Kenya: Inside Kibera

Kibera (Nubian: Forest or Jungle[1]) is a division of Nairobi Area, Kenya, and a province and neighbourhood of the city of Nairobi, located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the city centre.[2] Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and the second largest urban slum in Africa.[2][3][4] […] >>

So what is really going on in Kibera? That is what we wanted to find out that day in April. The Matatu #6 takes you from Railway Station right to the edge of it. Kevin and I took a walk through the streets and narrow alleys. We always asked, if it’s okay to take pictures. Some said no, others said ‘it’s okay’. Respect is everything.

We would always take some time with the people: (upon their approval) sitting down for a few minutes, asking how things are, convening some small talk; just as you would do in downtown Nairobi or anywhere. People are used to seeing tourists. And sadly they are also familiar with being seen as “tourist attractions”…

What is really going on in Kibera? The question remains. There are so many NGO’s working here, so you would expect the situation to improve somehow, isn’t it?

We came to the river, met a few kids – and Morris. He is the community leader in that part of Kibera. And he was suspicious with what we were up to. After a brief explanation of our attempts that we were trying to find success stories inside the slum, he started to gain trust and told us some things from his view. He also explained to us why he was suspicious: Just a few weeks earlier, some mzungu (kiSwahili for “white person”) NGO people had come, took some kids with them in their car to the city – without asking or even telling anyone (!), where they used the kids to take pictures with their banner. They left the kids at the spot, miles away from home; and it was only by chance that someone who knew the kids could take them back home…

How outrageous is this?! Poverty sells… No wonder the Kiberans have had enough, but there is much more to their perspective. So I made an appointment with Morris to meet again with more time, when he would tell me about his view …:

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NGO Jungle

There are simply too many NGOs in Kibera. There is no structure of their work, plus pure competition makes their efforts (if any other than profiling), unfruitful.

Some NGO’s are actually helpful to some degree, but given the shier number of organisations in Kibera, while seeing hardly any improvement of the situation makes you wonder or even become cynical.

Sure, there are good examples, but as Morris says, those are unexpectedly few: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) works in Kibera since 10 to 15 years. They are distributing vaccines, and the thus improved health situation actually lifts the living standards of at least a few.

Being world famous

Each of Kibera’s inhabitants is a celebrity of some kind and in a sad way… Kibera is world famous as being the 2nd largest slum on the continent after South Africa’s Soweto in Jo’burg. Ironically such places have become examples of how poverty nowadays is being used to make profit.

The mystery of poverty becomes real when visiting a family, seeing how the people live in the slums of Kibera – this simply makes you wanna cry or you get very angry.

Instead of „fame“ people need awareness as of how they are not coping well with their situation: there is no political support for the people inside Kibera, as if it was a God-given state they live in, which cannot be changed anyways.

Health and Employment …

… are the cornerstones of independence and self-esteem.

I ask Morris what he thinks the main problem is. He replies: „the lack of work. Unemployment is a viscous circle.“ Term after term, the Government promises to open new job posts, but these promises are never being kept in Kibera. The national election is due in December 2012. And like anywhere in the world, the MP’s still achieve to repeatedly fool quite a number of voters. The political game is disturbing all over, but in Kibera becomes a life-threatening play with people’s hope and despair…

The ever recurring promise is about creating jobs in the area. Hearing this over and over again feels like watching a mango ripe on a tree, which never reaches the mature state.

The Ministry of Finance keeps raising fuel prices, which makes it simply impossible for the people to get to downtown Nairobi to be screening possibilities for work. Within just a few months, the fees for public transport have tripled to nowadays 20 to 40 bob (Kenyan Shillings), which may still appear a low fare, but how to pay this from no income whatsoever???

How to reach out a real helping hand

If you ask me for fish, I will give you the hook.

Hunger drives people to prostitution, which in turn brings deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS. The downhill road is crime…

Morris tells me a story of eight boys he knows in the neighborhood: they are between the age of 12 and 25 years old. They grew up in a criminal state, carry guns and knives… ready to shoot policemen who cross their path and are seemingly responsible for their hopeless cases. How, why and where did the boys get the weapons from?

The community leader has a friend in the communal office – OCPD (Office in Charge of Police Dept.), they came up with an agreement for the boys such that if these hand in the guns, their identities would be kept secret, plus the communal official was able to find jobs for 2 of them. They are now working as electricians.

Access to water

Kibera has a couple of water tanks with pipes to some of the housholds. These were put up by the government via the CDF (Const. Development Fund). The water tanks are being managed by MP-near people, so that only few actually benefit from the service. Effectively, around 10% of the Kiberans have access to clean water for the cost of 3-5 or sometimes up to 20 bob (KSh) per 20L.

Employment for the youth could be e.g. water tank management through youth groups.

Civic education

The numerous orphans in the slum need education, and a school with adequately trained teaching staff. But also adult education is a means out of poverty. In parts and places, such approaches are being done in self-organization within the community; first voluntarily, with the hope for eventual state subsidization or other support. The right to equality and equal access to resources, must be assured. A prerequesite for this however is FORGIVENESS… esp. with regard to the Post-election violence 2007/08 – a major political conflict between the tribal rivals Luo and Kikuyu. Other tribes face discrimination and denied access of resources of varying extent.

New hope with the new constitution

An Idol mind is the devils workshop.

With the referendum for a new constitution on August 4, 2011, Kenya chose a new path in history, towards more equality and also towards a just distribution of its resources: The bigger portion of every harvest now remains in the area, the smaller portion goes to the central government, while before with the old constitution almost everything was under self-declared possession by the central government. There is still big misuse of resources. It takes time for a system to change, but to have it on paper is a vital starting point.

According to new law and implemented since February this year, bars and pubs  in Kibera are open only from 5 to 11 pm, before they were open 24/7. This new legacy now drastically improves and holds together family structures, as the man can still gather, but are not getting as drunk and unbarable to their wives anymore…

Know your rights and you can look into the future with hope.


More from Inside Kibera:

Kibera News Network is a citizen video journalism project started by Map Kibera ( and Kibera Community Development Agenda (KCODA) along with 2 young Kibera filmmakers. KNN reporters cover news and stories happening in Kibera, from their perspective, using small handheld video cameras – showing the *real* Kibera – not what you see on the mainstream news channels! They shoot, edit, and upload in the computer lab and cyber.

They also post the videos to, an interactive local news site that maps reports on Kibera from local sources – including SMS. Send your message to 3002 (keyword “kibera”) to report what YOU see happening in Kibera!

Kibera was a blank spot on the map until November 2009, when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community. Map Kibera has now grown into a complete interactive community information project. >>

Kibera TV: The real story from the heart of Kibera told by Kibera Filmmakers and Journalists. New video news stories & documentaries on things you’ve never seen about Kibera. Showing another picture of slum life. A project of Hot Sun Foundation.

2 thoughts on “Kenya: Inside Kibera

  1. Pingback: ‘Megaslumming’ – Why and how do people live in slums? « africanperspectivesblog

    Am a student of Kenyatta University taking
    a degree in psychology and currently in long vacation til September .my residence is at Kibera slum ….. I have got all the documents supporting my proffesion…
    I calmly hereby request for internship in your organization to put into practice the skill i have learnt ……
    Kindly consider my request…..Thanks in advance .I will be waiting to hear from you ……… 

                                   Yours faithful
                                   Collins opiyo

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