Ecological Justice Network

Mathare River Festival #LetTheRiverFlow

You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they MUST protect them.

Wangari Maathai

The Mathare People’s assembly, which brought together the Mathare community in their massive elements, resolved that there was an urgent need to focus on sustainable livelihoods.

This was to be achieved through laying emphasis on environmental conservation for ecological justice. The first constituted plan of action was to establish the ‘Let the Rivers Flow’ Campaign. The campaign is aimed at engaging the community through education, to create awareness, strengthen advocacy and influence policy around issues of clean and safe drinking water, transforming Mathare and restoring Mathare River.

The campaign purposes to involve various actors including community members, environmental organisations and relevant agencies to achieve this goal. Achieving this objective would, in turn, aid in generating income for the youth and less privileged, curb social ills like crime, and transform Mathare to a cleaner and greener neighbourhood.

The river has become a dumping site. Effluent waste from neighboring areas flows through our community. Upstream estates dump their waste directly into the river. Also, the Mathare hospital drains waste into the river.

Garbage sites are placed right beside the river, burst sewers flow into the river, and, houses constructed close to the river direct their waste into the river. All this contamination makes Mathare River among the most polluted rivers in Kenya.

The Mathare River is one of the tributaries of Nairobi River. This main river flows as a clean and crystal river from its source in Aberdare forest symbolising a natural source of life. It starts experiencing its pollution troubles once it flows through corporate industries and has exposure to household waste in Nairobi.

The River Festival

The River Festival was a commemoration of the gains and efforts the Mathare Ecological Justice Campaign members have made in conserving the Mathare River and establishing community parks along it.

Rivers have always been a place to bring people together, and for communities to enjoy their shared heritage.

Where rivers flow, life flows.

The festival was attended by more than 1000 participants, including Mathare residents and those from surrounding communities. The attendees included children, young and old community members, and people from all walks of life. It also brought together different ecological formations from other informal settlements and Social Justice Centres.

The festival was a platform to explore art and music in educating, entertaining and creating awareness about the need to conserve the Mathare River as a collective endeavor.

The festival brought together conscious artists to celebrate the history and achievements of the Mathare Ecological Network, and adopted the continuation of the ‘Let the Rivers Flow’ campaign. Furthermore, it demanded that we all must insist on ending pollution, and can bring this awareness to others through education and actionable engagements.

The festival culminated with the launch of the Ecological Justice Network – Mathare. This Network involves the different local environmental groups including at Mathare Social Justice Centre, Mathare Community Park, Mathare Green Park, Ghetto Farmers, Voice of Mathare, Vision Bearers, New Pirates Youth Group and other community organizations from Kiamaiko, Mlango Kubwa and the different parts of Mathare.

In addition, small businesses were able to showcase and sell their merchandise, and we did this to support the sustainability of ecological businesses initiatives in Mathare. 

So far, there is an evident rise of youth in Mathare who clean the river not because it is their sole mandate, but as a sustained campaign to fight for social change, since they are conscious of the interrelation between the ecological crisis and struggle for social justice.

The Ecological Justice Network

The Ecological Justice Network in Mathare is part of the Ecological Justice Movement in Nairobi. It is a consortium of four organisations: Mathare Social Justice Centre, Mathare Community Park, Mathare Green Park and Ghetto Farmers. The Ecological Justice Network is a pool of ecological movements and initiatives established within Nairobi, each with a specific campaign geared towards ecological sustainability.

The Ecological Justice Network in Mathare has been a pillar for the establishment of more ecological networks in Nairobi, and especially within the informal settlements that are faced with the harmful and continuous effects of environmental pollution from the corporates and large industries surrounding them. This being the case, the Network has engaged in case study forums to analyse the sources of pollution, specifically the effluent and affluent discharges along the Mathare River.

The results have influenced the establishment of the Network, which is aimed at transforming Mathare and the people living in Mathare.

We want to move from a “slum” to an environmentally conscious society. Our ecological campaigns have impacted the community in various ways, including through crime reduction and the reduction of social ills like state violations, which mostly affect unemployed young people.

The establishment of community parks through planting trees along the river has provided a safe haven for children to play. It has also provided space for the establishment of social spaces like libraries, GBV referral centres and community meeting spaces.

These community parks have acted as avenues for community organising, and especially for conservation of the environment. The spaces have also provided self-employment for young people through sustainable economic projects like animal rearing, tree nursery beds and artwork. It is the hope of the Network that ecological sustainability becomes a question of social justice.

Launch of the Ecological Justice Network – Mathare

Gacheke Gachihi, the coordinator of Mathare Social Justice Centre, led the celebration of the launch of the Ecological Justice Network in Mathare.

Achievements, Resolutions & Action Plan of the Network

  • Launching the Ecological Justice Network – Mathare.
  • Intensify ecological justice activities including: tree planting, establishing tree nurseries, monthly clean-ups and art for awareness creation.
  • Unify ecological campaigns and strengthen ecological justice networks in other parts of Nairobi.
  • Adoption of the ‘Let the Rivers Flow’ campaign as a path towards the restoration of Mathare River.

See some pictures from The River Festival below!

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The Mathare People’s Assembly

The Mathare Local People’s assembly was convened at the Mathare People’s Park, and brought together community members and actors from across our struggles to identify various societal issues we are facing.

The Mathare People’s park is a transformed green space that was initially a garbage site, and which now hosts the Ukombozi Library, a children’s playing space, and a community park that offers the community food and a serene environment. It has also transformed young people from drug use and crime, and offered a sustainable form of economic livelihood through activities such as animal rearing and other methods of farming.  

Our assembly was influenced by the urgency to explore an inclusive alternative model that involves the community in addressing its challenges.

For a while, various societies have seemed to confront these challenges at an organizational or an individual level. The objective of the local assembly was to transform the culture of personal alienated approaches which have proven to be ineffective. The assembly also wanted to further grassroots democracy and power to the people.

Mathare happens to be one of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, and is suffering from a myriad of social problems including: widespread poverty, lack of basic commodities, crime and chronic unemployment. All of these factors also lead to other grave problems.

The assembly brought 100 participants drawn from the six wards in Mathare, including Kiamaiko, Mlango Kubwa, Mabatini, Kiamaiko, Ngei and 3C.

The participants included children, local community groups, ecological justice organizations, students and elders. Among the grassroots organizations present were the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), Ghetto Farmers, and Green Park and Mathare Community Park members.

Other participants who joined the discussions emanated from the different social movements in Nairobi.

After the introduction of the local assembly’s concept, the participants engaged in a general analysis of the Mathare society; the historical injustices and the current political and social conditions. Thereafter, the members joined the various thematic groups influenced and adopted by the assembly. These are:  

  1. The Ecological and Political Committee 
  2. The Drugs and Crime Committee 
  3. The Waste Management Committee
  4. The Water & Sanitation Committee

The thematic groups appointed a moderator and secretary, collectively examined the situation, and generated a list of possible solutions to explore. Below are the results from the committees:

Water and Sanitation Committee

 Challenges highlighted include:

  • The rationing and diversion of water in areas like Mlango Kubwa where water is diverted to Eastleigh 
  • Water-borne diseases
  • Poor healthcare infrastructure  
  • Effluent and affluent discharges: Mathare Hospital, for example, was seen to emit its waste directly into the river. Also, most of Eastleigh waste is poured directly into the river 
  • Corruption and water cartels 
  • Leaking sewers 
  • Poor waste disposal methods 
  • Poor housing, and people are constructing homes on the river.  

Proposed way forward

  • Participate in public participation sessions e.g. budget making processes 
  • Develop petitions to conduct an inquiry on water institutions in Mathare 
  • Policy development 
  • Creating awareness through community dialogues  
  • Mapping of polluters 
  • Consistent stakeholders meetings 

Waste Management Committee

 Challenges highlighted include:

  • Poor waste disposal 
  • Lack of awareness on waste management strategies  
  • Lack of collaborations and coordination between stakeholders in waste management  
  • Government lacked policies, incentives on waste management 

Proposed solutions

  • Creating waste management awareness programs 
  • Focus on existing networks to build and strengthen ecological network  
  • Establish local waste management plans and strategies 
  • Include children in waste management projects 

Drugs and Crime Commitee

Challenges highlighted include:

  • Poverty which leads to crime, drug abuse
  • Unemployment
  • Addiction 

Solutions proposed

  • Organize campaigns and seminars against drugs and crime 
  • Involvement of different stakeholders in the campaign against drugs and crime 
  • Establish local committees to fight against drugs and crime 
  • Establish learning facilities for children, like local libraries 
  • Creating of co-curriculum activities such as sports and art

Ecological and Political Committee

Challenges highlighted include:

  • Existing ecological injustices and pollution.
  • State violence including: 
    1. Harassment. 
    1. Extra-judicial executions. 
    1. Land grabbing. 
    1. High level of unemployment leading to crime  
  • Lack of political accountability. 
  • Existing gaps in policy development 

Solutions and way forward

  • Establish sustainable sources for economic activity for the youth 
  • Establish public assemblies as institutions to generate solutions for local problems  
  • Intensify political education in the parks and in community centres 

Proposed collective way forward

  1. Establish the Mathare Ecological Justice Network, involving various community parks, which will in turn aid in: 
    • Creating a sustainable base for young people through economic generating activities like farming and seed nurseries 
    • Engage more children in the parks — perhaps an adopt a tree program
    • Establish more green spaces to transform the local ecological situation and to act as spaces for community organising
    • Provide more safe spaces like art centers, community libraries and community retreat centres 
    • Curb land grabbing, encroachment and pollution of the Mathare River; #LetTheRiversFlowCampaign 
  2. Harmonise a collective ecological justice campaign by establishing ecological justice networks in the various informal settlements 
  3. Popularise local people’s assemblies as avenues to generate solutions for the peoples’ problems. Including in:  
    • Kayole. 
    • Githurai. 
    • Ngong. 
  4. Establish exchange sessions with the Indigenous People’s Assemblies and existing assemblies in Italy, Britain and Scotland. 
  5. Organise more workshops and seminars at the grassroots to discuss the creation of local people’s assemblies 
  6. Creating alternatives through bicycles lanes along Nairobi River, from Michuki Park to Ruai 
  7. Create a secretariat to follow up on the resolutions and a guide for implementation 

Report by: Wavinya Kavinya and Waringa Wahome

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Nigel Topping, UN Climate Champion of Climate Change Visiting Mathare MSJC and Mathare Green Movement

Nigel Topping, recently appointed UK High-Level Climate Action Champion, visited Mathare Social Justice Centre to speak with MSJC members on ecological justice. He showed support for the Mathare Green Movement, a campaign to bring dignity to the lives of people through environmental justice.

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Mathare Green Movement

Tree planting for justice at Valley Bridge School

Saturday 14/04/2018 was a beautiful Kiamaiko day for MSJC. Our Mathare Green Movement team wishes to extend their sincere gratitude to the head teacher, Valley Bridge Primary School, for her very warm welcome to their institution, where we managed to plant a total sum of 50 trees. Valley Bridge is a gorgeous school that has effortlessly stood the test of time to pass education to the children of Kiamaiko, Mathare, 25 years over. We hope to revisit the school soon as the pupils resume studies and plant more trees with them as we teach on the true value of trees and how to effectively care for their environment. In the same breathe, it is important for humanity to consider giving children the necessary education on their rights as well as their violations. It is true that if we are to carry on a real war against social injustices, then we shall have to begin with the children. MGM also wishes to thank the lovely Kingwa Kamenchu for her solidarity hence joining in and planting with us – Viva Kingwa!

Later in the afternoon, team MSJC took the road to yet another activity in Kiamaiko – which was somewhat the highlight of the day. Our assistant Administrative Coordinator, Rahma Wako, had earlier invited our attendance to her niece’s wedding. The simple fact of it being a cultural Borana wedding ceremony is what made it alll the more special for most of us who had not been to such an occassion before. Upon arrival, you could easily feel the aura of love in the air. It was written in the moral code of the bouncy melodious tunes playing in the background and the vibrant colours in the women’s deras. The incredible coordination of coloured lights at the front went a long way in raising one’s spirits. Also, we were served some really nice traditional angera and a scoop of delicious meat stew.

Then came a popular Borana music band who entertained the crowd with great live music; a smooth blend of guitar sounds, powerful vocals and catchy lyrics. Although most of our team members did not understand the words, we could not fight the urge to bump our heads to the rhythm. The bride, Guiyatah, Mama Rahms’s niece, is a brilliant young lady who recently graduated with a degree in Medicine from the University of Nairobi.

From the Mathare Social Justice Centre, wishing the new couple years of love and lots of happiness!

Viva!!! See pictures below from the tree planting session.






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Mathare Green Movement

Mathare Green Movement: MSJC Campaign for Ecological Justice and Healing

The Mathare Green Movement, which meets every Saturday morning to plant trees around Mathare, aims to green Mathare for healing, justice and memory. We want to plant trees so the poor can eat, to commemorate those we have lost and also to bring medicine to the community.

Though a campaign of MSJC, the movement is owned by the community who take care of the trees  that have been planted. The target number of trees to be planted annually is 5 – 10 thousand. These will be planted in schools, clinics, social halls and youth group areas.

Together with our comrade Oyunga Pala and other supporters, we are building ecological justice at all levels.

Karibu and join us every Saturday morning as we work on healing our mother earth and each other!

See pictures below from some of our most recent tree planting sessions.


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