“Finally, justice will be on our side!” Community fighting forced evictions in Kenya

By by Renata de Souza, Amnesty International Campaigner on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

“We cannot take our children to school because we don’t have a place to live. El Niño rains are coming and we are out in the cold. Where are our leaders?”

These are the words of Violet Nabwangu, whose community in Mombasa, Kenya, could be forced from their homes to make way for the expansion of a highway.

Violet made it very clear. Beyond losing your home, forced evictions affect one’s life in so many ways. You may lose your livelihood and your support network. For children, you may miss a year at school or drop-out altogether. You are exposed to the weather. The consequences are long-term.

Violet was speaking at a gathering of almost 1,000 people from Jomvu, Bangladesh and seven other informal settlements in Mombasa, all demanding protection for those at risk of forced evictions. They were joined by many civil society organizations, MPs, Mombasa government officials and representatives from the Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA), which is at the centre of the controversy.

Our latest research on forced evictions, ‘Driven Out for Development: Forced Evictions in Mombasa, Kenya’, documented forced evictions in Jomvu carried out by KENHA to make way for the Mombasa-Mariakani highway extension, as well as the risk of further evictions in Bangladesh.

A picture of a woman, Violet Namwangu, holding two microphones as she addresses the crowd while giving her testimony about the challenges of forced evictions. A picture of a woman, Violet Namwangu, holding two microphones as she addresses the crowd while giving her testimony about the challenges of forced evictions.
Violet Namwangu giving her testimony PHOTO ©Amnesty International/Photographer Armstrong Too

Shining a light on forced evictions

As part of the protest, Jomvu residents brought an ‘eviction torch’ to expose forced evictions. The torch started its journey in Nairobi back in September and passed through various settlements where there have been forced evictions or where there is a threat of them happening at any time.

The torch was brought to Mombasa by the Kenya Rapid Response to Forced Evictions Team, a grassroots movement with over 1,000 members from Nairobi’s informal settlements who monitor and report on forced evictions. Amnesty staff members received the torch and together we handed it over to the authorities attending the event.

A group of traditional dancers in a procession behind two leaders holding up torches ( like the Olympic torch) A group of traditional dancers in a procession behind two leaders holding up torches ( like the Olympic torch)
A community dance group accompany Jomvu settlement residents as they bring the ‘Evictions torch’ to deliver to KENHA. PHOTO ©Amnesty International/Photographer Armstrong Too

Together, the community and Amnesty were calling for KENHA to compensate all victims of the forced eviction in Jomvu, including families who had dismantled their own homes to salvage building materials for fear that they would be bulldozed. We were also demanding that KENHA provide full information about the project’s plans and engage with all those affected to discuss compensation and resettlement.

KENHA Apologises

Before the event, we received a letter from the project's financers committing to put their loan on hold until every person affected by the forced evictions in Jomvu are compensated and an appropriate resettlement action plan is in place. We had also received a letter from KENHA expressing regret for the forced evictions and committing to make amends.

But still we really didn’t expect what happened next. One after the other, the different authorities present took to the floor and expressed their support for Jomvu and Bangladesh and promised that their rights will be respected as the road expansion project moves forward. Then Charles Ubuon from the highways authority took the microphone to say he was there “to assure [Jomvu residents] that whatever happened, we apologize and we will correct... We have agreed that we will compensate the victims for whatever happened in Jomvu."

In all my years working on housing rights in countries from all regions of the world, this is the very first time I heard an authority publicly making an apology!
Renata de Souza

In all my years working on housing rights in countries from all regions of the world, this is the very first time I heard an authority publicly making an apology!

This day will always be for me a reminder of the strength of the resilient people of Kenya and the power we have when we work together to challenge injustices. In the residents’ words: “We are happy and confident that finally justice will be on our side.”

A screen shot of a series of retweets by the Kenya National Highways Authority. retweeting Amnesty messages holding them accountable for their pledges to compensate and resettle all those evicted from Jomvu informal settlement in Mombasa, Kenya. A screen shot of a series of retweets by the Kenya National Highways Authority. retweeting Amnesty messages holding them accountable for their pledges to compensate and resettle all those evicted from Jomvu informal settlement in Mombasa, Kenya.
KENHA Retweets of Amnesty tweets

Take Action

Let the authorities know we will hold them to their promises – sign the petition today. We will deliver all your signatures to KENHA in December.

Read more

Report https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr32/2467/2015/en/
Press Release http://www.amnestykenya.org/media-centre/news-releases/75-kenya-authorities-must-keep-promise-to-compensate-victims-of-forced-eviction.html