Why slums are necessary (especially for the middle class.)

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO, Daily Nation: Kibera: It’s rich city folks who need slums most

…slums are a ‘‘necessary evil’’, and a very important ‘‘transitional phenomenon’’ and ‘‘conveyor belt’’ that feed a city the population it needs to survive…

If we didn’t have slums, then people from the countryside would never move to the city.

Many good people frown upon this migration to the cities from the countryside, but it is misplaced. Everyone deserves the comfort — or at least the greater opportunities — that cities offer. If you are a teacher in a poor village school and decide to move and take your chances in Nairobi and are lucky to get a job, you might be a watchman earning Sh5,000 a month. Without a shack in the slum that such people rent for Sh500 a month, they wouldn’t survive in the city. Not everyone who lives in a slum ends up there. Some eventually move to the slightly better working class areas, and then to the suburbs. They might join the police, army, or improve themselves slowly. But eventually, several make it. Some of them get to be MPs and ministers, and one day one of these people who started out in a slum could become president….

…There are slums because cities in poor Third World countries can’t survive without them. Take the watchman who is paid Sh5,000. At that low wage, the middle class can afford to hire a watchman for day and another for night. If there were no slums, and the cheapest accommodation a watchman could find was Sh5,000 a month, and all his other expenses were up accordingly, then the lowest a watchman or househelp (housegirl, to use the politically incorrect word) would be paid is Sh50,000. At that wage, the middle class wouldn’t afford watchmen, househelps and nannies for their children. Slums, therefore, are vehicles through which the urban poor subsidise its middle class. For that reason, it’s the height of hypocrisy when the middle class moralise about how terrible things are in the slums.

In Kenya’s case, slums — all their risks notwithstanding — are actually a stabilising force.

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