Nairobi slum-dwellers march for better conditions and basic human rights

Secretary General Irene Khan on Thursday led several hundred of  Nairobi’s slum-dwellers in a city centre march to press Kenya’s government to remedy their poor living conditions and acknowledge their basic human rights. The marchers came from informal settlements all over Nairobi – a city where over half the population live in slums. They carried banners demanding the right to adequate housing, to basic services such as education and health, and calling for an end to the forced evictions that had led many participants to lose their homes and possessions. “Our rights; our life” cried the protesters in Swahili. “The right to housing; the struggle continues.” Ms Khan was flanked by Lady Soweto – a tiara-clad activist from Soweto Village in Kibera – Africa’s largest slum. Other marchers included women in their eighties, athletic gymnasts and drama groups. All walked side by side with the Amnesty International delegates. The lively procession cheered, sang and danced its way through central Nairobi and assembled at Ufungamano House where many of the slum-dwellers took to the stage to share their experiences of living in informal settlements and described the deprivation, insecurity, voicelessness and exclusion that they face everyday. “The settlements hold the majority of Nairobi’s population. You are the majority, and if together we can clear the barriers that restrain you from realizing this power then no land grabber, no corrupt official, self-interested  or ineffectual politician will be able to hold you back,” Ms Khan told the crowd during her speech which received cheers, stamps and claps. “The element that has surprised me in the settlements of Nairobi is not the terrible conditions but the energy, the organization of communities and the sense that there is a current of people power waiting to be unleashed,” she said. Ms Khan then asked the assembled slum-dwellers to send a free text message to tell the Kenyan government what housing rights and living in dignity meant to them. The crowd sent their messages simultaneously after a countdown from Ms Khan. The SMS action is the first launched under Amnesty International’s global Demand Dignity campaign launched last month.