Nyalenda Estate in Kisumu
Living on the Edge in a Peri-Urban African Estate

The Nyalenda Estate is an informal settlement established outside of Kisumu, Kenya. This geographical region is divided between two electorate subdivisions known as the Nyalenda A ward and the Nyalenda B ward. Because of its affordable housing, Nyalenda has become very attractive to low-income residents. However, the standard of living falls beyond extreme poverty levels and remains a disturbing issue concerning this ward. Despite ongoing political scandals, only few potential projects have proposed promising initiatives addressing the main issues in this peri-urban area. Small-scale providers and formal utilities are mainly being concerned with fundamental problems including clean water and proper sanitation. Unfortunately, such projects have been interrupted repeatedly and progress remains at a standstill. Unless politicians begin executing such problems with legitimacy and integrity, the Nyalenda wards will not experience significant improvements in the near future.

The Nyalenda Estate [or neighborhood], one of several informal settlements that ring Kisumu, is located approximately two kilometers to the south and southeast of the Kisumu city center. This estate was established and administered by the British during the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway. After Kenya’s independence, the administration of Nyalenda was passed on to locals who had acquired land portions in the area. Nyalenda’s current challenges may be better understood if placed in a historical context.

The area now known as Nyalenda Estate, along with Pandpieri and other nearby areas on the swampy margins of Kisumu town, was seen as unhealthful from the start of the colonial period. Its low-lying land was subject to flooding from Lake Victoria, and it was a breeding ground for insect-borne diseases. In fact, in 1902 an outbreak of sleeping sickness led colonial leaders to evacuate the area. Within a few years, however, the area recovered, and by around 1910, Nyalenda, Pandpieri, and nearby Dunga Beach began to attract migrants from the surrounding Nyanza region. As Prof. Bethwell A. Ogot has argued, these were not people who sought the benefits of city life. Instead, they were moving from one rural area to another to try to escape the oppression of colonial chiefs. In Nyalenda they fished and grew maize, millet, and other crops, mostly for their own consumption. Soon, however, they became absorbed into Kisumu town’s economy through trade and through supplying townspeople with vegetables and meat that they produced on their lands. It also did not take long for Nyalenda and other settlements to literally become bedroom communities for Africans who worked in town but couldn’t find housing there. (Ogot, 29-30)

Nyalenda and other areas on the rural periphery of Kisumu became part of what the British colonial government called the Kavirondo Native Trust. The crooked, winding streets in Nyalenda had no names. Development was sporadic, haphazard, and increasingly common. In his dissertation on Kisumu’s planning history, Godfrey Anyumba shows that the Nyalenda Estate’s development gradually accelerated from about the early 1940s to the early 1960s. On the eve of Kenya’s independence in 1963, he points out, there was an “intensification of the Luo homestead structure at peri-urban Nyalenda and Manyatta.” Put simply, Luo migrants reconstituted their lives in this new setting but had to accommodate themselves to high-density conditions. Colonial policy continued to frown on Nyalenda. In fact, as Anyumba writes, an approximately 900-meter (3,000-foot) “sanitary zone” (or buffer) separated the Native Trust lands, including Nyalenda, from Milimani, the prized high ground occupied by relatively well-heeled Europeans and Goans. (Anyumba, 218-19) Housing development boomed after 1956, when the colonial government began permitting people to build low-grade housing in Nyalenda, Pandpieri, Manyatta, and Nyawita on Kisumu’s peri-urban fringe. By 1964, one year after Kenyan independence, Ogot points out, the peri-urban settlements housed 15,000 people. (Ogot, 86)

After independence, a reversal of older colonial policies intended to restrict migration by African Kenyans to a city dominated by Asians (economically) and Europeans (administratively) probably contributed to even faster development in Nyalenda. Clearly these people, and the precarious living conditions they faced, could no longer be seen as wholly separable from the concerns of Kisumu, which owed much of its growth to these informal settlements. Between 1971 and 1972, Kisumu’s city boundary for planning purposes was significantly extended to encompass peri-urban settlements like Nyalenda. This action explains Kisumu’s sudden jump in population from 32,431 to 111,764. A similar expansion of city boundaries also occurred in Nairobi around this time. (Anyumba, 236-37) Despite being nominally included in city planning, Nyalendans and their peri-urban neighbors were in for many hardships that were products of environmental degradation. By the early 1970s, sewage overflows at the Nairobi Road Pumping Station plagued the residents until the addition of waste stabilization ponds off Nairobi Road resolved the problem in 1976. Two years later, the city government built a sewerage lagoon in Nyalenda, but few further improvements were forthcoming. The years that followed were marked by a lack of action, if not always a lack of planning, as well as much speculative housing construction, ad-hoc development of small businesses, and other actions that took little account of the impact they had on residents’ quality of life. (Anyumba, 265, 275)

Because of its “affordable” housing, today Nyalenda, according to Chung, continues to attract low-income residents. As shown in the accompanying images, there are various types of housing in Nyalenda Estate including modern flats and old colonial houses. Most houses in Nyalenda are made out of mud or reused corrugated iron sheets. The structure of these houses is very poor. The houses are highly congested and characterized by poor drainage and inadequate water supply. The standard of living is below extreme poverty levels, and remains a disturbing issue concerning the estate.

The problem of housing in Nyalenda becomes even greater when examining the difference between those who own the land and those who rent the land. Nyalenda is classified as a slum as a result of land owners abusing their ownership of the land to maximize on financial returns within an economically starved area. For this purpose, many different sets of low-income housing such as the so-called modern one-room apartments, shown in the pictures provided, have been built by unscrupulous landlords. These apartments, which seem to be hovels, were built to capitalize on the need for housing in the area while providing little to no actual improvement to the structures due to the improper maintenance and construction of these building structures. Ever since the end of colonialism, the construction of quickly made living areas that lack basic necessities has been a common occurrence in low-income settlements like Nyalenda as well as many cities of Kenya. Since there is no promising income to be made here, locals will not enjoy modern housing development.

However, the few that are able to afford such luxuries will find proper housing either freshly made for the modern world, or the leftover colonial homes that remain strong and beautiful to this day. In a world where making profit has become the holy grail, the life of others does not really matter so long as there is room for exploitation. Nevertheless, in spite of local political neglect, a variety of international programs have proposed promising initiatives addressing the main issues of this peri-urban region of Kisumu, Kenya.

Kisumu is one of Kenya’s municipalities selected by the “Cities Without Slums Sub-Regional Programme for Eastern and Southern Africa” launched in response to increasing poverty in the region United Nations Human Settlement Program [UNHSP]. According to this program, the primary sources of water include piped water and wells, “with municipal piped water selling from standpipes” (UNHSP). As a result, “issues of affordability feature very prominently in these cases” (UNHSP). Therefore, the poor lack access to individualized pipelines is a big issue. Some of the initiatives identified by this program include clean water, proper sanitation, and waste management campaigns. However, due to corruption, incompetence, lack of funds and various political reasons, most of these initiatives are at a standstill.

When it comes to everyday life in the Nyalenda, religion plays an important role in this community. Locals go to various churches as they subscribe to various denominations. Just outside of Nyalenda Estate lies the CITAM Church which hosts many worshipers. As far as education, there are a number of preparatory, primary, and secondary schools in Nyalenda Estate, including the Rapture Nursery School. However, opportunities to continue post-secondary school are very limited. According to the UNHSP, “poor performance in school is the norm, leaving children in a poverty trap where education fails to open up opportunities” (UNHSP). As for the ones that actually are willing to learn, the odds to attend a quality university are slim to none.

Education is crucial for the development of any community, but Nyalenda is sorely lacking this commodity due to a lack of steady income and the numerous expenses included in everyday lives. As for methods of transportation, some residents use motorcycles and some use matatus, which are privately owned minibuses. However, due to bad infrastructure, there are no roads leading into the slums. Hence, even the people who can afford transportation means such as a matatu would have to walk long distances to actually get access to them.

Unfortunately, without any transparent and legitimate political action, there is not much promise for the future of a community living under such extreme conditions. Sanitation issues threaten everyday lives as quick access to a nearby hospital is almost inaccessible. To improve such an impoverished area like Nyalenda, all of these different aspects of life must be taken in account. Much of this means building the proper infrastructure that was never created when the British rule was dismantled many years ago. In the words of Moumié Maoulidi, “out of all of United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal 7, Target 11, which is concerned with slums and the improvement of the lives of slum dwellers, is the least prioritized and most overlooked one.” (Maoulidi)

Apparently, the problem with upgrading these slums is with enforcement and action. Instead of merely being selected for consideration, issues in this informal settlement need to be addressed with strict scrutiny. Nyalenda Estate is in need of a strong economic anchor in the area. Whether it be agricultural or manufacturing jobs, locals need to be given a dependable livelihood. A number of various benefits will accompany such changes including new sources of income, improved sources of water, better transportation, access to medical care, and much more. At the end of the day, the world cannot expect the standard of living to rise in these informal settlements when powerful programs like the UN-Habitat are the ones exercising neglect in the first place.


Gate at Nyalenda Estate

Gate at Nyalenda Estate: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

Local Political Office in Nyalenda A

Local Political Office in Nyalenda A: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

Flats in Nyalenda Estate

Flats in Nyalenda Estate: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

Single-story Houses in Nyalenda Estate

Single-story Houses in Nyalenda Estate: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

A Preparatory School in Nyalenda Estate

A Preparatory School in Nyalenda Estate: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

A Business in Nyalenda Reserve Settlement

A Business in Nyalenda Reserve Settlement: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

An Example of a Business in Nyalenda Reserve Settlement

An Example of a Business in Nyalenda Reserve Settlement: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement

Nyalenda Reserve Settlement: Anthony Yator, Eric Okoyo, and Mercy Chemutai, October 5, 2017

CITAM Church Kisumu

CITAM Church Kisumu: CITAM Church is located in Milimani estate on Nairobi Road, a short distance from the Nyalenda estate. ~ http://kisumu.citam.org