Kenya's Kibera slum gets a revamp

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Kibera, Kenya
Image caption,
Houses like these may soon be a thing of the past in Kenya's biggest slum, Kibera

Kibera, the Kenyan slum infamous for its overcrowding, poverty and lack of sanitation, is getting a major revamp with some modern facilities.

Founded more than 100 years ago, it is said to be home to around a fifth of Nairobi's population and yet has not featured in any government plans - until recently.

Fifteen densely populated villages make up this slum. We're in Mashimoni, home to mud huts and tin shacks.

The only formal structure here is a recently built toilet.

But Boniface Ouma has lived in Kibera for 37 years and says the changes are difficult to miss.

There are now tarred roads, mobile clinics and police stations made from shipping containers, working street lights and even free Wifi throughout the slum.

One of the biggest issues has always been housing.

The residents do not have title deeds, so technically the land still belongs to the government.

That does not stop descendents of the original residents, largely from the Nubian community, from sub-letting their tin shacks to more recent arrivals.

Now, however, the government is building permanent houses, with proper sanitation.

Anne Waiguru, the minister of planning and devolution, told the BBC: "We want these new houses to become the minimum standard for the people of Kibera."

Around 50% of those Kibera residents who have jobs are employed in nearby Nairobi, usually as cheap unskilled labour.

However, unemployment is still high, especially among the youth.

Image caption,
Shipping containers have been converted into mobile clinics in each village

Many sit idle the whole day, often getting themselves into trouble with the police and hooked on drugs and alcohol.

As part of the revamp, some young residents are being encouraged to get into business.

The idea is that they will sell locally produced staple foods such as kale, maize and fish.

But Mr Ouma is worried about the future of such projects.

"We need long-term solutions and some of the projects like the vegetable projects and the fish ponds are not really going to be sustainable in the long run."

Others are being engaged in construction work through the National Youth Service.

Since the introduction of the slum renewal project some five months ago, more than 3,500 people have been employed.

Image caption,
Most of the work is manual labour such as garbage collections and clearing storm water drains

Because all the work is done by residents, the government hopes that once they leave, the community will be able to continue building more homes.

It may take up to two years to cover all of Kibera.

As for the new roads, street vendor Millicent Atieno says it has been something of a double-edged sword.

"This means I can get to the market a lot easier and the transport drops me just in front of my stall," she says.

But because some shacks were removed to make space for development, she now has fewer customers living nearby.

Welcome to Kibera

Image source, Getty Images
  • 2009 census put population at 170,000, other estimates say 800,000
  • More than 250 hectares (617 acres)
  • Original settlers were Nubian people from Kenyan/Sudanese border
  • Mostly now from Luo, Kikuyu and Luyha communities
  • 50% of residents are unemployed

Flying toilets

While the shacks and lack of sewage are still a daily reality for many residents, new Kibera is fast taking shape.

Shops made of corrugated iron line the streets. These include clothing stores, butchers, street food stalls, bakers and even a wedding gown shop

Trucks collecting rubbish - still a phenomenon here - whizz down the streets, and graders work on new roads, careful not to knock into the new street lights.

Image caption,
Brick and mortar houses are slowly becoming the new face of Kibera
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Proper sanitation is a major problem
Image caption,
Residents are directly involved in helping to build a working sewerage system

We see about 10 people working to unblock one of the main sewerage pipes in preparation for proper drains.

It is filled with garbage. The stench of human waste fills the air.

"If we can keep the drains and dam clean, there'll be a less chance that our children will get sick. The dirty water can also pass easily," one passer-by explains.

It is a dirty job but one that is necessary.

It seems that one of the most welcome additions has been flushing toilets. Previously, residents were using plastic bags which would then be thrown into the nearest river or even into the street.

They call them flying toilets.

"These flying toilets would make us sick. But now we won't catch diseases as often as we did before," said Catherine Mueni, who has lived her for many years.

Residents have also used a hole in the ground that is shared by more than 30 shacks.

Ms Waiguru says her department plans to build 182 communal toilet blocks here. So far, 90 have been completed.

Lasting change?

Image caption,
Clean water will be available throughout Kibera

Until recently Kibera had no running water and it had to be collected from the Nairobi dam. The dam water is not clean and there have been reports of water-borne diseases.

Driving through the slum villages, I saw residents forming queues to use one communal tap. They say it is much better than collecting water from the murky dam.

Officials believe if the residents are directly involved in the renovations here, they will take pride in making sure that they are well maintained.

Maria Kowa, 32 and a mother-of-three, agrees.

"This is our home. If we don't look after it, after everything, we will only have ourselves to blame," she says while hunched over a basin of water doing her laundry.

"It warms my heart to see that my children will not have to struggle the same way I did."

She hopes that soon collecting water from the dam will be a thing of that past, and she is looking forward to the days when she'll have clean running water in her own house.

It is still a long way off but many hope the work done here means that one day, Kibera will no longer be synonymous with poverty and chaos and instead become just another Nairobi neighbourhood - one that its residents can proudly call home.

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