Kenya

Kenya: Government must do better on housing rights for poor

(Geneva, 5 March 2010) The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) today called on the Kenyan government to show more commitment to the housing rights of the poor in Kenya.

The call came as the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing prepared to release a follow-up report to the UN Human Rights Council on housing rights in Kenya.

"Good policies are not enough if they are not followed up by real action," said Salih Booker, Executive Director of COHRE.

"The government's guiding policy document, 'Vision 2030', needs to be followed by a genuine commitment to allocate sufficient resources to actually implement agreed upon policies that would benefit the poor. The policy must not remain a futuristic document without concrete measures to promote the rights of people."

"Corruption, wasteful expenditure, and the allocation of up to 70 percent of government funds to recurrent expenditure such as salaries, meetings, and travel of government officials is the problem. These resources need to be available for housing, water, sanitation, health care and infrastructure. Unless this happens, the realization of basic human rights will remain a pipe dream for the majority of Kenyans living in inadequate housing."

COHRE said that although the Kenyan government has adopted a human rights-based approach in its water policy, government planning and expenditure does not adhere to a "pro-poor" delivery of basic services. Adding to the problem are the informal cartels that exploit poor neighbourhoods by demanding informal taxes and service charges from residents.

"Limited government presence in poor neighbourhoods has created a void that informal tax collectors exploit, making the cost of essential services exorbitant and beyond the reach of many of Kenya's poor," said Salih Booker.

COHRE also noted that eviction guidelines often referred to in government documents are not adhered to when government agents carry out a evictions. The situation is worse for the poor, who may not have land ownership documents. Discrimination is often also a factor, for example in the case of the eviction of Mau settlers from forest land in the Rift Valley in January 2010, without any compensation or restitution.

COHRE strongly supported the UN Special Rapporteur's urgent call on the Kenyan government to review its existing programmes, policies and laws to ensure they are oriented to the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized sectors of the Kenyan population, such as indigenous peoples, people living with HIV/AIDS, disabled persons, the Watta community, destitute pastoralists and forest dwellers.

The organization also supported the UN Special Rapporteur's recommendation that the Kenyan government establish legal protection from evictions, in consultation with affected communities, to urgently address the issues of:

- forced evictions;

- security of tenure;

- legalization of informal settlements; and

- slum upgrading.

"Kenya is host to the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the agency charged with promoting adequate shelter for all. As such, it has a special obligation to set a good example on housing rights not only in Africa but around the world. The government must take the UN's recommendations seriously and show the political will necessary to implement them and create a Kenya in which all residents can enjoy access to affordable and adequate housing and basic services," said Salih Booker.

The Special Rapporteur also criticized UN agencies and other international organizations and donors for often not applying a rights-based approach to their work, leading to mixed results in their programmes.

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For interview requests, please contact Eliane Drakopoulos, COHRE's Communications Director, on mob: +41 (0)789 106 745 or email eliane@cohre.org.