Thursday, 23 January 2014

Making the Urban Poor Safer: Lessons from Nairobi and Mumbai

By Jean Pierre Tranchant

Nairobi and Mumbai are very good examples of highly unequal megacities. 40% of Nairobi's inhabitants and 60% of Mumbai are slum-dwellers; in Nairobi it is estimated that half of the people live on about 1% of the land area. Yet both cities are also very modern metropolises with plentiful opportunities to offer; are key engines of growth, and are poised to recieve even more people coming from rural areas or smaller towns.

Both cities are also affected by urban violence, including crime and (ethnic) riots. These different types of urban violence are inherently linked. In both Nairobi and Mumbai, neighbourhoods where riots or post-electoral violence occurred tend to have prevalent crime and gang activities rooted in poverty.
Research was done by IDS researchers in urban Maharashtra and IDS and CHRIPS researchers in Nairobi, which included the use of original data, the participation of key local actors, and extensive desk-based review, on how we can make the urban poor safer. A policy brief summarising the main lessons learned has now been published as well as two longer evidence reports for each case study

IDS Evidence Report 17 Addressing and Mitigating ViolenceUnemployment, Service Provision and Violence Reduction Policies in Urban Maharashtra
Jean Pierre Tranchant 2013
IDS Evidence Report 39 Addressing and Mitigating Violence
Missing the Point:Violence Reduction and Policy Misadventures in Nairobi’s Poor Neighbourhoods
Mutuma Ruteere, Patrick Mutahi, Becky Mitchell and Jeremy Lind November 2013 [1]

We draw some key lessons from the research:
  1. Existence of a strong connection between vulnerability and violenceIn Nairobi and Mumbai, urban violence concentrates in the poorest areas where lack of employment, adequate housing and public goods, and individual and collective coping strategies are most acute. As a result of these vulnerabilities, criminal violence and protection provided through hybrid criminal organisations in Nairobi have become a way of life in the city’s poor neighbourhoods. Vigilante groups mushroomed from the late 1990s in response to worsening security in poor neighbourhoods and ineffectual, corrupt, or altogether absent policing of these areas. Original data in Mumbai and urban Maharashtra suggests that, even among  violence-prone areas, those where the lack of service provision and unemployment are most acute are also those most affected by episodes of violence. Within violence-prone areas, it is the most socially and economically vulnerable households who suffer most from disruptions caused by the presence of urban violence.
  2. To tackle urban violence, policies must address the vulnerability-violence nexusPrevailing responses to violence and crime in Nairobi’s poor neighbourhoods assume that there is a lack of law and order and that more robust policing and tougher laws can increase security. Police action in Maharashtra is also disconnected from development efforts, as seen in the absence of thinking on safety issues in the slum relocation and rehabilitation schemes. In urban Maharashtra, we found that concerns about crime and riots are second only to unemployment (pdf); and given that conventional development policies are bound to have effects on safety and crime, such a disjointed approach is unwelcome.There have been efforts such as the Safer Nairobi Initiative, which was endorsed by the Nairobi City Council, that aspire to a more coordinated effort to improve urban security by involving agencies and departments with mandates to deliver public services and create work opportunities. While these have had mixed outcomes, the spirit of such efforts to develop a joined-up approach is essential to improve security for the urban poor.
  3. While top-down joined-up approach proves difficult to implement, community-led initiatives have had successSlum-dwellers routinely link up issues of urban vulnerability and safety. As a result, a number of community-led initiatives aimed at improving safety through vulnerability have emerged. In Nairobi, the GettoGreen initiative includes clearing public dumpsites and starting micro-enterprises for youths such as carwashes. The group’s chair explained, ‘If you are economically stable, your community will be stable. Having money prevents us from needing to steal or from being manipulated by politicians.’ (See this slideshow: How can providing access to basic services and economic opportunities improve security for people living in slums in Nairobi?). 

    In Mumbai, more formal initiatives such as the Slum Police Panchayats (SPP) and Mohalla Committees attempt to bring together slum dwellers and police to improve safety. The SPP consists of a long-term partnership between one community police officer and 10 representatives of slum-dwellers (seven women and three men). At the heart of the SPP is the idea that the social distance between slum-dwellers and police is too high and that the former have a wealth of local knowledge on the best ways to improve local safety that the police could benefit from.

To conclude, we found that there is a strong need to (i) generate data on violence in development processes; (ii) to learn from previous institutional efforts and (iii) to seriously engage and help evaluating current small-scale community initiatives that have the potential to link up effectively safety with issues of vulnerabilities, as well as linking vulnerable citizens with police and institutional actors. Concerted actions between citizens, state, builders and urban planners are unlikely to succeed if root causes of powerlessness and social distance are not tackled.


[1] Interested readers can also the read the following policy briefing on our conceptual approach: Understanding and Tackling Violence Outside of Armed Conflict Settings