Kibera’s not as big as we thought

Kibera is not as heavily populated as many (most?) people have been saying. This is old news (last year), but it’s gotten some recent attention  at Humanitarian info (for some reason, I can’t see the actual post; I only see the comments). See also Africa Research Institute’s Urban Africa by Numbers.

Posted  Friday, September 3  2010 at  22:30

It has been billed as Africa’s biggest slum and even by some accounts, the world’s largest. Some say it is home to two million people, others a million.

But the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census results released this week make everything you have heard about the size of Kibera improbable. Numbers do not lie, and figures from the 2009 census indicate that Kibera barely makes it to Nairobi’s largest slum.

According to the census figures, the eight locations that form Kibera slums combined host a paltry 170,070. These include Lindi, the largest, with 35,158 people; Kianda (29,356); Laini Saba (28,182); Makina (25,242); Gatwikira (24.991); Siranga (17,363); and Kibera (9,786)…

…Another major city slum, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, in Nairobi West with 130,402 people is slowly edging towards the largest slum in Kenya status. Throw in Mathare slum in Nairobi North with 87,097 people and you begin to understand why Kibera has never been Africa’s largest slum.

For a long time Kibera has been touted as Africa’s largest slum, with various ‘experts’ putting its population at anything between one and two million. But the slum does not hold a candle to India’s Pharavi with one million. Brazil’s Rocinha Farela with a quarter million is probably the closest rival…

…As for thousands of foreign visitors who trooped in to see the “Biggest-Slum-in-Africa:” You swallowed one big lie, hook and bait!

Read the whole article.

Brian Ekdale responded to the Daily Nation article with What’s in (a Name and a Number?) He offers a history of Kibara and just defended his dissertation on the subject (congratulations!): “Creativity and Constraint in Self-Representational Media: A Production Ethnography of Visual Storytelling in a Nairobi Slum.”:

First, I argue that the dominant discourse about Kibera that is constructed and circulated by authors, journalists, NGOs, and unawares is hyperbolic and simplistic. I explore this discourse by speaking with Kibera residents about the disconnect they see between their lived experiences and the representations of their community offered by non-residents and the media….[abstract]

So how did we get the million figure?

“In the absence of actual data (such as an official census), NGO staff make a back-of-envelope estimate in order to plan their projects; a postgraduate visiting the NGO staff tweaks that estimate for his thesis research; a journalist interviews the researcher and includes the estimate in a newspaper article; a UN officer reads the article and copies the estimate into her report; a television station picks up the report and the estimate becomes the headline; NGO staff see the television report and update their original estimate accordingly.” (source: via Map Kibera see also Kibera’s Census)

Although I’ve been into Kibera a number of times for various reasons (including my day in Kibera court), the population “figure” mostly comes to mind when I’m driving a foreign visitor down a stretch of Langata Road, near Wilson Airport, where you get a good, panoramic view of all the roofs. I’ve commented more than once that this is “supposedly the largest slum in Africa…they say about a million people live there.”

I guess now I know better now.

Update (17 Aug. 2012): 

See now Martin Robins, “The missing millions of Kibera” (The Guardian, Aug. 1)

…A quick search on Google finds page after page of estimates in or around the same ball-park. The White House reckon it’s “just about 1.5 million”, while the BBC claim 700,000. Jambo Volunteers say “more than one million.” The rather sickly-sounding Global Angels reckon “around 1 million.” The Kibera Tours website describes “a population estimated at one million.” The Kibera Law Centre gives “almost 1 million.”Shining Hope for Communities reckon that Kibera “houses 1.5 million people.” The Kibera Foundation talk about “a population of almost a million people,” as do Kibera UK and about a hundred other sites you can find through your friendly neighbourhood search engine.

…Kibera consists of around two square miles of densely-clustered, single story shacks. For the White House’s estimate to be accurate, Kibera’s cluttered streets and labyrinthine alleyways would have to support a population density thirty times higher than the towering skyscrapers of New York…

He too cites the above studies:

Hence the shock when a census by the Kenyan government found only 170,000 residents, a count probably not much higher than the number of NGOs that have swarmed into the area. It isn’t easy counting the transient population of an informal settlement, and of course the government don’t have a fantastic record on Kibera – if they did, it wouldn’t exist – but their figures fit reasonably well with those produced by others. The Map Kibera Project used sampling to produce an estimate of 235,000-270,000, while KeyObs deployed the cold, hard gaze of a satellite to produce an estimate of around 200,000. These more accurate figures have suffered the fate that tends to befall most inconvenient truths; they have been widely ignored.

Onesimus Online: a blog to stir your thinking (Bill Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Ask any of Bill Black’s students here about him, and they will probably say: “he provokes; he really challenges us to think.”   Thankfully, for the rest of us, Bill blogs at Onesimus Online: history, theology, culture, the church, and other dangerous stuff. If you are at all interested in theology, theological education in Africa, global Christianity, missions, evangelicalism, American cultural Christianity, and other related topics, you might enjoy his blog–and having your thinking provoked and deepened. I know Bill appreciates the broader dialog.  Bill and his wife are both pastors, graduates of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, PhDs from Cambridge, and teachers here at NEGST.  Previously, they taught in Ethiopia. Plus, they are a lot of fun to talk to;  I’ve learned a lot from them.

Here are a few “sound bytes” from some of Bill’s posts to whet your appetite:

The passing of evangelicalism

…We Western Evangelicals thought we were the center of the Christian universe, only to discover that the glory seems to have departed and moved south to Africa, Latin America and Asia. Those tongues-speaking, hallelujah-shouting, other-side-of-the-tracks-dwelling so-called Pentecostals, even more derisively labeled as ‘holy rollers’ by the upstanding Christians in my home church who, of course, knew better, have become the most explosive force in the global expansion of Christianity ever. There is not a single individual person in my systematic theology class who would not identify themselves as either Pentecostal or Charismatic. On the ‘mission field’ at least, the old paradigms of missionary Christianity are in the process of being leap-frogged entirely. ..
…Anyway, the point of all of this is that things have changed. Radically. Decisively. The old verities and polarities don’t work anymore (if they ever did). The systems and structures which we created to manage the world as we knew it are being pressed into service beyond their capacity to cope. This is not a call to somehow change Evangelicalism. It’s actually too late for that. Its day has passed and cannot be recovered. Instead, …

A Plea for Civility, Sanity and Integrity in Theological/Political Debate (3 personal examples)

Theology is not safe:

…there is another reason why I am undertaking this blog. Theology is a dangerous thing. Theology that attempts to reduce God to what I can understand about God is an attempt to tame God. But the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures is untamable. Our Western theological traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, are attempts to mount God onto a specimen board, attempts to dissect and label God’s constituent parts, attempts to deduce divine physiology from divine structure. But efforts to catalogue the parts fails to apprehend the whole. Our orthodoxies miss the point…

…This blog then is becoming increasingly like my own incident at the fords of the Jabbok, my own wrestling with the one who refuses to be named and categorized…

The Western Captivity of African Christianity

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Brain tumors, theological education and the church

The human brain is an unimaginably complex piece of work…Though my extended parable may be like the tumor it describes – a malignant profusion of words that obliterates the intended purpose – the purpose itself remains. The concern of this post is with theological education as it is actually practiced, especially at the higher levels, and its relationship with the church it’s intended to serve. My concerns come from my own experience as one who has benefitted from theological education and who has gone on to serve several churches in a professional ministerial capacity, and from my observations of theological education in actual practice…

…I think there are likely a number of reasons contributing to this fundamental dysfunction in our churches. First,…

….The breathtaking irony of all this is, having created such an institutionalized system for training our leaders (the theological education industry), a system that has succeeded in taking us further and further afield from that which Christ is calling us to be, we heedlessly presume our institutional model to be the most effective way to train Nigerians or Indians or Chinese or Ethiopians for the ministry…

Africa, Spiral Logic, Systematic Theology, and the Perils of Theological Education

The Indefensible Evangelical Habit of Shooting Our Wounded

Last week there was a gun battle outside our gate. Four gangsters had hijacked cars and shot drivers and the authorities finally caught up with them just over the fence from my house. In the ensuing firefight, two of the carjackers were killed outright, one escaped over the fence (and through my garden!), and the fourth lay wounded on the road…

Believers Baptism vs. Infant Baptism, Must it Matter?

Evangelicalism Inc.

…Not only are the Western Prosperity gods raking it in, but developing-world prosperity-god-wannabees are trying desperately to get in on the cash…Dare I even mention the Evangelical publishing industry, which seems to have taken on the role of God in conservative academic and popular religion circles, raising up this one and ignoring that one, and on the grounds of whether or not it is ‘marketable’. I can’t imagine Jeremiah being able to secure a publishing contract from this crowd…

…Then there are the incredibly large and wealthy Christian aid organizations poised globally to respond immediately to the latest front page disaster and who must raise gazillions of dollars not only to feed the starving, but to buy the planes and Toyota land cruisers and computers and iPhones and Blackberries and pay the travel fees for all the conferences and meetings and consultations that must happen in the background for the hungry to be fed…

Does this bother anybody else?

…I do not deny the good intentions of most (I hope) of my fellow Christians involved in these so-called ‘ministries’. But I can’t help but thinking that we Evangelicals have become like addicts hooked on methamphetamine. We’ve got to have more, more, more. We’ve got to be successful, or at least appear successful, because if we are or appear so, more people will be drawn to our ‘ministry’ which will make us all the more successful. But like the meth addict, this stuff is destroying us…We dare not take a genuinely prophetic stance on anything, because if we do, someone will be offended and we will lose support. We’ve become like Ahab’s court prophets, cunningly discerning which way the wind is blowing before committing ourselves on any issue, and viciously smacking down anyone who does not toe the party line.

We Evangelicals are seriously compromised. And seriously compromised people are like salt that’s lost its savor…

And much, much MORE.

My Book

Our collective amnesia about Kenyan (and African) histories (Eve)

On her nacent blog, Quill-Squeak, Eve writes about African history.

…As i think about the stories i have heard from my father and grandfather, it surprises me that someone would think that Africans have no history. Although these “savages” roamed around naked with no seeming sense of rational organisation as some have said, it is the observer that looked but did not see. In these stories i have found a goldmine of history. My family history. Now anyone who hears me speak (read butchering) my venacular, would be surprised that i have a sense of history at all. After all, i am a “mkosa mila” (one without culture) having had a lot of western influence. I have found that this history tells me where my family has been and how i got here.It gives me an identity. However, it does not make me want to go back to the past. Rather, i learn from it and move forward to embrace the future…

…My appreciation for family history has opened my eyes to the loss of history. While the west had the quill and ink bottle, we had story, proverbs, songs and other mnemonic aids. The introduction of literacy has slowly but surely choked these though culture change. I do not think that the past was ideal but i mourn the loss of history. I listen to my father’s tales of growing up in colonial kenya and i think how many are dying with their memories; history. The US project Storycorps captures my desire for this country. Oral history from the older generation (indian,african and european) is being lost and i would like to salvage it. How? I dont know. All i know is that the old men in the village can only tell stories and i want to give them a quill…[read more]

and on our collective amnesia about that history.

..The reference to the brutality of the colonialist on their labour force is consistent with the stories that my father has told me…Although others like Ngugi wa Thion’go have written about this period, the bitterness of colonial rule that paints all settlers black is evident. That I cannot stand. The political twist in the narratives, though part of the period, do not interest me. I want to hear personal experiences of Africans and the settlers in that period of time, good or bad in relation to each other…

Why the interest? The phenomenon I call collective amnesia…Apparently, when Kenyatta took power, he said two things. To the settlers; stay and shut up or get out. To the rest of us; let us forget the past and move on together. And forget we did. The history I learnt was stripped of humanity. All we ever learnt about is dry boring political manoeuvring and posturing that is no different from what we read in the papers today.

While at the time re-examining the things that had happened may have been painful and even counter productive, it is interesting that we have buried history and are determined to forget it. Instead of historical knowledge on the colonial times, I have been fed caricatures that may hang on some evidence but I have had no freedom to decide what I think. For example, were all settlers bad by virtue of the fact that they were colonizers/missionaries and the black good by virtue of being the oppressed?

…I think its time we stopped ignoring the elephant in the room. So what if there are skeletons? And there are. Ignoring them will not make them disappear.

I think its time we talked.

more of this post

I know you are buried in books right now, Eve, but keep writing! The world awaits.

My day in Kibera’s law court

I’ve lived in Nairobi (“Nairobbery” for some) for almost five years and never once been robbed (though many of my friends have been) or arrested (though my friends have negotiated for me at least twice–once for not having “life savers” (reflective triangles), before I knew we were supposed to.

Over Christmas, I visited the US for the first time since I moved to Nairobi in 2005 (maybe I’ll post on that in one of the coming weeks.) On returning to Nairobi, I was arrested within 12 hours and robbed within 36.

I’m used to being pulled over out of a line of cars going past police checkpoints; white skin can mean quick money. Usually it’s routine: insurance card, check; driver’s license–I hand it over smugly. If they are ambitious, they ask for my “lifesavers” (I’m ready for them now.) Monday, however, the officer looks over my license and says, “Benjamin, do you know that your driver’s license has expired.” I look at him in disbelief, and he hands it to me to verify. Sure enough, Oct. 20. (How did I let that happen?)

So, Benjamin, what are you going to do?
Well, I suppose you will write me up, and I will pay a fine.
Oh, so you already know the system.

I nodded, but was thinking, “just a little bit.” The conversation was over in less than a minute, then I followed him to the police station and just kept reminding myself to be full of God’s peace.  I was second in line to go into the office.
“So… you will need to pay.”
“How much is the fine?”
“How much do you have?”
“What is the amount of the fine?”
“You will need to go to court.”
“Cash bail for us to release you is 5,000.” (about $65 at 75 shillings/$$. )
“5,000!!! [I panicked briefly] I don’t have that much.”
“How much do you have?”
(I did a quick Continue reading

Feeling Lucky

We got to take part in the Kenyan census yesterday, which was an hour-long question and answer session about all the basics and luxuries in Kenyan life. I [Christi] felt particularly lucky, being able to answer positively to many of the questions, knowing there are people all around us who can’t. We were at my parent’s house near Daystar, so some of the answers would have been different if we had been at home. Here were some of my favorites:

Q – Is your husband married to one wife, or is he polygamous?
A – Only me!

Q – Where do you get your water?
A – We were all set to complain about how you never know if city water is actually going to come, or whether it will come from the Daystar campus, or what. But then we realized we had the best of the possible answers–it comes through a pipe (as opposed to carrying it in a bucket from who knows how far away).

Q – Where do you go for your “calls”? (as in: when nature calls)
A – We have a flush toilet and a septic system.

Q – Do you have ACCESS to any of the following electronic devices (not do you own–but does your neighbor have one you could use in an emergency). Radio, TV, cell phone, land line, computer, car?
A – Yes to all. To ALL? Yes. (As opposed to the States, where the survey would have asked how many TVs, how many cars, how many iPods, how many laptops, how many desktops, DVD players, TiVo, etc, etc, and forget about borrowing from a neighbor)

Q – How often do you use the internet, and where do you access it?
A – We answered this question for each family member, and it was shocking to note that our 5- and 8-year-olds know how to use the internet and do so on a weekly basis from home. As opposed to our friends also answering the census with us, whose 13- and 14-year-olds have never used the internet.

Q – How many deaths of your children in the past 12 months?
A – None, thank God! (But so many of my friends can’t answer this question the same way).

Q – How many livestock do you own? Cows, horses, goats, sheep, chickens, etc, etc.
A – None. What?? None? Not even a CHICKEN???

Q – I’m going to ask questions about your last-born, NOT that I’m saying that he is your last-born meaning that you will never have any other children. I’m just saying your last-born until this time. Was your last-born born alive, and  is he alive to this day?
A – Yes (and I’m thankful as visions of the time I found him floating in a lake, and the time he drank a whole bottle of children’s Tylenol flashed through my brain.)

Lucky us.

From street kid to missionary to Member of Parliament (an interview with a Kenyan MP)

Here are some excerpts from an interview with Fred Outa, Kenyan member of parliament [for the Biola University Magazine—hence the promotional angle]. Outa earned an MA from Biola University in 2002, and originally returned to his native Kenya in order to do missionary work, church ministry, and agricultural service back in Africa, but eventually decided to run for elected office at the urging of his community (2007).:

. . . When my father died, I was out on the street just like the “street kids.” Life was hard. Food was scarce. I learned the hardship of poverty, the need for education and the struggle to keep warm and to eat. I made it a vow to rise above this and one day come back and serve these kids. That hope led me to the U.S., with the loving help of an American couple, to Biola, and now back here in Kenya serving with my own foundation (, serving the people of my nation, and serving the Lord. My memory of my father reminds me everyday to help the poor, to open the doors of my home – which my wife and I have done for many orphaned children – and to keep Christ above culture.

Why the switch from missionary to parliament? What did God do that brought you here to this parliament building?

Mark, it’s people, it’s people, it’s people and it’s people. I had no clue at all that I would be in politics. I never thought about it; all my life I had prepared to be a missionary, just a simple missionary – a servant who was reaching out to a community. And yet one thing I learned at Biola was entrepreneurship: how important micro-finance is to every community, to reach out to a community to empower them to eradicate poverty so they will have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Those components of training were very real and people were in need. They needed to be given the opportunity to do something to improve their lives. So when I came here, my people approached me, my community in Kisumu. And they said, “Hey, since now you are coming from the U.S., why don’t you help us with rice production, which is being mismanaged by the government?”

I had no clue how to help, except for the micro-financing Biola taught me. We started a rice project on a very small scale. After one year, I had seen God’s hand on the little money we had earned, and things began to multiply – from 100 acres to 500 acres and the next year from 500 to 2,000 acres of production. As the rice production expanded in the area, it was touching individual lives by putting food on the table for families, and also bringing money to families to send their kids to school. That is where God helped me see the connection between leadership and politics, because the community had experienced bad leadership. They wanted someone to lead them that they could trust, and by living and serving among the people, they came to me. Not just a few, but the whole community came to me and shouted, “Send him to parliament!” . . .

[Details of running for parliament and responding to the initial violence] . . . Once, I was a missionary; now I was once again building peace in my own nation.