I had a quick ten day visit to Kenya, and didn’t leave Nairobi that whole time. While that leaves me itching to go back, I am very lucky to have been able to explore the city, from the nicest neighbourhoods and poshest restaurants, to the heart of a couple of the slums. The first slum I went into was Mukuru kwa Njenga, and I just spent a short while in a closed construction area at the edge of the slum. The next day started with a short trip to the Majengo slum, which seemed as rough a place I had ever seen. That is until I spend the remainder of the day in Kibera, the giant slum of legend.
It’s impossible to convey the sense of the place through screen you see this on because the poverty surrounds and suffocates you so completely. Here is a major city within a city – a community built on the dream of escaping rural poverty, and walled in by type of wealth that will always be out of reach for most. The paths through the town are winding and uneven, paved in plastic bags and other waste, often with a stagnant little creek of waste running right through the middle. The building materials vary a little, but looked to mainly be raw wood, corrugated iron, and mud. And yet, if you look on the map below you’ll see the golf course and nice houses that form the border of Kibera, ringed in high-security fences to keep out their neighbours.
It may be naive of me, but I couldn’t overcome the feeling that this sort of urban poverty wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the neighbouring opulence. For several generations, people have poured into the slums and scramble for work. Their kids receive a better education and proceed to compete with hundreds of thousands of others for jobs. Kenya’s economy may grow at a staggering 6% per anum, but with population growing at close to 3% per year and an estimated urbanisation rate of 3.7% it seems like a losing battle – there will be ever more people competing in a jobs market that just can’t grow fast enough.
But that’s just the surface. As I met and chatted with some of the folks in the community the dark exterior gave way to some reasons for hope. More on that in part two…
There are a couple more pictures after the jump.
Looking out the window of the community center over the set of tin roofs
Looking down in the river of waste that flows through the shacks with TV aerials.