Kiambiu is one of the informal settlement areas in Nairobi’s Eastlands area. The narrow paths, the sight of children playing in the stagnant water as a result of poor drainage is the order of the day. One glance at the area and the poor living conditions of the residents, would instantly make one put all the residents in the same basket. However, after a chat with them and seeing how amazing they had managed to eke out a living out of what would ostensibly look like nothing, we knew that we had committed a fallacy of hasty generalization.

 

Kiambiu United Development Self Help Group is worth over Shillings 700,000 currently and their vision is to ensure that each member owns a house in the near future. This group has the largest assets amongst all the groups that we were able to visit.

 

Pastor Ambani who is the groups Secretary stated that in 2003, Carlilee College put forward an idea to a few people to form small groups that would work towards ensuring that standards of the residents of Kiambiu are uplifted. These groups would also ensure that the spiritual well-being of the residents in their communities was not neglected.

 

Thus the self -help group started it operations in 2004 with the sole idea of bettering their livelihoods. A Merry-Go-Round initiative kicked off with weekly meetings that saw each member contribute Shillings 100 and even more for those who were able to do so. Anyone who wanted to become a member would be required to pay Shillings 200. Currently, one has to part with Shillings 3,000 to join the group. The group which started with only 10 members has grown to 35 and more people have applied for membership. Mr. Ambani stated that when accepting new members, one’s religious affiliation doesn’t come into sharp focus as they even have a Muslim in their midst

 

Every Thursday afternoon for the longest time, the members have been meeting to discuss the development of the group and its members.

“The members are entitled to loans and depending on how many shares one has, they can take a loan twice as much as their shares at a 10% interest rate. The loan ought to be repaid in a year. Some prefer to pay weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly according to ones capabilities. Many have benefitted as they have been able to start small – scale businesses which have yielded positive results. However, the 2007/2008 post poll chaos nearly brought our lives to a standstill as we watched what we had worked so hard to build go down the drain,” stated Kennedy Obonyo, the group’s chairman.

 

“There were demarcations everywhere pitting one ethnic group against another and we experienced the worst ethnic animosity first hand. There was an area called Kosovo where only a certain ethnic group was allowed to reside while an area called Sagana was a reserve for a different ethnic group altogether. Property was destroyed and lives lost. We do not want to see a repeat of what happened then today,” he added.

Pastor stated that pastors in the area played an important role of preaching reconciliation which played a big role in ensuring that people changed their attitude towards their neighbours and that in the long run ensured that calm and normalcy returned to Kiambiu and its environs.

“We started a Merry-Go-Round venture that saw members get small loans. OAIC later trained us on small business skills that sought to enhance our capacity in self sustainability endeavours. We were able to ask many questions and we are grateful for the skills we were impacted with. Later, the OAIC and Church Mission Society (CMS) gave us a grant of Shillings 155,000. The money was put into good use as our Merry-go-round was ongoing. The loans that members took helped them to improve the small businesses tremendously,” stated Ambani.

From their savings, they have been able to acquire 2 plots – pieces of land- where they have built rental houses on the first plot which they let out for a cost of between Shillings 1,000 and Sh. 1,200 while the second plot’s development is set to commence soon.

“We are the cheapest landlords around as others charge from Shs.1, 500 onwards. Every end month we collect rent worth Shillings 7,600. Our vision is to ensure that every member owns a plot. We are sad that we can only construct mabati houses- houses made form iron sheets- because the councillor warned us that the government intends to develop this area and it would be an exercise in futility if we constructed permanent houses. We are however, perturbed because other areas here in Kiambiu have permanent houses. Our other challenge is that we only have allotment letters to show that we own the land as getting title deeds has proved to be an uphill task. Our chief knows that we got the land legally and we are hopeful that we will eventually get them,” stated Mr. Obonyo.

 

The fact that the members started with vitally nothing and currently, many boast of having several business premises and outlets that ensure that their products are well distributed, is something worthwhile to note. The Merry-Go-Round has now been turned into a SACCO- Savings and Credit Cooperative Society.

 

The group had invested in a water project that saw them supply water to their community members at a minimal cost but in the long run it became untenable.

 

Indusa Kisagalo is one of the members with a very successful business venture. He started it simple. He would buy peanuts from the market, fry them and sell to the members of his community. Many people didn’t think much of his business venture then, but looking at how far he has come, many people flock his premises to ask questions.

 

“I recall when I was starting this business; many people looked down on me and wondered why I had chosen that kind of business over and above any other business opportunity. It didn’t look interesting to many, but now I get droves of people coming to my house to inquire about it. Someone saw the love I had for my job and trained me on a specific technique that ensured that my peanuts were uniquely done. My business eventually gained momentum  and currently I have outlets in 8 different estates. I have 12 employees and I have expanded my business to a peanut butter making process which I started in October last year in my house in Buruburu. I eventually had to move to the middle class residential area in Buruburu as I needed to expand,” he stated.

“The fruits of humble beginnings are sweet,” he added.

For a man who started his business with a paltry Shillings 500 in 2004, he is now worth over shillings 300,000. He is arguably the richest member of the Kiambiu group. He says that he has no regrets whatsoever.

“I am just a hard working man who saw an opportunity and grabbed it. The fact that I was a creative thinker and unique in my venture ensured that I had an edge over my competitors. I have also been able teach many people the skills that I have acquired over the years but my competitors are not sleeping as some have worked hard to snatch some of my best workers to work for them,” he stated.

 

Mr. Indusa is grateful to his wife who is also the administrator of their business as she supported him through and through. She also has a clothes and shoes business in Buruburu. Mr. Indusa came across as a pleasant person and not a shrewd business man as he has helped many young people start their own businesses.

“I have been blessed to be a blessing to others and that is why I cannot afford to be mean. I have even taught some of my relatives what I do and they are also thinking of starting their own businesses,” he stated.

 

With these kinds of businesses, many challenges abound. The city council officers are one such challenge as they are fond of harassing Mr. Kisagalo and his employees. In many instances they have demanded for extra charges and this does not auger well with regards to the profit margins.

His generosity has also come with repercussions as some of the people he has trained have copied his exact model of business which is definitely bad competition.

 

He is yet to buy a peanut-making machine which he says would cost over Shillings 100,000. He is however, hopeful that in due time he will be able to buy it and expand his business.

The members of this community are a worried lot as they have been threatened with eviction time and again. Kiambiu is next to the Moi Air Base and the recent spates of terrorist attacks in the country after the Kenya Defence Forces went into war with Alshabaab in Somalia, have seen the government tighten its security and that includes doing away with settlements that might cause a threat to national security.

Unemployment among the youth is a challenge not only in Kiambiu but the entire country and they urge the government to look into it.

After all is said and done, Kiambiu United Development Self Help Group member’s livelihoods are worth emulating. By ensuring that the little they have is put into good use is commendable; as they live each day as it comes with a lot of hope for the future.

Fiona Imbali, OAIC Communications.

fiona.imbali@oaic.org

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