A Stroll Through Africa’s Largest and Poorest Slum

By Chido Onumah | June 19, 2012 | Kenya

I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, around midnight of Sunday, June 17, 2012. A few hours later I was headed for Africa’s most talked-about slum in company of other bloggers from around the world.

Kenya and Nigeria share a lot in common, politically and socially, and I was hoping to use the opportunity of the trip put together by the International Reporting Project (IRP) of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), U.S.A., to explore the similarities and differences between both countries.

But nothing could have prepared me for what turned out to be a gut-wrenching experience.

Kibera has variously been described as Africa’s largest and poorest slum. It is also one of the biggest slums in the world.

Located about 5km from Nairobi, Kibera is a city within a city. It is divided into a number of villages: Lindi, Kianda, Kisumu Ndogo, Soweto East, Gatwekera, Laini Saba, Siranga, Makina and Mashimoni.

Kibera’s origin date back to early 1900s when Nubian soldiers returning from service with the King's African Rifles (KAR) were allocated plots there in return for their services to the British colonial government.

Estimates put the population of Kibera at over 1 million.

Residents live in extreme poverty, without adequate sanitation and potable water. The houses are shacks with an area of about 10ft x 10ft built with mud walls and concrete floor and generally take only a medium-size wooden bed.

Each shack has an average of 6 or more people with the children sleeping on the floor and parents sharing the bed.

The majority of Kibera residents are Kenyans, though there are people from other African countries, including Somalis, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Ugandans, and Tanzanians.

Luos, Luhyas and Kambas from Western Kenya constitute the bulk of tenants.

Kikuyus, the majority tribe in Nairobi, are the majority shack owners, though they are absentee landlords.

The other shack owners are Nubians, the original settlers, who constitute about 15 percent of the population.

The ownership structure of Kibera shacks, poverty, ethnicity, and party politics combine to make Kibera a fertile ground for political and socio-economic tensions between people of different ethnic groups, political parties as well also landlords and tenants.

Next, I shall explore living with poverty and HIV/AIDS in Kibera.

Chido Onumah is traveling to Kenya on a reporting trip with the International Reporting Project. This also appeared on his blog.

View All Posts By Chido Onumah

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