A Kenyan slum cartel commandeered a World Bank electrification project

The Standard reports:

Kenya Power yesterday dismantled an illegal power selling racket deep inside a Nairobi slum, exposing how a Sh300 million World Bank-backed slum electrification project was taken over by rogue businessmen.

kplcIn 2016, as part of Kenya’s electricity expansion project, the World Bank’s Global Partnership Output-Based Aid (GPOBA) partnered with Kenya Power to roll out the slum electrification programme aimed at subsidising the cost of electricity to low-income earners and ending illegal connections.

At one of the sites, 200 KVA ground-mounted transformer had been enclosed in a small stonewalled building from where illegal connections originated. The transformer, which Kenya Power impounded, was next to a six-storey flat that got its supply from it. The rest was supplied to dozens of iron sheet-walled houses and a myriad of businesses. The disconnection of the transformer left dozens of residents without power. The power supply is known as “sambaza” and residents said they paid between Sh200 and Sh700 per month to people they described as “agents.”

Here is the World Bank’s take on its Kenya GPOBA slum electrification project (from 2016). The project had significant political and corruption risk exposure from the start:

The project faced initial implementation challenges. After the project commenced, the average cost of each connection increased to around $900 due to the inflation of input costs. In order to adjust to this increase, GPOBA raised its subsidy from $75 to $125 per connection; IDA and KPLC also increased their subsidies to $250 and $510 respectively. The connection target was revised from 66,000 households to 40,000. The disbursement of subsidies was amended from the original two-tranche schedule to a one-time payment triggered by the verification of working connections with pre-paid meters. Another challenge was that slum residents in certain areas were reluctant to switch to legal connections due to issues of trust, payment barriers, and fear of reprisals from local cartels.

To address this issue, KPLC prepared an implementation acceleration plan, a two-track approach differentiating between those slums with rampant illegal connections and strong cartel presence, and informal settlements designated under the World Bank’s Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project. In the informal settlements, KPLC prepared for infrastructure improvements; in the slums where residents were reluctant to convert to legal connections, KPLC used a community supportive approach. Their outreach involved strengthening communication with residents through collaboration with youth groups, civil society organizations, and social scientists, and preparation of educational materials and contact points, such as kiosks.

It took more than three years for KPLC (and the World Bank) to act against the said slum cartels, despite the Bank’s own report from 2016 highlighting this as a “challenge” to project implementation.

I couldn’t easily find any World Bank project reviews in the intervening years. If anyone has pointers let me know.

Workshop Fatigue: Residents of Kibera Demand Sitting Allowances to Attend NGO Meetings

The residents of Kibera, in Nairobi,  have a message for foreign aid groups in their community: if you want us to come hear what you have to say, you need to pay us.

So many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have flooded this poor area that many locals have become disillusioned by the foreigners who say they want to help.

Inundated by invitations to go to meetings and trainings put on by NGOs, the  residents now seek compensation for their time. The handouts, known as “sitting allowances,” generally range from about $1 – $3 per hour, which can buy a fair amount here.

“Trust me, no one will go without the sitting allowance,” said Sharon Ogolla, 20, as she stands outside the hair salon she runs with her mother.

Asked whether most locals go to hear what the NGOs have to say, or just to collect the payment, Ogolla said, “Well, both, but mostly, honestly, to get the fee.”

For more see here. You should also read it for commentary on misguided foreign interventions.

H/T Laura Seay.

Do host governments necessarily “do development” better than foreign donors?

A common complaint you hear against donor-driven development projects is that they are typically at variance with local priorities; and make no attempts to work along the grain, or build upon existing systems. It turns out that governments in developing countries aren’t any different.

Take the example of the slum upgrading project in the infamous Kibera slum in Nairobi:

A keen look at the Open Street Map for Kibera and Mathare Valley before the NYS initiative started reveals the existence of services such as education, health, water and sanitation points. In Korogocho, Mukuru, Mathare and Kibera self help groups had emerged even before NYS Initiative start to earn daily income from activities such as urban farming, garbage collection and water delivery services. It is a fact that most toilets are not connected to the main sewer and private clinics are either not registered or managed by quacks, while illegal power connections abound.

The NYS Initiative would have scored big by establishing connections with already existing services providers in poor neighbourhoods by either improving their capacity to offer quality and affordable services to the urban poor or by trying to create an enabling environment for slum entrepreneurs to be part of formal and legal business entities. It is a mistake to assume that  there are no service providers within poor neighborhoods. Poverty and lack of basic services is an urban reality which has motivated the establishment of civil society groups to initiate health, education and income generating activities for women and youths as a supplement to government efforts in meeting its obligations. No government in the world can be able to solve the complex community problems of the poor by itself.

And there is an interesting twist to this story…

Experience from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Urban Poverty and Slum Upgrading Project funded by the World Bank might be instructive. The project has some similarities with the NYS project in terms of targeting poor neighborhoods but was able to achieve more success because it worked more closely with local communities and partnered with Dar es Salaam Municipal Council officials from conception to implementation and monitoring stages, a situation which is totally lacking with the National Youth Service projects. The NYS Initiative seems to be a duplication and competition with the mandate of mandate of Nairobi City County.

I do not know about the veracity of the claims about the Dar slum (and I think the NYS budget is fully domestic — after the initial Chinese boost) but right now it’s hard not to feel like Tanzanians are doing everything right; while Kenyans are perennially running around in circles. The Mara Derby is on.

Read the whole thing here.

Mapping Nairobi’s Informal Transit System

Researchers and students at the University of Nairobi, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University, and the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT produced the map below – and the underlying data behind it – after carrying cell phones and GPS devices along every route in the network. Result? There is order to Nairobi’s seemingly chaotic matatu industry.

Pretty cool stuff. 


 More here.

H/T Amanda R.

slum politics

The just released results of the 2009 population census dethrones Kibera from the dubious status of Africa’s largest slum. The figures are much lower than most analysts believe. Only 170,070 people live in the slum. This compared to the oftentimes cited figure of close to a million. The total population of the immediate Nairobi area is 3.1 million.The Nation adds:

“Erasing the Kibera lie from history will need one enormous eraser. The lie has been fed to all, from poor residents of the slum who have since grown accustomed to flashing camera lights from tourists taking shots of “the biggest slum in Africa,” to schoolchildren who cram the lie everyday in geography classes.”

More interestingly…

“According to a UN report, over 90 per cent of Kibera residents pay an estimated Sh4.5 billion every year to the real owners of Kibera. This makes the Kibera a sociological paradox-a slum to the poor, a gold mine to the rich.”

And it is not just slum lords who are benefiting from Kibera’s title of biggest slum in Africa. Aid workers Easterly where are you? are also having a field day:

“there are between 6,000 and 15,000 community-based organisations working in Kibera. That is one charitable organisation for every 15 residents of Kibera. Throw in an estimated 2,000 governmental organisations, and you get a rough idea exactly how the billions of shillings pumped into “the biggest slum in the world” are spent.”

Urban Poverty

This is the kind of story that makes you sick in the stomach. The story is about the plight of women in Nairobi’s slums and focuses on one Ms Kambura:

In 2006, she was gang-raped by four men who infected her with the Aids virus, hardy 100 metres from her one-room home. She had gone to the “toilet” in Athara, one of the open fields that residents of this informal settlement run to for lack of sanitary facilities. It was 8pm, but for residents here, that is late enough to be mugged, raped, even killed by gangs that roam the slums.

Kenyan urban poverty is a tinderbox waiting for a lighter, especially in light of the ever rising income disparities in major towns and cities.

In related news, the business pages of the Nation report that despite the downturn in the housing markets in the developed world home markets in places like Kenya, and Nairobi in particular, are still lucrative.

Currently, the rental market in Kenya is facing an upward pressure as a result of a rising middle class.The demand is believed to be higher than the supply of housing units. Statistics from the government and private sector players indicate that the annual demand for housing in Kenya stands at 150,000 units.This demand far outstrips the supply, which is estimated at about 35,000 units a year. The index shows that investing in Kenya’s housing industry has better returns than in the United States and the United Kingdom.

I wonder if the people at the city councils of Nairobi and other cities ever think of how they could exploit this huge gap between demand and supply to provide housing for their residents and make profits while at it – profits that they can then steal 20% of (if they REALLY have to) instead of resorting to rent-seeking practices like inflating the cost of cemeteries.

urgent need to convene the Kenyan parliament

Kenya remains without a parliament even as violence threatens to shred to pieces this once stable land in East Africa. The president is holed up in State House and is yet to issue a statement on the way forward, besides the chest thumping rhetoric about the ability of the security forces to deal with the post-election violence that has led to more than 300 deaths and displacement of more than 100,000 Kenyans (According to the Kenyan Red Cross).

As things stand, there is no avenue for dialogue between the government and the main opposition party that believes it wont the election but was denied victory by the government through rigging. This situation calls for the immediate swearing in of the new members of parliament in order to provide an arena for debate and dialogue on the way forward for Kenya.

The opposition should strongly consider using parliament to oust the president, if indeed they cannot stand his presidency for another five years. With 45% of the votes in parliament, and with cracks beginning to show within the president’s party, the opposition might be able to garner the more than 50% of votes needed to vote the government out of power in a vote of no confidence.

Parliamentary debate will also create the impression that something is being done about the situation and therefore lower tension in the country. Right now there seems to be an impasse and this is contributing to the rising tension all over the country.

It is very saddening that Kibaki and Raila remain obstinate and hell bent on plunging Kenya into an abyss of violence and barbarism. Kenyans should see these two leaders for who they really are – power hungry men with not much love for their country. Why are they still setting pre-conditions for dialogue when the country is flirting with the possibility of an all out civil war? Why haven’t they issued a joint statement condemning the violence and destruction of property?

As ordinary poor Kenyans die and lose their property, the real culprits – those who stole the election and those that are not willing to compromise for the country’s sake – continue to live near to normal lives without the food and fuel shortages that are beginning to further exacerbate Kenyans’ misery. This madness has to stop.