African Press International (API)

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Kenya: Gathering storm of expectations in Nairobi slum

Posted by African Press International on August 25, 2008

Nairobi (Kenya) – For the first time in its 60 years of existence, there is a ray of hope for the one million inhabitants of Kibera, one of the world’s most densely-populated slums. After spending most of his life on opposition benches — or in prison — as a champion of the poor, the member of parliament for this desperately poor constituency is now the prime minister of Kenya.

“An MP’s primary duty is to his constituents. Raila (Odinga) owes his share of power to the youth of Kibera who not only voted for him but also rose up in arms to protest electoral rigging,” says Eric Otieno, a young man from the majority Luo community in Fort Jesus, one of the dozen or so villages in this 260-hectare slum crowded into a ravine in Nairobi hills.

“We understand his limitations as he is only sharing political power with President Kibaki. But all we are asking for is the basic human dignity and survival.”

Whatever approach you take to enter Kibera, the disparity between Nairobi’s poor and rich is conspicuous. You either go past a scuba diving club and a majestic Catholic church, or gaze at the palatial Moi Kabarak, the residence of former president Daniel Arap Moi, which sits in the corner of a golf course just beyond the last of Kibera’s shacks.

The Royal Golf Course itself is contiguous with Kibera. Mis-hit balls by aspiring golfers sometimes land in the winding maze of narrow dirt and stone pathways, lined with heaps of rubbish and divided by a labyrinth of open sewage channels, overflowing with people struggling to survive. Children throw the balls back and usually get a 20-shilling coin thrown back at them from the lush, manicured greens.

On paper, all of Kibera is government land and all construction here is illegal. But its inhabitants pay varying amounts of rent to ‘landlords’ who, with the connivance of district and provincial administration officials, have managed to grab rights to build on this land.

Most shacks are roughly 3 x 3 metres, shared by up to eight people; glued to one another in a patchwork of different shapes. For toilets, residents must either pay for access to a pit-latrine used by 200-odd other people, or defecate in a bag and throw it over the wall.

Similarly, control over the few pipelines bringing in stolen water is in a few hands. Twenty-litres of water costs up to ten shillings (6.5 cents).

“Kibera is an ongoing, daily emergency,” says Caroline Testud, co-founder of the Coalition for Peace and Development (COPE), a new alliance of 14 community-based groups and NGOs. “Humanitarian assistance by international and local NGOs is needed but it is not a substitute for the government’s role. A durable solution warrants political will and governmental action.”

Kibera, like its counterparts in Kampala, Lagos, Lusaka or Cape Town, signifies state failure of criminal proportions in managing urbanisation.

The government has no accurate idea what’s going on in Kibera: there is no official map of the area; the last census took place in 1987, and no one is sure about the mortality rate or any other vital socio-economic statistics. The area’s population is given as between 700,000 and 1.2 million.

There is no consolidated data on the hundreds of organisations working in the area, but some activists estimate there are more than 700 NGOs and community groups working on projects in Kibera, among them a crowd of expatriates working for an alphabet soup of United Nations acronyms, and international and national NGOs. Parallel to this is a religious fervour, palpable throughout the week, that peaks on Sundays when church sermons and street pastors raise a cacophony of holy noise. Most of the better buildings in Kibera are churches or mosques.

However, especially after the experience of post-election violence, skepticism among the youth about both the NGOs and churches is growing.

“For long we’ve had only two kinds of community leaders in Kibera: pastors and community politicians. Both have misled us. Now new leadership is emerging from within the youth that does not want to see the world through tribal and sectarian lenses,” says Skaro.

Yet, everyone IPS talked to in Kibera was hopeful that with Raila in charge, change will happen.


API/Source.IPS (Inter Press SErvice), by Najum Mushtaq

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