Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Collective or individual titles? Conflict over tenure regularisation in a Kenyan informal settlement

Andrea Rigon - University College London, UK

The urban regeneration of poor neighbourhoods is an increasingly common intervention in cities across the world. These interventions are often accompanied by market displacement and gentrification, processes through which some local residents benefit from the increased value of their properties whilst others cannot afford to continue living in the area and are replaced by more affluent people. A key policy concern is therefore the ways in which such interventions can protect current residents from displacement and allow them to remain in their neighbourhoods. In the context of fast growing African cities – where land is rapidly appreciating and often contested – ensuring that residents of informal settlements, particularly tenants, can continue living in their settlements of origin after regeneration interventions is particularly challenging.

My research analyses a specific slum-upgrading project in an informal settlement of Nairobi in which there were different interests amongst diverse groups of residents. I explore the negotiations over tenure regularisation, including in particular the proposed use of a collective form of land titling through the creation of a Community Land Trust, explicitly with the aim of reducing displacement and gentrification. While at first glance a very attractive option, I argue that such tenure reforms are always shaped by context-specific power relations, and that in this particular case the process came to be dominated by the implementers’ need to maintain fragile agreements with local elites in order to avoid conflict. Elite pressure led to a change in project’s objectives, which makes it more difficult for tenants to afford living in the settlement in the long-term. Ultimately, then, what my case shows is that tenure reforms are based on different ideas of whose rights should be recognised and competing claims that are both negotiated through and shaped by the implementation process.

This research contributes to policy-oriented and theoretical debates on how to approach the complex task of upgrading informal settlements, which now host a quarter of the world’s urban population and over 60% of Africa’s urban population, according to UN-Habitat. While policy innovation, in terms of new tenure approaches is sorely needed, any project should be aware that technical solutions are likely to fail if they do not take into consideration power relations and how these shape implementation through the daily encounters between different groups of residents and project implementers. In particular, urban land reform outcomes are likely to be shaped by local power relations and the relative power of state and non-state actors involved in the process of detailed planning and implementation rather than land policy decisions taken at higher levels.

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