft eviction guidelines recently developed in consultation with civil society, and has refused to stop forced evictions until the guidelines are in place.  

Corruption and wasteful government expenditure is a large part of the problem. These resources need to be available for housing, water, sanitation, health care and infrastructure. Unless this happens, the realization of basic human rights will remain a pipe dream for the majority of Kenyans living in inadequate housing.

COHRE’s Africa Regional Programme is based in Nairobi, Kenya.