Manyatta Estate in Kisumu. Manyatta, a sprawling peri-urban estate on the outskirts of Kisumu, presents many ironies. Its residents earn relatively low incomes, yet they generally pay more (compared to higher-income residents of the city proper) for basic services such as water and public transit. Residents often have no access to piped water, even though Kisumu sits on the shores of one of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water.
Manyatta is a peri-urban estate [neighborhood] on the eastern outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city. It is located in what might be called colloquially as the Kisumu’s “slum belt,” a group of informal settlements [hereinafter called slums] that have grown for decades skirting around the center and suburbs of Kisumu since Kenya achieved Independence. The other more well-known slums in Kisumu include Kondele, Nyawita, Obunga, and Nyalenda.
Such slums are not unique to Kisumu. Every city and town in Kenya, specifically, and Africa, as a whole, have their share of such slums—there are, for example, Majengo slums in Nyeri; Kibera in Nairobi. These slums consist largely of informal semi-permanent housing for the poor, many of whom migrated from rural areas in pursuit of economic opportunities in the city.
When Manyatta emerged as a slum in Kisumu is difficult to tell and is best left for another day. What we are interested in is why and how did Manyatta slum emerge? Who are the people who live in Manyatta? Where do they come from? Why do they live in Manyatta? What kinds of problems and challenges do they face, and are there any solutions to such challenges and problems? What is Manyatta’s socio-economic profile?
From cursory examination of available reports, it seems that the residents of Manyatta range from low-income to the unemployed, with a few scattered mid-income earners also living in the slum. The area seems to have a well-connected transportation system for commuting to employment or school, but, for the most part, the majority of the Manyatta residents have an uncertain tenure. Few have access to piped water. Crime is more prevalent than in the more established areas of Kisumu. There is no sewer or sanitation service, meaning trash and filthy waste are strewn everywhere around the slum.
Manyatta, and the various other slums near it, like most other slums, are the result of colonial racism that pushed Africans with low-level of education to living in neglected sections of emerging colonial towns and cities, the rapid urban population growth that took place during and after colonial, and the inability of the newly elected African leaders to handle the new residents of the towns and the cities in independent Africa. The large population, for example, meant that housing and municipal services were in high demand in the towns and the cities. The provision of such services took time while in some cases the resources to make them available were simply not present.
But, why was there such a massive population growth in African towns and cities, and how did it get so out of hand? The answer lies in colonialism. With the exception of few places, the interior of Africa interior did not have any large cities during the pre-colonial period, but, this changed when the various European powers; France, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium, among others, started to colonize different parts of Africa. Amongst the many changes that came with the colonial powers was the rise of modern infrastructure throughout African colonies. Railways were built and roads were constructed to transport raw materials, goods, and services in Africa during the colonial period. Markets, towns, and cities emerged along the nodes of the roads and the railways leading to a process known as urbanization. Some of the markets, towns, and other economic centers that developed along the roads and railways evolved into large cities.
And this is exactly what took place in Kisumu. Little more than a market place during the precolonial times, Kisumu evolved as an important terminus of the Kenya-Uganda Railway, linking the port of Mombasa along the coast of Kenya and Lake Victoria in the interior. Originally known as Port Florence, Kisumu became an important economic hub during the colonial period. It still is, to some extent.
Africans slowly migrated to these cities, looking for work that the government offered and informal activities that could offer them a living. These migrant Africans found to their dismay that the cities were not open to everybody seeking to live there. They found the cities segregated. Some areas of the city were demarcated for whites, others were created for Asians, and others reserved for Africans. The Milimani area of Kisumu was cordoned off for whites only. Areas occupied by the whites were saturated with social services, and the areas reserved for Africans were given little attention by the dominant whites. The needs of the African migrants in the city were neglected. In fact, many informal African settlements were allowed to grow around the cities without any regulation or control by the colonial administrators running the cities.
When the African migrants arrived, the subsequent urbanization could have been controlled through well-planned strategies to deal with the influx of people. This might have been possible with a well-thought plan. However, there was no such plan. When the African immigrants flooded into the cities, the ruling Europeans did not care much for them.
As long as the immigrants lived in their settlements and the settlements were outside the parameters of the cities, they were on their own. They were not interfered with. They were ignored. They were given a blind eye. Their existence was very convenient for colonial authorities because it allowed the colonial authorities to exploit the labor of the Africans in the informal settlements without feeling the need to provide them with “actual” housing or “real” municipal services since they were outside the parameters of the city.
After independence, the previous colonial restrictions on people’s movements and areas of habitation were removed. The informal settlements were incorporated into the city’s development plans. They were supposed to be provided with better housing and social services, and their fortunes were supposed to improve. But that has not happened. Corruption, incompetence, tribalism, among other problems have stultified the development of the slums. According to Antony Felix O. Simbowo, “in the year 2005 alone, the Kenyan government spent a whopping Kenya Shillings 650 million (about US $ 8 million) on a study named, “Geographical Dimensions of Wellbeing in Kenya; Who and Where are the Poor?” … The report, released in November 2005, indicated that Nyanza province, with capital City Kisumu, is the poorest region in the country, with poverty levels of 65%.” This is a good example why inhabitants of Manyatta face perennial problems.
Many officials in the city since independence have also fallen prey to the allures of corruption, causing many problems within the city. For example, many powerful politicians, civil servants, and cronies have failed to properly pay or collect or account for taxes collected, reducing the amount of resources that could otherwise be used to fix the problems in the slums.
The acceleration of population growth in the city since independence has also served to tighten the pressure on local infrastructure. There has been a huge influx of new migrants into the city after independence in Kenya. The independence of Kenya seems to have inspired more people to try to move to the city. This is not unusual. People are always motivated to migrate to search for improved economic opportunities, and new social experiences. The search is not always successful, as many migrants to the city face a life of poverty, crime and despair. Cities are melting pots, bringing together people from different backgrounds. Migrants may find themselves torn from their comfortable traditional cultural roots, and exposed to many new ideas, goods and conflicts.
Things have therefore become worse for the African city. Cities such as Kisumu have consequently been unable to handle the large influx of people requiring attention, help, and social services. Crime has become rampant, there are few places to house the people, and there is very little in the form of a well-organized transportation system to help people get around. Many inhabitants of Manyatta have been forced to fend for themselves. Thousands are jobless or are eking a living out of informal, jua kali, sometimes, menial jobs. Many people have built themselves their own informal housing. Homelessness and bad housing are real problems in Manyatta.
Today Manyatta, and the other slums around Kisumu, continue to face major problems. Crime is rampant, clean water is hard to find, and the general infrastructure is a nightmare. Furthermore, local authorities there can be very corrupt—there have been many cases of corruption, financial embezzlement, and double-home sales in these areas. More than a half of Kenya’s population living in the informal settlements, the slums, face similar problems.
However, that does not mean that the world has abandoned the inhabitants of the informal settlements to their fate. The government may have; the world has not. There are many non-governmental organizations around whose purpose is to improve the infrastructure and quality of life in the informal settlements. According to Stephen Okwany, “GASIAPOA Waste Management Services, a Community Based Organization,” has, for instance, decided to step in and “change the filthy slums to clean haven.” GASIAPOA is supported by a local NGO, Umande Trust, under Sustainable Environment and Community Development (SECODE Project). There is also the “MASYEP stands for Manyatta Slums Youth Empowerment Project.” Another project is the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP). Initiated by the Kenyan government with the support of the UN-Habitat in 2001, the KENSUP seeks to improve the infrastructure of Kenyan settlements, as well as stop anything that contributes to the growth of the settlements.
There have also been many other attempts to improve life in these slums. The focus of organizations working in these informal settlements is to improve the lives of the people in the settlements. Although a lot of progress has been made, it is still along way for life in the informal settlements such as Manyatta to improve. There are scars whose source go back through decades of history, and healing a cut that is as deep as that will take a long time.
“Manyatta Estate in Kisumu | Macleki,” Macleki, January 2, 2018, https://macleki.org/stories/living-on-the-edge-in-manyatta-estate-in-kisumu/.