Face Surgery for Mega Slum

Published on 14th November 2006

Every time the name KIBERA is mentioned, one conjures up notions of ‘flying toilets’ clogged filthy drainage systems, congested and poorly lit cribs, disorganized and crammed settlement, and muddy footpaths.  Whereas that is the documented face of one of the largest slum in Africa, first hand survey on the ground points the marker towards another.

The slum owes its name from the Nubian noun ‘kibra’ meaning ‘forest.’ The land was a rich green water catchment originally. It acted as a source for the once fresh well maintained Nairobi Dam.  Unplanned settlement gave rise to what we now see and know as Kibera slum.

Kibera is associated with the down trodden and those at the bottom of Nairobi’s economic pyramid, subsisting on less than one dollar a day. The residents have perpetually been neglected by government agencies. They are branded lazy, inexperienced, illiterate and sometimes sub-humans.  Little does the government know that the rise of informal settlement is as a result of two intertwined factors: The failing commitment by the government to create jobs and the lack of proper urban planning.

The people of kibera have chosen not to wait for the government. They are sorting themselves and proving to the world that they are no sub-humans after all. Kibera has a lot of potential residing within its boundaries. The continuous rise in the number of secondary schools and tertiary colleges, in addition to private schools serving low income families, remains a sure indication that the residents are exiting the academic woods to embrace knowledge, for it is the surest way to development. Various interest groups have thrived on the ignorance of residents to meet their own selfish ends.

In schools, the residents are taught skills on breaking the poverty chain and living a decent life. Examples are shown of prominent personalities who have made it from rags to riches through hard work and offering value added products. This inspires the youth to work harder knowing that like elites in the neighboring Lang'ata, Ngummo and Ayany estates, they can also climb to the middle class and ultimately to first class.

The young slum dwellers have refused to resign to fate but resolved to reclaim Kibera and its lost glory.  Knowing that this is a massive undertaking that requires the concerted efforts of all and sundry, they have continuously incorporated various Non Governmental Organizations to fully realize their dreams. They have ganged up in youth clubs to earn a living through garbage collection, sell foodstuffs and form singing groups to fill the entertainment gap in the slums. Scenes of water tanks installed to harvest rain water are a radical shift from the consumption of dirty, bacteria ridden filthy water that the residents used to take.

All the above initiatives aimed at putting hands and minds together have yielded a positive facelift for Kibera.  Since the process is a journey, the single step that started will neither back-track nor mark-time.  We can only move forward if the dream to make our slum a better place is to take a reality turn.  Moving forward requires the positive commitment and collective dedication by every stakeholder both in the public and private sectors.

We can be guaranteed support and assistance if our initiatives are given the space in the wider public information domain. Media outlets geared towards the initiative, in print or electronic, should be incorporated and much emphasis given, not to the darker negative faces of Kibera, but how the darkness is yielding to light.

If this is achieved, an example will be set, not only to other daughter slums in the country, but also to the entire world. Kibera is on plastic surgery to change its ugly face.

By Owiti Gabriel
Lindi Area, Kibera.

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