By Judy Walter:
About 7 km outside Mombasa City, the informal settlement called Bangladesh is home to about 55,000 residents. This is a community which has been neglected by the government, having no public services provided to them. No water, no sewage or garbage disposal, no roads, no health services, to mention just a few.
In 2007, the Irish Missionary Fathers of St Patrick came to Bangladesh to minister to the needs of this community, founding St Patrick’s Parish. In 2011 Maryknoll Lay Missioners joined these Missionary Fathers to help address the health needs of the residents in Bangladesh by opening St Patrick’s Dispensary.
Even though most residents live at poverty level, it is a community with a lot of initiative. St Patrick’s Parish has a very vibrant ministry called Haki Yetu, which deals in Human Rights matters including advocacy for the rights to land and housing by the disadvantaged in society, and in particular those living in informal settlements.
Bangladesh is situated along a very busy highway known as the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway. Trucks, buses, tractors, minibuses, vans, motorcycles, and cars all race along this highway causing fatal accidents, which were increasing yearly. The community decided to take action. Under the leadership of Haki Yetu, St Patrick’s Parish Council, and the Elders of Bangladesh, the residents developed a plan of action.
In Oct of 2013 they wrote letters to the Police in charge of Traffic Control, and also to the Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA) informing them that in the last 2 months there were 6 fatalities in the community due to speed and careless driving, and asking that speed bumps be put along the road near the entrance to Bangladesh. In the letters they informed both that if there were no response to this situation, the community would take action.
The Police Department responded, came and met with the community and their leaders, giving full support to their initiative. KENHA requested accident data from the Traffic Base Commander, but no action was taken. Follow up letters were sent to KENHA. This correspondence took place over a five month period, from Oct 2013 to March 2014. On March 15, 2014, a 9 year old boy was killed crossing the road to go to church. There had now been 15 more deaths since the community started writing to KENHA. When there was still no response from KENHA 2 weeks after they had notified the office of the death of the 9 year old boy, the community decided it was time to act. They had the support of the Traffic Control Police.
So on a Monday morning early in April, the whole community turned out for a peaceful demonstration, carrying old cement bags filled with sand and a couple of old water pipes which they laid across the road to stop traffic flow in both directions. Traffic came to a standstill on the busiest road in Mombasa. This peaceful demonstration lasted for 2 ½ hours. The residents were joined by the Chief of Staff of the Senator’s Office to show support.
Within that same week, KENHA responded by placing a series of speed bumps along the highway leading into Bangladesh, so that traffic now moves very slowly up and down this section of the highway. And I am happy to report there has not been one fatality or road accident in the 6 months since the residents of Bangladesh took action and won their case.