Diffusing negative health and social repercussions of crowding half a city’s population on 1.5% of total land area

Last week Wednesday I met Jane Weru, Kingsley Kariuki and Joel Mwaniki of Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT). All set up with my interview questions and well on my way to Hurlingham Nairobi, I received a call from Peter that AMT had moved offices since the last time we visited them last summer! Luckily their new abode was not too far from the old one so I made it on time for the meeting. Phew!

At a time when urban poor housing in Kenya is on the brink and given the estimate that over half of Kenya’s urban population, which is about 3.9 million people, live in slums, organizations such as AMT seem to be the very practical light at the end of a long and dark tunnel.

Below is an excerpt from a narrative that I am currently writing using information gained first-hand from the AMT officials.

History

Akiba Mashinani Trust was officially incorporated in 2007 by Pamoja Trust and ‘Muungano wa Wanavijiji’ /  Federation of Slum Dwellers and by the year 2010 was completely independent of Pamoja Trust. The organization was initially set up as an appendage of the Huruma Upgrading Project and had “Kambi Moto”– a Swahili name that literally translates to a camp on fire – as one of its very first projects.  One of the major challenges characteristic of slums globally is the lack of proper sanitation facilities. Kambi moto project in Huruma was charged with the building of thirty toilets at a time where ‘flying toilets’ were rampant in the slum areas of Nairobi.

In explaining just how bad the situation was before the construction of proper toilets was done, co-founder of AMT Kingsley Kariuki detailed, “The refuse thrown would land on the roofs of the shacks made up mostly of iron sheets. Then when the rainy season came, it would spill from the roofs into the pathways and homes of the residents. Of course, this always translated into debilitating health issues.” 

A long standing goal of the philanthropic organization is filling the gap in urban financing by providing an affordable alternative source of finance to what the market offers.  In line with this, co-founder Jane Weru spoke of how some community members in Timau, Nakuru could not believe that the only cost they would have to incur in order to be members of an AMT savings scheme would be the cost of a passbook – which is about half a dollar or the cost of buying a simple note book! Such skepticism is justified by huge hidden costs and high interest charges ubiquitous in Kenyan banks and (worse still!) micro-finance institutions that are championed as leaders in offering cheaper loans to Kenyans.  

For an individual to access AMT loans, they just need to be members of a registered savings scheme/group where they participate by saving any amount that they comfortably can on a daily basis. The saving scheme has to have proper leadership and a documented constitution to guide its undertakings. While banks charge around 24% for individual loans, AMT members can access funds at an interest rate of 8% with only 20% of the proposed project cost acting as collateral. The repayment on loans is then ploughed back into the organization’s revolving fund.

How AMT works

AMT works closely with Muungano wa Wanavijiji in the mobilization of savings schemes and in recruitment of the savers. In the form of intangible products, AMT organizes for the technical support needed in its housing projects such as liaising with architects for quality but lower priced architectural designs, helping with the procurement of building licenses and permits from Nairobi City Council and in the payment of the necessary legal fees.

AMT’s tangible products are categorized into three: Housing, Welfare and In-sitting construction sites. Through its housing products, AMT facilitates project financing such as land purchase, the management of construction and building capacity of its members.  The philanthropic organization offers livelihood loans geared mainly towards boosting small businesses within the communities that it serves. It also negotiates with insurance firms to provide affordable health insurance covers for its members. 

At a time when Kenya is encumbered with tribalism, AMT stands out as an organization that brings together all Kenyans as it has proper representation in various regions of the country such as Mombasa (Coastal area), Kisumu, Athi River and Nakuru.

The organization is funded mainly by grants from international organizations such as the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and International Development Research Center (IDRC).

Where do I go from here?

From a sample of the savings portfolio held by AMT, I realized that the organization is limited in terms of the data that it has on its savers. Although well furnished with information on its saving groups it lacks some particulars on the individual members e.g.the number of dependants per saver and the average annual income amount/expenses incurred.  Hopefully, Peter, Lillian and I will obtain such information directly from the Federation of Slum Dwellers and from a visit of the residents of Mukuru slums scheduled for the last week of August.

 

 

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