Building Furushwa, the first interactive map of evictions in Kenya
A balloon floats from a railway line in Kibera, one of Africa's largest slums A balloon floats from a railway line in Kibera, Nairobi, where residents face forced eviction by the Kenyan government © Amnesty International March 2012

Right now, thousands of people in Kenya’s settlements are living in fear of the bulldozers coming to raze their home to the ground. It could happen at any moment. There’s no negotiation, no warning, and nothing legal about it.

The culprit? The Kenyan government, turfing its own citizens out into homelessness — often in the name of 'development' — for their homes to be replaced by upgraded railways or commercial ports.

Making people homeless is not progress; it’s a backwards step. We’ve been documenting Kenya’s forced evictions for the past two years, and have seen hundreds made homeless by this cruel demolishing of not only homes but livelihoods (women in particular are more likely to work in their home), education, neighbourhoods and social communities.

In carrying out forced evictions, the Kenyan authorities are also breaking their own laws, as well as international human rights law.

How can a website help to stop the evictions?

Building an evidence base is crucial in bringing the Kenyan authorities to account for the laws they're breaking and communities they're destroying.

So for the past few months, staff here in London have been working with colleagues in Kenya to develop a pilot project: the first interactive map of forced evictions in Nairobi, including Kibera, where hundreds of thousands of people live in one of Africa’s biggest slums.

We're building a desperately-needed resource that will:

  • Allow residents at risk of eviction, or those who’ve already been made homeless, to easily report it. Many evictions go unreported, and we want to provide an easy and accessible way for residents to get in touch anonymously with our activists in Nairobi – to make them aware of the eviction, and to make sure that housing activists visit the site as soon as possible.
  • Collect multimedia evidence showing the human impact of illegal evictions. Once they have been informed of an eviction, our activists can visit the site, verify that the evictions happened and document the destruction through photographic evidence, GPS identification, testimonies and video interviews with the people affected.
  • Send instant up-to-date information alerting residents when an eviction is reported. Mobile phones are the most popular communication device in Nairobi’s slums – most people have one. Through SMS alerts, we’ll notify residents when we know of evictions in their neighbourhood, and communicate advice on what to do next.

It’s a crowd-sourced information tool, a multimedia data store, and it’s linked to a notification system. All of which will allow our activists and NGO partners to react quickly and effectively when an eviction happens. And as the evidence base grows, we can take a strong case to the Kenyan authorities responsible, and lobby the government into taking action to stop the bulldozers, and stop the forced evictions.

We've called the site Furushwa, the Swahili word for 'scattered'. Our evidence of (and knowledge of) forced evictions is at present scattered; we hope the site will change that. Furushwa also alludes to the scattering of communities, livelihoods and breaking up of existing social structures caused by forced evictions.

This site is just one part of Amnesty’s much bigger campaign to stop forced evictions in Kenya. We are also running  public education schemes, a ‘know your rights’ programme with activists in Nairobi’s slums, ongoing advocacy work – and more. But Furushwa sits at the heart of all this work. It's become a key part of how we’ll document, represent and react to forced evictions in Kenya, starting with Nairobi.

We hope the site will reach much further than the communities directly impacted. As the reports of eviction grow, with multimedia evidence documenting the destruction and first-hand testimonies, from London I’ll be able to see the real (and verified) impact, scale and frequency of evictions in Kenya’s settlements. Around the world Amnesty's international membership will be able to follow the situation in Kenya. Donate to help fund the tools that will bring Furushwa to life

How does it work?

Using SMS, anyone can text anonymously to report a forced eviction. Reports can also be submitted on the Furushwa site.

Staff from Amnesty Kenya, and activists supporting them, can then visit the site and verify the eviction – at which stage it’ll appear as verified on Furushwa, and an SMS alert will be sent out to anyone who’s signed up for text alerts from the site. We’re hoping to equip activists with camcorders, GPS devices and cameras to collect as much evidence as possible from the eviction site.

Over time, more and more verified reports will appear, tagged with GPS coordinates and where possible published with images, audio and video. Reports can be fleshed out with blogs from Amnesty staff in Nairobi, updating on trends in evictions, telling testimonies of homelessness, and reporting back on training that they’re delivering to housing activists in the slums.

The people behind Furushwa

There's a real collaborative effort behind Furushwa. We’ve project managed between Amnesty offices in London and Nairobi. The site was designed by We will raak you and funded by the Indigo Trust in the UK, and it's now in the final stages of development by the fantastic Nairobi-based all-female collective Akirachix, using the Ushahidi platform.

Ushahidi’s another tech output from Nairobi; Swahili for ‘witness’, it’s an open source platform first used to collaboratively map post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. (Non-geeks may look away now, but if you have time I highly recommend watching one of Ushahidi’s founders explaining the platform’s set-up.)

Furushwa really is one of the most exciting projects I’ve been part of during my time at Amnesty. We’re almost there. Akirachix will train our staff and activists to use the site in the coming weeks. And anything that you can spare to buy tools for those activists to document the evictions would be incredibly appreciated. I’m looking forward to unveiling the finished product in a few weeks – and hope that in time we’ll be able to extend the site’s functionality beyond Nairobi to the rest of Kenya, where it’s desperately needed.

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