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Official Launch of ‘Megaslumming’ in Nairobi, Kenya
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The official launch of the STWR publication ‘Megaslumming’ took place in Nairobi on 20th January 2010 with around 200 people attending a panel discussion and public debate at the National Museum of Kenya.

Link to Transcript of Public Debate: Question and Answer Session  


1st February 2010 - Published by Share The World's Resources

The free public event commenced with a presentation by the author of the book, Adam Parsons, on his experience and analysis of sub-Saharan Africa's most notorious shantytown - Kibera. Rasna Warah, a popular columnist at the Daily Nation newspaper in Kenya and a former editor for the UN's State of the World's Cities report, also shared her perspective on the growth of slums and urban poverty in Africa.

In anunusual showing for such an event in Nairobi, two residents from the Kiberasettlement represented themselves on the panel to speak about the reality ofpoverty for those living in ‘megaslums'. Arthur Waweru, a 31-year-old artistwith a wife and small child in Kibera, first responded to questions asked bythe chair of the panel about his views on the causes of and solutions to slumgrowth.

JosephDjemba, an unemployed 19-year-old and the main subject of the book Megaslumming, thenanswered a series of personal questions about his life growing up as anabandoned ‘street boy' in Nairobi's largest informal settlement. A fourth panelist,the prominent Kenyan human rights lawyer Haron Ndubi, was regrettably unable toattend the event owing to a high-profile court case in Nairobi.

Thediscussion covered a broad range of issues raised in the book, including therole of governments and international agencies in exacerbating urban poverty;the neglect and discrimination suffered by slum-dwellers in Kenya; and thefuture of Africa's shantytowns. 

Adam Parsonsbegan the discussion by explaining why he focused on Kibera "as amicrocosmic example of so much that is wrong with the current model of worlddevelopment." He said: "Whilst I fully acknowledge that in visitingsuch a slum as Kibera I was in danger of writing a sensationalist and luridaccount of urban poverty before flying back home to a comparatively privilegedexistence in the West, it was my contention that affluent society still hasvery little knowledge about the lives of the poorest people."

Followinghis time spent in Kibera and subsequent research on the causes of slum growth,Parsons explained "it seemed impossible not to point a finger at the economicpolicies enforced across the continent since the 1970s by the richest countriesand international financial institutions." He argued that it was notpossible to picture a world without slums "without imagining a new globalpolitics and an entirely transformed economic model based upon the principle ofsharing."

He added:"To understand the potential for a more humane form of economicdevelopment, one which guarantees the provision of secure sufficiency for allpeople on earth, we need only look towards the triumph of the human spirit inplaces like Kibera - places that have been forsaken of almost all protectionfor the poor, but yet still manage to defy our existing definitions of poverty andour present conceptions of wealth."

Rasna Warahwent on to explain the connection between slums like Kibera and the politicalviolence that rocked Kenya in early 2008. What the political classes, richelite and mainstream media did not understand about the riots that displacedmore than 200,000 people across the country, said Warah, is "that povertyitself is a form of violence. What we had seen during the post-electionviolence was its physical expression."

She said:"Who can we blame? Governments that squander money in corruption andmisappropriation of public funds? Certainly. Donors such as the World Bank andthe IMF that imposed stringent conditionalities that forced governments tospend less on health and education? Most definitely. An insensitive elite andthe middle classes that are only interested in their own survival? Of course.

"Ultimately,however, slums epitomise the failure of governance institutions and the lack ofeffective unions and other forms of organisation that ensure that the poor areless vulnerable. They will only stop growing when there is sustained politicalwill to adopt an integrated, multi-sectoral approach using government resourcesto upgrade them and provide them with basic services and infrastructure."

She added:"What governments need to know is that the only way to end the violence onour streets is to end the violence of poverty and inequality in ourslums."

Followingthe introductory presentations, Kibera resident Arthur Waweru answeredquestions from the chair of the event, STWR's director Rajesh Makwana, on hisviews about the reality of living in Nairobi's slums. In a lively discussion thatroused strong responses from the audience, Arthur explained how life has becomemore difficult for the majority of Kibera residents following the politicalviolence of 2008, the international economic downturn, as well as sharp risesin the price of basic commodities following the global food crisis.

Asked why hethought life was getting harder for slum dwellers, he said: "Because thegovernment itself is not helping the people, the government is doing nothing.You find out that the youths are jobless there. A lot of people are doingnothing. Poverty is high in Kibera. HIV is taking control of people's lives...You find that in a house there are some people who are staying seven in onefamily, and there is no food. So [some] young girls go outside to get food forthemselves [through] prostitution, and they end up getting AIDS. Robbery ishigh because the youths now are idle, and they need to eat, they need to work.So you see, a lot of youths in Kibera they end up dying [through] mob justice, theyend up killed. Police are killing them daily."

In responseto the question ‘should the poor in Kibera pick themselves up by theirbootstraps and look after themselves', Arthur said: "No. And that is whywe have people to elect. So that we can take them to parliament. When they goto the parliament it is their job to fight for us."

He added:"For us in Kibera, poverty is killing people there. If the governmentcould create jobs, build hospitals, build schools, change the life standards ofthe people who are staying there, it could help a lot. They say there is freeprimary education, there is nothing like that. You have to get books, you haveto buy uniform. And if you want to give somebody something from free, just givethem. I can't say to you I give you this cup but you have to pay for this waterthat's inside, I have to give you that cup."

JosephDjemba, the main subject of the book Megaslumming, alsoresponded to questions about his life in Kibera as a young street boy. Djembaexplained how he grew up in a family of nine children until "thingsstarted becoming difficult, and then no food, no clothes, and parents is veryharsh on you... So I just had to one day walk [alone into the city], that's howI met myself in Kibera."

Djemba conjured a vivid image of his early life in Kibera, explaining how he met other street children from the age of seven and spent his early life looking for scrap metal to sell for money, taking drugs and stealing for survival, and sleeping outside next to the railway lines. Hesaid: "My friends became like a family to me, like my brothers andsisters, the people around Kibera were also like my friends, teaching methings, and even my friends were teaching me how life is in Kibera, and Irealized my problem was smaller than theirs. So I just had to understand and goon with life."

Contradictingthe popular image of Kibera as a crime-ridden and treacherous slum, Djembasaid: "Me I'm very happy living in Kibera because now Kibera has become myhome, and everyone who is living around me [have become] like my brothers tome. The community also [has become] like my family, and I don't have anybodyelse. So I really love that place, because it's a very very good place. Youcannot say something is bad and yet you have never done something [tohelp]."

He added:"Many people in the world say Kibera is a very very bad place; Kibera isnot a very bad place, but what people do is try to survive. If stealing canmake you survive, then [you] do it, because you don't care, and you've nevereven had a job, and the government is not getting job opportunities for theyouths... Kibera's problems will never finish until the government intervene."

Followingthe presentations, the audience engaged in a heated discussion and Q&Asession with the panel members.


Public Debate: Transcript of the Question and Answer Session

Comment1: Thankyou very much. My question goes like this: Generally what we lack is justice. Justiceis everything. I'm a freelance writer, and most of the time I talk aboutformulas and I do research in order to get justice. Formula A is peace, FormulaB is respect and Formula C is justice. The problem that we have is that we don'tunderstand all of the formulas, so we need to have the full understanding. Weneed to have respect and peace and justice. Those three things go together sothat we have a complete understanding and in Kibera sometimes there is a lack ofrespect, and if we have respect, and peace, justice will come automatically.

Comment2: I'm afreelance writer. I don't believe that people should give respect if they don'tdeserve it - you have to earn respect it shouldn't just be granted to you. It'sbeen quite an interesting debate about Moi and whether Moi should be criticizedin the Star and it's interesting to follow that. But I wanted to read yousomething very brief, because I think there's a problem of leadership, not justin Kenya, but it's very marked in Kenya. This is a review of Michaela Wrong'sbook which we can't buy here called ‘It's our turn to eat: The story of aKenyan whistleblower.' It was written by the New York Times correspondent andit shows very shockingly that we have no leadership, and it isn't just a Kenyanproblem,

"According to the United Nations the average Kenyan makes $770 a yearyet members of Kenya's parliament are among the highest paid in the world witha compensation package of $145,565, most of it tax free. That is 187 times morethan the country's average income and would be the equivalent of an Americancongressman making 8.5 million a year."

Comment3: Goodevening ladies and gentleman, I will try to be brief. I would like tocongratulate Adam Parsons but I would like to challenge you on one thing. Inmany developing countries we appreciate that the top-down models have notworked so in most of your reviews what you've come up with is more foreign aid,more outside assistance needs to come here, but the more you have, the more youwant. All of us here are people who are better off, but there are people whocannot even afford to raise a hand, they cannot even afford to raise theirvoices. All the resources are in a pyramid of mass, so that the richest peopleare the fewest, and the poorest people are very many.

So the only thing we cando is that as the few rich people do something, so should the many people dosomething so in the end the aggregate force should make a difference. I thinkis that nobody is thinking about the future of this country, especially thepoliticians; most of them do not even understand what is going on, so I thinkit is up to the professionals to draw up something which will then go round andround Kenya and that I think is the way to go. Thank you.

AdamParsons: Thankyou very much for your comments. About the comment on foreign aid - I talkabout aid in a summary of one of the chapters, when I talk about the economichistory of Kenya and try to relate it to the bigger development model that'sbeen happening particularly over the past thirty years. I would really agreewith you that just to throw more aid to Kenya is not the solution.

The basicperspective I was trying to give in the talk I just gave is that the withdrawalof state support and the problems of national governance are inextricablylinked to the problem of international governance. Most national governments indeveloping countries have become locked in to a paradigm which forces them toprioritize economic growth over public welfare and social needs, and it'simpossible for governments to really change that around and have a truly bottom upapproach to development without the entire economic model changinginternationally, and this would mean not only giving more aid but actually allowingcountries like Kenya the policy space they need and the ability to develop intheir own way without just relying on more aid in the indeterminate future. I also agree with you that the aggregate force, as you put it, should make thedifference; that the majority do need to be mobilized, and that right now thetrajectory of development has been to leave behind what has been called thissurplus labour force, this 'surplus humanity' without giving them the necessary jobopportunities.

The future predictions for slums shows that if we continue along thisdevelopment model then there will be two billion slum dwellersby 2030. There's already since 2000 a tremendous increase. So I basically agreewith you, that the problem, the challenge is how to mobilize the poor, how tocreate the necessary employment opportunities in cities, and my basic point is that theonly way to do this is by actually having a reformed economic model whichallows developing countries the space they need to develop in their own way.

Comment4: Myquestion is around the dynamics of; first and foremost, why Kibera? Not in abad way, but slums in Kenya I think are highly different, and I think there's alot of access to Kibera, and I think that has been touched on in the book whenyou talk about poverty tourism. It's interesting that Kibera has developed itsown special kind of economy, and I just want to hear about the dynamics of thechoice of Kibera, because even as we talk about Kibera, let's remember thatother slums are very very different.

Comment5: I havebeen here for thirty years working with different organisations. I think weshould stop bashing the Bretton Woods Institutions of the neoliberal model. Ithink that comes very much from an Anglo-Saxon perspective because if we goback to Kenya of the 80s where we had a controlled economy, we had no growthwhatsoever. The last growth we had in Kenya was with the coffee boom in the 1970sbut then we got a dreadful decay of stagnation where population growth outgrewany economic growth so I think that to liberalise the economy was not a badthing because we need growth. The bad thing was to follow the Anglo-Saxonneoliberal model, but if you go to mainland Europe you have other models, likethe Nordic countries which combine very strong social security with capitalismif you like or even the German model where you have a very strong socialnetwork. So there are other models that have not been used in Kenya.

The otherthing is that you have examples, even in Africa, where leaders have resistedthe Bretton Woods Institutions; lately Malawi who introduced agriculturalsubsidies against the explicit wishes of these institutions and within threeyears, Malawi became a food exporting country rather than a hungry country soit is not that difficult to step up against these institutions. You see alsothe Asian Tigers, they did not give a damn about the recipes from thoseinstitutions. To me the biggest culprit is really the Kenyan leadership and Ihave rarely seen such a disgusting kleptocratic leadership in my life. If theytook a different attitude and didn't hate so much their own poor, I think Kenyawould turn around within ten to fifteen years.

Comment6: Thankyou. I am a political activist. I want to salute the Chair and the organisationfor your work and for trying to make us march together - I salute you for yourbook. Now my point is this of the poverty in Kenya and the world. In Kenyaslums are formed by the elites so that they can have slaves to work in theirgardens but the population has risen; we are more than they need. We need tohave a social democracy where we share the resources together because if wedon't share we are going to sink together. Thank you.  

RasnaWarah: I justwant to respond to the first speaker, and I think that I need to underscorewhat he said about respect. I recently moved to the coast. Having been born andraised in Nairobi I felt that I needed to get away from this highly unequal andin many ways abnormal city. I have found that the people on the coast are verysensitive to when you treat them with disrespect - they would rather not haveyour money than be treated with disrespect so it's a very sensitive line youhave to walk when you're dealing with people that you want to give work to,because they have a strong sense of, ‘if you don't respect me, I don't wantyour money.'

What I feel is happening in Kenya is that Kenyan people do notfeel respected by their leaders and last week when the politicians again gavethemselves the raise in the face of starvation and drought, it was an act ofdisrespect, a slap in the face of Kenyan people who elected them. I am notagainst wealth, I believe that we need wealth in order to distribute, youcannot distribute air or poverty and that's what we're doing at the moment, isdistributing poverty. I agree with Speaker 5, I am not for zero growth either,I believe that it is premature for African countries to develop a model thatmay hurt them in the end, but I do believe that there are models such as theSwedish, Norwegian, German and even British to some extent where the basicneeds of the most vulnerable are taken care of, and health and education isuniversal and free.

So if we do want to move to the next level of development,and escape this never-ending cycle of poverty then there has to be a mechanismand policy in place which makes distribution of wealth very explicit and verymuch in the constitution if you will, so that there is a kind of naturaldistributive mechanism built into the system. I do agree that slums provide theworkforce that work in our factories and our homes and quite often even thoughthey are essential to the running of this economy, they are very oftenneglected which is stupid because you don't want your factory workers to diefrom HIV or malaria; you have to create conditions where they can actuallycome to work and be productive.

AdamParsons: Thepoint about the Bretton Woods Institutions: I totally understand the pointabout mixed economies in Europe and what I would say is perhaps acounter-perspective; I think there is still very much the need to blame theBretton Woods Institutions because the policies that they have prescribed arestill continuing; even though Structural Adjustment Policies may have beendenigrated, the poverty eradication policies are still promoting the same tradeliberalisation conditions.

The point that I would like to make is that what theInternational Financial Institutions serve to do is to maintain the basic inequalityof the current world distribution of wealth, and of course countries likeSweden have the privilege of having a welfare state, in many respects becausethe resources of the world are concentrated in the developed countries, and 80%of the world are left to make do with the 20% of remaining resources. And untilthis fundamental inequality is addressed, the question of continuing withgrowth doesn't really make sense. And also there's the question ofenvironmental limits. If we continue to prioritise development in countries with the goal of maximum economic growth, and if four fifths of humanity thatare currently deprived of a consumerist lifestyle suddenly have it, then it isa question of whether the environment can sustain this.

So why Kibera? Well the current bookwas actually meant to be one third of a much longer book, I was also going to go to MexicoCity and Los Angeles and to compare some of the different situations of povertybetween countries, what with Los Angeles being the capital of First Worldhomelessness and Mexico city having the biggest slum in the world; La Paz. Imentioned in the introductory speech that Kibera is the biggest and most notorious slum insub-Saharan Africa, and it also expresses many ofthe problems of inequality that you see in probably any other slum. I visitedvarious other slums in India and South East Asia, and of course Kibera is verydifferent, and all the slums across Nairobi are extremely different; there'salso Mathare which is technically a megaslum with 0.5 million residents withsimilar problems of social violence and disruption and slum clearance and soon. So the reason I came to Nairobi to focus on Kibera was just to use itas a microcosmic example of what is happening throughout the developing world, whilst trying to acknowledge the difference in its cultural diversity andcommunity vibrancy and so on.

Comment 7: Okay, I would like to askthis question; Adam, when you were touring Kibera did you notice how manypublic schools for every thousand people? Did you notice?

Adam Parsons: Yes.

Commenter7: Whenyou cross over to the other side in Mathare you find that there are very fewpublic schools. And you can go to some other places and find that there are somany public schools in one location. I think that the political class is usingthe ignorance of the people so that they cannot know their rights so they areusing the slums for their own selfish ends; I think the slums have been deniedso much educationally. Thank you.

Comment 8: Thank you. I am a socialactivist and I noticed that most of you are talking about the seventies andeighties and I have the privilege of being born here in the early fiftiesbefore many of the other slums existed, although Kibera did. I want to put iton record that the other slums, apart from Kibera, only the expansion of Kiberais because the politicians wanted to have new boundaries on the basis of whichthey could go to parliament. So people were invited to come and grab land whichwas privately owned in Mathare so that they could work for various politiciansand they were promised that when they come they would own that land and theywould be given it. It would be a land of milk and honey. So all those peoplethat came from up country came and put up mud houses to put people intoparliaments and that is how these slums came into existence. I have walkedthese places when they were just forests or gardens. Kibera was allowed toexpand and expand for political reasons, so our governments from independenceto today,  are to blame for letting thissituation get worse and worse.

Now I am asking the two gentlemen from Kibera; Ihave some suggestions and I want to know if they think that this could help.The first thing is on a population basis and the way our funds are divided fordevelopment. I am talking about the CDF money. I believe that each slum shouldhave exclusively a member of parliament and exclusive funds available. Secondly,I believe that our government should have an incentive for the lowest paidpeople that if you're working and you're on minimum wage then the governmentshould add to it and give you money for basic food, so that your money can beused for your transport or clothes or whatever.

I want to add one more thing.I am involved in a lot of social development, and I believe that the youth inthe slums can work and be paid by the chief and all the local office bearers toclean and to repair the slums; to have better roads; to manually do this workbecause it could employ a lot of people even if just at minimum wage you couldjust be maintaining your own residences and the roads and the gutters and thealleys and the sewers and everything, and even if everyone has just one smallarea, how many people can be employed like that. Thank you. 

Joseph Djemba: Okay I would like to saythat there are a lot of youth in Kibera, and there are a lot of things likethat that are happening in Kibera, but there is trouble when it comes topayment and people are not receiving the money. When the city gives money toKibera it passes through a lot of people and does not help the youth. The PrimeMinister gives money but it doesn't reach us and he is not helping us at all.Many people blame the government but we also blame the people who are workingwith them. This is why the youths do what they have to do to survive in Kibera.Now in Kibera what we lack most is a hospital; we have only one, and the othershave no medicines and we cannot use them. There are also no vehicles in Kiberato take you to the hospital, and you need to pay, you need to have money tosurvive in Kibera that is the most important thing. About cleaning theenvironments and everything; we can do that but you cannot do that when youdon't have anything in your stomach.

Comment 9: Firstly I want to appreciatethe work done by Adam. Secondly I want to share an incident that happened inKibera about two weeks ago; over the holidays the bus companies increased theirfares; by January the fares had increased by about 60%. About two weeks ago agroup of youths in Kibera went to the offices of the bus company and said ‘youare not going to charge us more, and if you do you will be closed.' The policewere called, and in the end the fares were reduced by 400 shillings. So I thinkthat the people of Kibera have power. Thank you.

Comment10: Thankyou for this opportunity. While we complain about all that the government hasnot done, let's ask what we have done ourselves. I also head an informalorganisation working in the slums for ten years now. In the slums we don't needany help, what we need is support, not help, and there is a difference. Helpwill create a donor-recipient relationship where the donor is the boss and therecipient the slave. The help that comes from abroad is squandered by thegovernment and makes us poorer. The solution to the problem of the slums liesin the people living in the slums because they are the people who know theproblems and who can show the way to solve them. The situation of the slumswill only change when there is a revolution, but not a bloody revolution, wewant a bloodless revolution. My organisation is not formal because I do notbelieve in this government - we have worked to find homes for children and forthem to go to school, we produce youth groups, get funds for them and use themfor the right purposes. As longs as we sit down and complain we do not getanywhere.

Comment11: Ivolunteer in an organisation and cherish the opportunity to share my ownresources. I am so happy when people like Adam come in to really supportdevelopment through the skills that you have. As the last 2 speakers said, theanswers are in ourselves, because many times we blame the politicians and thegovernment. I contested the last election; the money is what makes thegovernment we have today, they are there because they bought us. They don'tfeel they have responsibility because they feel that they bought what theyhave. The responsibility lies with us to change ourselves and the society.

Anyone who wants Kibera todevelop must involve the people there to decide what they want and how theywant to develop. Thank you so much Adam, I cherish what you have done.

Arthur Waweru: About the people beinginvolved in Kibera - if you come and you want to make an organisation and youwant to help Kibera, you cannot help without knowing the problems. You have toask the people who are living there how life is and how they survive, and what theycan do to change their lives and that of coming generations. 


Formore information and to read the book visit www.stwr.org/megaslumming