At the toilets in these slums, you can read, hold weddings, prepare food, transfer cash and even pray.
The toilets in Lindi Usafi in Kibera, Nairobi, for instance, are an innovative sanitation solution to the pervasive human waste problem so common in the slums. They are storied complexes that have drawn the attention of, and financial support from, among other agencies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dubbed bio-sanitation centres (or biocentres), the complexes are one-stop shops for a host of services and businesses: money transfer, offices, residential rooms, halls for hire, libraries, computer labs, kitchens (where clients pay a fee to cook), and bio-digesters that convert human waste into biogas and chemical fertiliser.
One notable feature of the toilets is that those managing them have adopted modern, cashless payment systems that require users to carry Beba pay cards and to embrace the Kopokopo payment system.
The fact that they rely on mobile technology to conduct cash transactions attracted the attention Bill Gates, whose Foundation, has given them financial supported under the auspices of the Biocentres Innovations.
As the most important social and economic facilities in the slums, the biocentres have enabled the slum’s residents to organise and plan how to improve their conditions.
The pioneers of this trend are the residents of Lindi Usafi, located on the lower reaches of Kibera, who have come up with a well articulated plan for the area around their biocentre.
They formulated the Lindi Usafi Neighbourhood Plan in collaboration with a Kibera-based organisation, Umande Trust.
“The plan spells out the residents’ dream for a better neighbourhood and was prepared through a consultative process, during which they identified and articulated the main challenges affecting them,” explains Joyce Wambui, a town planner with Umande.
Some of the problems they identified were inadequate and unreliable water supply, poor sanitation, poor management of solid waste, insecurity, energy supply and accessibility. The residents were then asked to prioritise them and think of ways and means of solving these problems.
The plan offers a way out of each problem, indicating what should be done and by who, and also sets out an investment plan detailing the amounts required.
For instance, regarding sanitation it notes that Lindi Usafi has inadequate toilets, which overflow, and no space to build more Besides, many people cannot afford the daily charges for using the toilets while the communal latrines are not easily accessible to all residents, especially at night, because of insecurity.
The residents suggested several solutions, such as connecting the toilets to nearby sewer lines and getting a simple mechanised exhauster, said Ms Wambui.
“The most amazing thing is that local landlords have agreed to support the expansion of the roads in the neighbourhood so that fire engines and ambulances can have access, says Ms Benazir Omotto, a programme manager with Umande Trust.
Ms Omotto appealed to the county and national governments as well as well-wishers to assist in setting up a compensation scheme for the landlords to facilitate the expansion of the alleys.
“We believe that by coming together, we can change our neighbourhood,” says Adan Ndambuki, a resident of Lindi Usafi and one of the community’s designated “planning ambassadors”. Together with five other young people, Ndambuki, 28, has been rallying fellow residents to support and participate in efforts aimed at improving life in the neighbourhood.
Some of the residents told DN2 that they intend to use the plan to seek financial and technical support from the national government, the Nairobi County government, NGOs and donors, to implement it.
.They also hope that their member of the Nairobi County Assembly will help by lobbying for the adoption of the plan and the implementation of the suggested measures.
“We are not asking the county government to think through what should be done to improve the area; we have already done that,” says Umande Trust Chief Executive Mr Josiah Omotto. He added that Umande Trust has been promoting local planning as a way of ensuring that what really affects people and their aspirations are factored in by the authorities.
“Our aim is to enable local residents to participate in planning their own small neighbourhoods and link their needs with bigger plans made by the county governments so that there is harmony in development.”
He further said Umande Trust hopes that, besides implementing the Integrated Urban Development Master Plan for the City of Nairobi, the county government will factor in what Lindi Usafi residents have come up with.
“We hope that the officials of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (Kensup) and the KISIP will borrow leaf from the Lindi Usafi Plan as they upgrade slums… we should all know that the participation of local people in making decisions that pertain to their lives and welfare is not only enshrined in the constitution but is a fundamental aspect “ of democracy.”
Apart from Lindi Usafi, there are biocentres in other slums in Nairobi such as Mukuru-Kaiyaba, Kibagare, Korogocho and Mathare, In Kisumu, they have been established in Nyalenda, Obunga, and Kibandani slums, as well as in Kibuye Market. The concept is also catching up in other Kenyan towns.
“We intend to use it to lobby for its implementation,” says Alex Ambetsa, another “planning ambassadors”.
Initially, they were hoping to get financial resources from the CDF but this is no longer assured following the disbandment of the latter by parliament.