Dandora Transformation League

Dandora Transformation League

Back to the Creative Cities are Safer Cities Initiative 

Action Learning Case.

The Dandora Transformation League (DTL) has been selected as one of the Action Learning Cases in the Creative Cities are Safer Cities initiative. By studying a number of concrete cases, the research team in this initiative - which includes specialists on urban safety, living labs, creativity and frugal innovation - promotes the research that investigates how creative cities can contribute to safer cities and aims to set up a Living Lab in collaboration with urban authorities and (impact) investors that enable local creative (designers, innovators, entrepreneurs) to create and develop (frugal) solutions that will enhance safety and security in Durban and Nairobi, South Africa.  

Urban Context
Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya and a regional hub for a number of international agencies. Dandora is a lower income neighbourhood in Nairobi that was set up in the late 1970s to provide adequate housing to young men and their families as they worked in the surrounding industrial areas.

After the collapse of a number of industries in the 80s, unemployment rates in the community skyrocketed. According to Charles Gachanga, this was the inception of a culture of crime in the area. Desperate young men, with families to feed, turned to crime in order to sustain themselves. More often than not, they were each other’s victims. This coincided with a cut back of municipal services from the city council as it was financially unable to meet its obligations. The municipal infrastructure began to crumble and at the same time the culture of violence became normalised and entrenched.

Dandora became notorious for being a hotbed of crime. The conditions of the neighbourhood, namely the high youth population with limited employment opportunities,  perpetuated the vicious cycle of crime and violence. The neighbourhood’s reputation led to it being overpoliced and provided justification for the extrajudicial execution of young people suspected of being criminals.


The Dandora Transformation League (DTL)
In 2014 Charles Gachanga recruited two of his friends to make a change in their neighbourhood. Having grown up and lived in Dandora since the 70s, they had watched it decline over the decades and were tired of the dominant narrative of the place they call home. They began by cleaning up and transforming one of the housing courts in Dandora, Mustard Seed Courts-now known as the model court. After feeling motivated and wanting to replicate this work they reached out for funding, partnered with Robinson Esialimba-founder of Awesome foundation, and became the 3 became the founders, and Robinson became the chairman of the Dandora Transformation League. 

The Dandora Transformation League (DTL) encourages youth groups to identify income-generating activities on the spaces they transform. In addition to monthly contributions for regular maintenance of courtyards that residents of surrounding plots pay to the youths, the groups have created other job opportunities such as car wash, hire of skates for children, urban agriculture, some spaces are used as a playground during the day and as a commercial parking at night. DTL introduced the Changing Faces Competition in 2014 and ran three successful editions in Dandora. In 2018, under the umbrella of Public Space Network, DTL is scaling up the Changing Faces Competition to the entire Nairobi. The goal is to mobilise teams of youth to compete who does the best transformation of public open spaces, that were once filled with garbage, and turn them into clean parks, gardens and playgrounds.


Safety Impact of the Project
DTL has been able to have a significant impact on the community in a number of ways. It has provided a safer community. Some estimates state that crime has fallen by 90% since the inception of the project. Improving the safety of the neighbourhood has boosted business in Dandora as people feel safe enough to spend more time outdoors. The improved environment has also had a positive impact on child development because children are able to play outside and interact with each other. The model court has been replicated elsewhere in the city, making other places safe.

DTL has provided the opportunity to former criminals to transform their lives and become a force for good in their communities. This has had beneficial ripple  effects. First it has created a new narrative for the youth of Dandora which is beginning to break the cycles of crime and violence and saving lives. Creating a different story for the youth of Dandora has humanised them and led to better police accountability, reducing the incidences of extra-judicial killings. 


Source: Dianne Wakonyo, CFIA Working Paper 7 2019