Residents of Kwa Bulo Settlement, Nyali Constituency in Mombasa County were recently issued with more than 1,000 Certificates of Occupancy, ending many years of tenure insecurity and fear of forced evictions. It is a culmination of a long journey which was facilitated by the use and application of Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) tool, a pro-poor land information system developed by the Global Land Tool Network, as facilitated by UN-Habitat. In close partnership with Mombasa County Government, Pamoja Trust, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji and Kwa Bulo Settlement residents, the use and application of STDM tool helps the community to effectively strengthen its position towards tenure security improvement. The whole participatory process has also strengthened their sense of community purpose and their collective efforts towards protection from arbitrary eviction thus promoting the future development of their community.

Kwa Bulo, which consists of four villages; EPCO, Kashani, Timboni and Msufini, originally belonged to the indigenous Mijikenda Tribe, who occupied the area under the Land Registration Act. The indigenous owners used the land for farming and mining a quarry as a means of livelihood. The first registered proprietor of the plot was Emmanuel Bulo, who was issued a title deed on 23rd August 1922 under the provisions of land Titles Ordinance in 1908, and who granted the locals he found on the land a stay order. Consequently, the number of residents in the area increased as more people sought employment from this farm. After the demise of Mr. Bulo, the parcel changed ownership numerous times and with that the beginning of a long battle between these owners of the land and the community manifested in the form of forced evictions, causing suffering, loss of property and the destruction of the physical and social infrastructure that once made Kwa Bulo residents a community.

On 10th May 2006, the squatters residing in Kwa Bulo went to court for adverse possession rights to the land, a case they subsequently lost. Since then, a series of legal proceedings ensued with the community living in unabated fear of threats of forced evictions.

It was upon this struggle that the County Government of Mombasa in partnership with Pamoja Trust, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, UN-Habitat and GLTN, in collaboration with other complementary efforts from the civil society organizations and other actors came in to facilitate tenure security improvement of the Kwa Bulo settlement through the use of STDM tool, a process that incorporates participatory enumerations and mapping approaches particularly in the urban context to gather information required for planning, provision of basic infrastructure and services, upgrading of slums and generally the improvement of land tenure in informal settlements.

The tenure security struggle has finally come to an end. Residents of Kwa Bulo settlement now possess Certificates of Occupancy as an assurance of tenure security, while they wait for the processing of title deeds.

During the event, the Mombasa County Secretary Francis Thoya confirmed that paying the current registered owner of the land, through the support of the national and county governments, will pave way for the formal issuance of title deeds to the verified list of residents who received the certificates of occupancy. Moreover, in her remarks, Mrs. Lucy Mbiho of the Civil Society Urban Development Platform (CSUDP) reiterated that the struggle to legitimise the squatters’ rights in the country will continue to be an uphill political battle. She also added that the Kwa Bulo settlement experience is a concrete example of how the community, County Government and other relevant stakeholders can collectively address tenure security issues for the urban poor.
In his comments, Pamoja Trust Executive Director, Dr. Ouma Okoth, highlighted that the quality of data collection in settlement areas would not have been possible without the use and application of STDM tool. Pamoja Trust, with technical assistance from GLTN, had also implemented STDM process in the Mashimoni Settlement in Nairobi and similar results are emerging.

Emerging Impacts of Perceived Tenure Security

Perceived tenure security through the prospects of the issuance of certificates of occupancy, have triggered an increase in economic activities in the settlement including a marked increase in local retail industry with the opening of new food and grocery kiosks and money transfer service M-PESA vendors. Residents have seen a variety of service improvements to their area, such as: paving of the main access road; setting up of street lights, water points, garbage collection points; increased public transport access; drainage works and construction of a community resource centre where STDM information centre will also be operationalized. More permanent houses are also coming up in the area which has led to a construction boom with sand, stone and masonry services mostly done by the youth, increasing in demand.

For Everlyne Kinanu, a member of the Kwa Bulo Community Lands Committee, further highlighted that she is now at peace and that for the first time in 25 years she is confident that forced evictions will no longer take place in the area. She further stressed that previous evictions were synonymous with insecurity, violence, damage to property, placing many households, particularly those with women and children living with HIV/AIDS, at great risk.

To the Kwa Bulo community residents, particularly those who actively participated in the enumeration and mapping exercise; STDM is more than just a tool or software. The approach allowed them to be more cohesive and empowered as a community, was essential in prioritizing the types of services they receive from government authorities, and what it means to have tenure security.