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.

Love outlasts fear and ignorance

I’ve come to believe Love doesn’t outright defeat fear and ignorance as much as it simply outlasts them. No matter how much you give, our little neighborhood fellowship will never overcome the culture of poverty surrounding us. We are just the Resistance, wreaking compassionate havoc where and when we can, waiting for a much stronger force to come finish the job…In the meantime, we try not to push too hard, for fear of burning ourselves out. – Bart Campolo.

For some reason, this comment comforted me. Maybe it has something to do with coming back from a three and a half month tour of North America (the longest I’ve been in the US in nine years) to a place where I’m surrounded by friends feeling the effects of poverty.

Poverty Tourism (Kibera; NYTimes)

Kennedy Odede (NYTimes, Op-Ed 9 Aug. 2010): Slumdog Tourism

SLUM tourism has a long history — during the late 1800s, lines of wealthy New Yorkers snaked along the Bowery and through the Lower East Side to see “how the other half lives.”

But with urban populations in the developing world expanding rapidly, the opportunity and demand to observe poverty firsthand have never been greater. The hot spots are Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai — thanks to “Slumdog Millionaire,” the film that started a thousand tours — and my home, Kibera, a Nairobi slum that is perhaps the largest in Africa.

Slum tourism has its advocates, who say it promotes social awareness. And it’s good money, which helps the local economy.

But it’s not worth it. Slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from. People think they’ve really “seen” something — and then go back to their lives and leave me, my family and my community right where we were before.

I was 16 when I first saw a slum tour. I was….

…Other Kibera residents have taken a different path…

…To be fair, many foreigners come to the slums wanting to understand poverty, and they leave with what they believe is a better grasp of our desperately poor conditions. The expectation, among the visitors and the tour organizers, is that the experience may lead the tourists to action once they get home.But it’s just as likely that a tour will come to nothing. After all, looking at conditions like those in Kibera is overwhelming, and I imagine many visitors think that merely bearing witness to such poverty is enough.

Nor do the visitors really interact with us. Aside from the occasional comment, there is no dialogue established, no conversation begun. Slum tourism is a one-way street: They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.

Slums will not go away because a few dozen Americans or Europeans spent a morning walking around them. There are solutions to our problems — but they won’t come about through tours.

Kennedy Odede, the executive director of Shining Hope for Communities, a social services organization, is a junior at Wesleyan University.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 10, 2010, on page A25 of the New York edition.

Money, Power, and Radical Incarnation—a model for missions (Muriu, Urbana 09)

A little over a week ago, Pastor Oscar Muriu spoke at Urbana–a giant (16-20,000) missions conference for American college students.


Money and Power: Oscar Muriu from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

For more Urban09 videos, click HERE

(We had the privilege of hearing most of it at Nairobi Chapel earlier in the year—just an average Sunday sermon for us ;-).

Muriu begins by saying that if he were God, he would have brought Jesus as a powerful ruler, or a wise sage. He would have employed the the best marketing and branding strategies for all the world to see. The way God did it was to slow, too low tech. While the world waited desperately for salvation, God sent his son as a poor helpless infant.

His point is that before we go for missions, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation. This incarnation has four doors:

1. From pride to humility.

2. From power to powerlessness (Phil. 2:6)

3. From privilege into poverty

4. From the harmony and the unity of heaven to the brokenness and dysfunction of the earth.

Side Note: I haven’t been able to locate a smaller MP3audio. I understand that this is directed at a young, American audience, but I couldn’t help noting that the very nature of the video link (124MB by my count), means that many Africans—even many with “reasonably good” internet access—won’t be able to see or hear this message. Just another way that Africans generally can be marginalized (by the missions infrastructure) from “missions” thinking and discussions…even when Africans speak. At least Americans are hearing their voices now; I commend the speaker lineup.

[More detailed notes]

1. From pride to humility.

The incarnation of our attitude is more fundamental than geographical relocation. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ (Phil 2). Before you go, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation; consider others better than yourselves. Leave your pat answers, your degrees, your learning…and take on the attitude of a humble servant.

By way of illustration, Pastor Oscar talks about

Continue reading

Binyavanga Wainaina on Westerners and Africa

Last month, Binyavanga Wainaina had some interesting thoughts on Westerners ideas of Africa in this interview on Speaking of Faith.

SOF OnDemand: » Download (mp3, 52:34) ¦  » Listen Now (RealAudio, 52:34)

…A lot of people arrive in Africa to assume that it’s a blank empty space and their goodwill and desire and guilt will fix it. And that to me is not any different from the first people who arrived and colonized us. This power, this power to help, is just about as dangerous as hard power, because very often it arrives with a kind of zeal that is assuming ‘I will do it. I will solve it for you. I will fix it for you,’ and it rides roughshod over your own best efforts.

From How To Write About Africa (Granta 92 2005)

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country…

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh or struggle to educate their kids or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. Describe in detail dead bodies. Or better, naked dead bodies. And especially, rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as ‘the real Africa,’ and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this. You are trying to help them to get aid from the West.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well-rounded complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions, and desires. They also have family values. Elephants are caring and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humor (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil)."

…Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Back to the interview:

…that precisely is the problem. That you need this kind of weird shock appeal so someone is like, ‘I’ve got to do something.’…there will be someone with a child just like that looking at you and telling you, ‘Click here and send a dollar.’ So you pay some guilt money. But then after a while, you’ve paid some guilt money, and next year you’ll need something more horrific to notice, because you get more and more numb the more and more horror you witness. So you have this campaign that’s going, you know. I don’t even know how much our GDP has fallen because of just the ubiquitous photographs of us looking like that. I don’t know for every dollar given in that way how many dollars of somebody wanted to invest in a business in Nairobi have gone away.

…And so the ethics of those pictures to me, I mean, really, I can’t tell you how much they are upsetting, because someone just keeps telling you the urgency of the situation. People in Darfur are dying. I’m like if you have to dehumanize people to that degree, for them to die, if it is that the Western audience is so inattentive to a possible genocide that that is what you have to do, don’t do anything. Leave us alone…

…if you want to talk about grassroots organizations that work and change a country, you go to India, because they pretty much do them themselves. And because they have really no shrift for the usual nonsense. And the thing about Africa is it may be that we are poorer or weaker somehow so people with the craziest ideas, I mean, things that they tell their cousins they want to do they’ll be like, "You’re crazy… you can do it and you can get money.’

Lots of other great stuff in this interview. (Click here for the full transcript.)

I think Utube has a couple of interviews of him too, but I haven’t watched them yet.

Just keeping myself honest.

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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.

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.