Age of Zinc is Back! For now here is a story from Nairobi Kenya


The Backstory of the Day Huruma Slums Got Secure Land Tenure –

(Inspired by the TV drama, “24”)

3:56 PM Friday 30th January 2015

Jane Weru, Director of Kenya slum dwellers financing facility, Akiba Mashinani Trust gets a call on a number she does not know. The caller says “this is Charity Ngilu”. It is Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Land, Housing and Urban Development. “With me I have the former vice president of Spain, who is in Kenya on an official visit.” “She is interested to meet with grassroots women in Kenya and I remember your Muungano women with head scarves coming to see me in my office. “I’d like her to meet with them tomorrow.” Jane says a visit can be easily arranged and the date is set.

4:21 PM

Rashid Mutua, Chair of the Kenya slum dwellers federation, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji meets Jane Weru at the federation offices. With him are the leaders of a greenfields housing project to house 2300 slum families. They have an appointment to meet the head of the slum improvement program of the National Youth Service (NYS), a para-military division of government that undertakes development projects. NYS want to use the land set aside for the greenfields project to put up a camp for their engineering battalion. The battalion will put in infrastructure that benefits the Mukuru slums where the greenfields project is located. On their side, the greenfields project leaders want a letter recognizing the use of their land from NYS.

4:30 PM

Kenya Airways Flight 765 from Accra is touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. On board is Joseph Muturi – national leader of Muungano and board member of Shack Dwellers International. Muungano’s driver Karanja is at the airport to meet him.


Muturi on the left – when Kenya met Swaziland

4:31 PM

With no driver at the federation offices, Jack Makau, Administrator of the professionals who support Muungano is co-opted to drive the team to the NYS headquarters. He joins Jane, Rashid, and the project leaders. On the drive there, Jane asks Rashid to call the residents of Huruma slums and let them know that she will be visiting the next day with the former vice president of Spain, who is interested to meet the women in the settlements.

6:05 PM

There is stalemate between Mr. Makokha, NYS Head of the slum improvement program and the greenfield’s project leaders. Government will not give them a letter recognizing that they have allowed use of their land for an NYS camp. The leaders are threatening to kick out NYS from their land. Jane steps out of the meeting to pick a call.

8:21 PM

The meeting with NYS has reached an amicable conclusion, where NYS will set up camp and in return will landscape the land, fill a 100 meter deep disused quarry on the land and fix the broken borehole, even as they work on other infrastructure in the Mukuru slums. Once in the car, Jane informs Rashid that the Cabinet Secretary had called again to say she will be accompanying the Spanish delegation and she also wants to meet Muungano women.

9:05 PM

Rashid, who has not made it home to his settlement in 2 weeks checks into another bed and breakfast in the center of Nairobi. He places a call to Joseph, who has been home for less than 2 hours since arriving from the airport. Rashid wants Joseph to organize 500 head scarves for Muungano women, to be delivered in Huruma slums at 9 am. Rashid then settles down to place calls to slum settlements to get 500 women to go to Huruma by 10 am.


Rashid Matuu

Saturday 31st January 2015

2:34 AM

40 kilometers away from Nairobi hotel, five women are hanging out to dry 500 white head scarves with “Muungano” written in bold green letters. They have been hand pressing the wording since Joseph called.

6:17 AM

Jack is setting off from home on his bicycle to join other bikers for a group ride. He plans a detour at 1: PM to meet Jane and drive her to Huruma slums where she will meet the Cabinet Secretary.

9:20 AM

398 kilometers away from Nairobi, Erickson Sunday, National Muungano Leader in Kisumu City is sending $1000 on mobile money to Rashid to pay for the transport for Muungano women coming to Huruma. The first group of women from city slums are just arriving in Huruma. Instead of the 30 women expected in this group, 56 women have shown up. Rashid is hoping that the other slums are going to stick to the numbers he asked for. The budget to support their transport and lunch is stretched.

11:30 AM

Jane calls Jack and says that the rendezvous with the Cabinet Secretary is at the Kempisky Hotel, one of Nairobi’s newest and most luxurious hotels. Meanwhile, Rashid is relying on the women leadership to organize lunches for the now over 500 women that have arrived in Huruma.

1:30 PM

At the lobby of the Kempisky Hotel, Joseph is wearing what he describes as he’s best Italian SH*T and Jane is in a floral flowing African dress, Jack in sweat socked biking shorts and tight T.Shirt. All sitting across the Cabinet Secretary, who is perfectly dressed in white slacks and Armani sunglasses. They are discussing construction cost per square foot of low cost housing.


Jane Weru

1:42 PM

The Spanish delegation arrive at the Kempisky Hotel.

Joseph and Jack chat with the Cabinet Secretary and Jane at the bloody expensive Kempisky lobby. The Secretary requests Jane to assist her and do a legal brief on how she can cancel the private titles in Mukuru -something about the constitutional rights of women to own land. And Jane urges the Secretary that we start a joint housing fund

No way to meet a Cabinet Secretary

No Way to Meet a Cabinet Secretary

1:51 PM

Joseph has been asked to enter the police vehicle leading the official delegation so he gives the direction to Huruma Slums. The siren lights are already whirling. Jane has gone into the fourth car, a huge SUV, together with the Cabinet Secretary and the Spanish former VP. Jack has unyoked the wheels of his bike and put the whole thing in the boot of Jane’s car. He plans to chase the official convey and not get caught in traffic.

1:52 PM

Rashid calls Joseph to ask which of two Huruma slums they should start with. Meanwhile women from 3 of the Huruma slum that will not be visited are up in arms protesting to Rashid.

1:53 PM

The convey starts to snake its way out of the hotel. Jack, at the back has pulled out too, but is speaking on phone with Rashid, who is reporting that media trucks are appearing everywhere. Jack doesn’t see the kerb at the hotel and the wheel hits it hard. The tire deflates.

1:54 PM

In Huruma, words are flying. Women from the settlements that will not be visited versus the women from slums in other parts of the city. Rashid walks away and leaves them to it. He goes to inspect the housing sites where the Cabinet Secretary will visit. In formula-one pit-stop style, Jack’s car is lifted by security and placed on a jerk and the tire changed and done before the sound of the convoy’s receding sirens completely fades. Jack has lost the convoy and is soon engulfed in traffic, inching towards Huruma. He’s lost the initiative.

2:21 PM

As the Cabinet Secretary alights from her car in Huruma, Rashid who is positioned to meet the delegation, is elbowed out of the way by the women reaching to witness the arrival. He is now 5 rows behind the women and he has lost the initiative. Jane, the Cabinet Secretary, and the former vice president are slowly making their way to a block of houses still under construction.

muungano women 2

Cabinet Secretary Ngilu accompanied by former Spain Vice President, Maria Teresa De La Vega walks in Huruma to see Muungano projects

2:21:30 PM

Joseph has jumped out of the police car, hoping to get into the main delegation. He’s 6.4 frame can be seen above everyone else, powering he’s way through a sea of women.

2:22 PM

One of the women in the welcome party whips off her Muungano scarf from her sweating brow and lurches to the Cabinet Secretary and starts to tie it on her head. The seasoned politician bows slightly and allows her to knot it. Jane flinches but keeps her smile. Taking cue from the action, the women are now adorning the entire delegation in wet scarves. The Spanish VP’s daughter has a look of sheer terror on her face. Muturi, sees that the women have taken over and lets go. He too has lost the initiative. He is quickly embroiled in an argument with the brooding ladies at the back whose settlements will not be visited.

2:23 PM

Susan, former chair of Kambi Moto, the second upgrading site in the visit –   smoothens the seat clothes in her houses and rearranges the plastic flowers on her coffee table. The Cabinet Secretary will soon be visiting her house.

2:25 PM

The Secretary has made her way up to the roof slab of one of the houses. The crowd of women and hundreds of onlookers are ecstatic. The women are singing federation songs. There is cheering. Security has totally been disabled by the crowds and Jane is looking around frantically for someone who can bring some order. Two women she doesn’t ever remember seeing are explaining how they save and how they construct incrementally. The Secretary looks pleased.

muungano women

Muungano Women on the March

2:46 PM

The Secretary’s security detail has established a path for the delegation to leave the site. As they walk the women are waving their savings passbooks and singing. A passbook is thrust to the Secretary’s face. She stops and takes it. Jane’s heart skips a beat. The book is actually a stack of passbooks taped together and covered in clear cellophane. The Secretary opens the passbook and examines it. Jane moves closer to see what the book says. In ten years the lady has saved $2500. The Secretary starts to walk again, still holding the book. After a few quiet steps she turns to Jane and says, “We are going to do something big, very big, with your women!”

Muungano women 3

Cabinet Secretary and Jane Weru at the Huruma site

2:48 PM

It is clear the delegation doesn’t want to get into their cars. They are walking the kilometer to Kambi Moto, the next site. Cameras are being hauled along, and the media trucks with dishes on their roofs are revving but cannot move. There are women everywhere.

2:51 PM

From the doorstep, Susan knows the moment has come. She can hear singing and cheers nearing. Joseph, sees Rashid in the throng. He makes his way to him. Rashid sees Joseph and smiles resignedly and says, “I think our work here is done”.

2:56 PM

The delegation arrives in Kambi Moto. They slow down to shake hands with a fresh group of welcoming ladies. Someone notices that the former vice president of Spain and her daughter are nowhere to be seen. The security detail scramble – tearing through the crowd in all directions. Jane wants to scream. The Secretary looks completely at home.

3:02 PM

The Secretary is ushered and walks into Susan’s house. Susan takes charge and replaces Jane.

3:03 PM

The Personal Assistant to the Secretary sees Joseph and calls him over. He says, “If you can get close to her, tell her the media are going to ask about the Wilson School scandal”.

3:10 PM

News of the Spanish delegation comes in. Women from one of the settlements not in the itinerary diverted her and took her to their settlement.

3:12 PM

The Secretary recognizes Joseph when he brushes his way to her side. He delivers his message. She asks, “What Wilson scandal?” He answers, “Where it is rumoured that the vice president has grabbed land belonging to a primary school”. She smiles and focuses back.

3:14 PM

Jack finally drives into Kambi Moto.

3:54 PM

The Kambi Moto visit is coming to an end. The Secretary is going to address the media and leave. She says, “The President doesn’t know about this work Muungano has done”. There are loud cheers. It’s almost inaudible when she adds, “I’m going to bring the president here!”

KambMotos Square_2

Kambi Moto

3:56 PM

The visiting delegation enter their cars.


7 Hours After. Chelsea FC are playing Manchester City in the English Premier League. The match is watched by fewer slum dwellers in Kenya than is often the case when big matches like this take place. On this day, the 9 pm news broadcast is far more important for them.

19 Hours After. Jane is making breakfast for her family. Her phone rings. The Cabinet Secretary says to her, “I am going to see the low cost housing the government has built. Will you come with me?”

168 Hours After. Jane’s phone rings. It goes unanswered. She left it by her bedside when she left for work 2 hours earlier.

177 Hours After. Jack catches a flash of the 7 pm evening news. The Cabinet Secretary was back in Huruma. She declared that the government was going to issue land tenure certificates to the residents of the Huruma slums.


Age of Zinc is proud to present the final instalment in a memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back soon for our next memoir!

Chapter 14

I was always thinking that if I get married I have to get a man who will always take care of me and that is also what I tell my daughter. She is just 18 so she is still innocent and I thank god for that because it is hard.

My first daughter is targeting right and has some things she wants. I promised her, I’d work nail and tooth to see that she achieves whatever she wants. I told her, “You are not going to get married tomorrow before you have your own job. You have to be working and then you can get a man. If you want to get married before you have a job, you’re going to end up suffering. And when you start suffering, don’t think of me suffering for you, that is your own problem. But I’m ready to support you until you get what you want.” I don’t have to baby feed her. She is a good girl. When she returns from school you give her wax and tell her that this is your capital. I tell her she can make some candles and sell them and then she shows me the sales. I tell her that you have to work for this money so when you go back to school you will have some money with you. She will never sit still. She spares some time for her books and does housework and then goes to work on the project.

I think each child should at least show what they are able to do to. You need to know your children: who is ready to work, who doesn’t want to work, and who is trust worthy. If you are open with them you know what they are thinking and know if they are going in a certain direction.

Some others maybe think that they will be supported, but I grew up knowing that I need to support myself. I don’t think I need someone to wake me up because if I know what I want, I have to do it myself. Why wait for someone? Let me fail and someone can come in. 


To Slum Dwellers International of thinking to mobilize women and empower them to a higher level of leadership which gives them strength to face their challenges and target development. Today we have empowered slum dweller women for development.

To note Kiberu Hasan (Uganda), Rose Molokoane (South Africa), Joseph Muturi (Kenya), Jockin Arputham (India), Abasi (Uganda), and the ACTogether staff.


Age of Zinc is proud to present an audio excerpt from the fourteenth (and last) instalment in our memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back later this week for the rest of this week’s instalment!


Age of Zinc is proud to present the thirteenth instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

When we work as a team we are able to get many things. We can’t sit back and say: “I’m poor, I can’t do anything.”  No, you have to start small and then you can grow.

The federation saved my life. I was almost gone and had a lot of stress. I had three children at that time. I was finding life hard with these children because I was not working much and the money was not supporting us. I had my shop but we still couldn’t save money. All the expenditures were going to pay off the loans and trying to survive. When I went to Owino I was able to start a new business and then with the federation I was new person. I was free.

With the federation women we are thinking big – we want businesses. We are also planning – we can buy a piece of land and we can acquire a loan. We can become a society and do things for ourselves. We do not have to sit and wait or beg.

We focus on improving our lives and changing the image of the slums. Instead of thinking that slums are places of useless people, we want the government to think that slums are part of development. This is what they have to focus on how we develop.  Slums have always been around and are growing everyday. They need to understand how we can find a solution – together with the slum dwellers.

Today people are informed. Even if I’m gone there are thousands of other people who know what they want and they can get it. So for me, I’m satisfied that I’ve at least worked. I’ve done something. So even if I leave now, tomorrow my children who are still slum dwellers will find the movement moving on.

Age of Zinc is proud to present an audio excerpt from the thirteenth instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back later this week for the rest of this week’s instalment!


Age of Zinc is proud to present the twelfth installment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

The first time I left Uganda was in 2010. I went to Nairobi for a savings meeting. It was my first time to go on a plane. Eh, it was not easy! My child was one month old so I had to move with him. When I reached the airport with the team I was told I needed documents for the child. It was time for the plane to leave, so the team told me that we are going and you will come by yourself once you get the documents. I said, “I can!” They said, “Will you come?” And I said, “I will come and I CAN!”

I went to the office where I was told to go for the documents and they directed me on what I had to do. I went to the nearby area to get photos of my child taken and then I filled out and submitted all the forms. I did everything quickly and I made it in time for the next flight! I went andI reached there by myself! Yes I did it! When I reached, I found the team and they were all surprised. They thought that maybe I couldn’t do it.

This had been my second chance. My first chance I was supposed to go to India but my passport was not ready. I said to myself it is not my time. My time was coming and now this was my time! When it came it had challenges, but I said, “No, today I can do this!”

The next trip was for federation strengthening in Ghana. We went to see how the Ghana federation was working – the structure, the projects, the saving groups, and the community. It was a good exchange. We learned a lot from Ghana and it helped us with our federation.At that time our structure was still new so the leaders went to see what they were doing in Ghana. We saw the Ashaiman housing project where the federation negotiated with the chiefs, whom had been on an exposure exchange to India, which learned how the Indian federation worked with its government to get land. We also took a tour in Old Fadama, a big settlement, and saw how the slums are set up and how they managed the eviction threat. All of this was to strengthen the leaders, because in Uganda we never had that structure before. We wanted to see what the role of the leaders is and how do they work.

From Ghana we went to Malawi. That exchange was also about federation leadership. We went to see the different projects and we visited different groups to learn what they were doing. We learned how their saving schemes operate and how their projects work. With these projects they would agree that when they made clothes (it was a tailoring group) one person would take them to the market and sell and then bring back all sales. They were doing it to revolve funds. Everyone would go to the market and report. Another team sold vegetables. They would all agree and sell them as a team in the market. Their work was really teamwork in the saving schemes and their savings were always good. After selling they would each get some money and everyone could save. After that we came back to Uganda and had learned what to do to.

Age of Zinc is proud to present an audio excerpt from the twelfth instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back on Monday for the rest of this week’s instalment!



Age of Zinc is proud to present the eleventh installment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

My husband happened to be in one meeting and saw what I was doing. I didn’t know he was there because I was really busy, moving up and down, coordinating this and that. When I saw him later, he said, “Ah! That’s why you have become very tired. You are working so hard, now I understand.” Now when I go back home I will find that he has prepared food and he does not complain. If I tell him that I didn’t eat lunch or don’t have money for transport, he will give me something. Then tomorrow when I get money I show him what I made and we plan together. We agreed to share and know show much we are spending and what we have left. That is the only way it will change us. Initially, he would get his money from his houses and I wouldn’t even know how he was spending it. But after joining the federation we are like twins. We are one. We think the same and we work together. We even share the same challenges. If I’m hurt he feels that I’m hurt because he knows that we have the same responsibilities.

One of the things I learned from the federation was to understand how to manage my home and my husband. I had almost lost him before I joined the federation, because we were not moving in the same line. After I joined the federation, he was the one looking for me then. I was not around. I was so busy and I would go back home occupied thinking about more things. I was thinking about what we were going to do next. I was not thinking about him leaving me or doing whatever – I was busy, I got another husband, the federation! He was even scared that I found another man. I told him the federation is my husband and I’m going to be with them for the rest of my life! He asked me who this federation was and I told him it’s the savings that we had started – that is the federation. He was also scared because I never complained and was always satisfied with what I had. I knew that what I had was what I needed to fit into my life and I didn’t have to look for anything else then.

I’m used to not eating money, so I could never eat it. Whatever money I was given I was saving it. Our house was in a swamp area and whenever it rained water was always coming in our house. I thought two of my children were going to die in the house because of the weather – it was so cold. The first money I saved was for improving the house. I told my husband that I have saved this amount of money and I beg you to add in more money. So we improved the house. We had to buy cement and sand to lift the house up because it was sinking. When it rains in the swamps people have to pile up more soil to bring the level up. When you bring the soil level up though the houses go down more. So we had to bring the house up too. You change one part today and another tomorrow – that’s how you fix it. So it wasn’t breaking down the house. We had two rooms. After finishing one room, we did the other room, and then we did the floor. It was perfect! It changed our lives. It took time for the children to get well but today they are well. I also suffered from asthma with the weather; it was very tough for me. But I succeeded in changing it! Even women were wondering how I managed, but I did. And now my husband was also talking and telling people that when your woman joins that federation it changes them, they start thinking. He was the one then mobilising the men. He also joined and was saving. He knew that what I was targeting was big so he had to work with me. I was also helping him to plan. He used to get money and just spend it like that – on pleasure and going out alone. I grew up without those luxuries so I didn’t mind them, all I want to be alive and make sure my children are alive. That’s what I want.

Age of Zinc is proud to present an audio excerpt from the eleventh instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back on Friday for the rest of this week’s instalment!



Age of Zinc is proud to present the tenth instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

In 2005 I started working in Owino Market. I worked there for two years. In 2007 I joined the federation. When I joined the federation I lost the time to be in the market. I would move around in the communities in the evening for the federation and I also had to work in the market evenings. So I had to sacrifice some time and also cover the other side of being in the market.

When I was unable to go for the daily collections the women started loosing. So I said to myself that I couldn’t let this die because I felt it like it was part of me. I liked it and had mobilized over 300 people who were saving. I could move door to door and they were saving. After I had mobilize all these people I requested to get someone to assist me because I could not be moving around as much; I was losing my job at Owino. But the federation agreed that instead of getting another person to help me, they would pay me a little so I could continue. It was a challenge because they could not pay me what I was making in the market. Because they trusted me, I chose to continue. Trust is something you can’t just get. If people trust you that means you are an asset to them and you can’t lose. So I agreed and continued it for four consecutive months – I collected the savings. We then were able to start loaning.

Some people from ACTogether (the local support NGO) came to Kamwoyka and called a big meeting for all leaders in Kamwoyka settlement. I went because I was a local leader. At this meeting they introduced us to the savings culture and informed us what was involved. Afterwards, some of the leaders said, “No, these ones will eat your money!” Because a Dutch team and about three other organizations had come before and done something similar but had just eaten our money. But I stood up and said “Me, I’ll try this!” But my chairman said no and I told him “I will mobilize the women and they will come, I have them.” So we set up another meeting and I got thirteen women to come on the first day. These thirteen women started saving that day! We saved 13,000 shillings total. Each one saved 1,000 shillings. Those women also nominated me to be their collector at the beginning. So I was the secretary for the group and then they also asked me to be the collector. They had other leaders as well: the chairperson of the group, the treasurer, and the mobiliser. Committees were formed and each one of us had a role.

After that, we started mobilising. We mobilised our community and then our community mobilised another community. After we mobilising our community that’s when I started to go to different areas because I now knew what I was doing. I knew the challenges and the achievements. I could talk about something that I’m a part of and understood. Some of the challenges we faced were that when you started mobilizing the community some leaders would think you want to overtake them – we were a threat to them. They thought if this thing is successful, people would think that this is the person doing good work and when the elections come they will nominate this person instead. But after people see the benefits of their savings it’s up to them to decide. With us, we did not forced them to save. It is your own will and you were free to withdraw. We would also advise people that it is better to save for something big, not for daily food. If you’re saving for daily food you cannot save because you have to withdraw money everyday. It worked well and we were successful.

Soon after we started going for big meetings at the regional level. At that time we were still just in Kampala Central. We would go for meetings and that is where they recognized that I could maybe be put in a leadership position. They formed a profiling team and I was part of that team. In 2009 we moved into new areas. We visited Mbale to meet the municipality. At these meetings it was my job to record the minutes. This gave me a lot of strength because I had a lot of information and knew everything that was going on. It was during that period that the National Slum Dwellers decided that we needed a leadership structure. We set up a lot of meetings to discuss leadership structure and it took us almost two years to agree on the type of structure.

Once we had agreed on the structure we decided to have a meeting with all the different cities. By then we had mobilised the five regions of Kampala and the five secondary cities of Mbale, Arua, Jinja, Kabale, and Mbarara and each city was given the chance to elect one leader to the national team. Each city decided the person who they thought was good. For example, if we are looking at savings and Kampala Central was good at savings we would have Kampala Central give us someone who can oversee the savings committee. Jinja was very good at reports and auditing, so we looked for someone from Jinja who was doing audits to be on the national leadership team. This was the process we used for all the cities.

We agreed that we should have another national council meeting in a different area to inform all the leaders of the new executive team. All the regional leaders needed to be there to agree with the committee that had been nominated. In this meeting we agreed that we all would work with the team that has been nominated. This was 2011.


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