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  • Ava Cargan

Inadequate Housing in Kibera and the Slum Improvement Projects

Kibera, derived from the Nubian word meaning “forest” or “jungle”, is the largest informal settlement in Africa, it’s located on the outskirts of Nairobi. According to the United Nations, informal settlements are one of the “most pervasive violations of human rights globally.” In most informal settlements such as Kibera, living conditions are atrocious: residents often live without clean water, sanitation, electricity, healthcare, and they live with a constant fear of being evicted.


Many governments refuse to acknowledge informal settlements. Population growth and migration fuelled by displacement by natural disasters and climate change have increased the emergence of many informal settlements. The informal settlement (also referred to as a slum) in Kibera is overcrowded and underserviced. Most families living in the settlement are packed into one-room, windowless shacks built with mud walls and a tin roof; eight or more people can live in these masks with many sleeping on the floor. To survive, many of these households rely on casual labor to pay for rent, food, and other essentials as many live in extreme poverty.


There are over 600 community based organizations in Kibera who are seeking to improve the lives in the slum. The first phase of the slum upgrading program was launched with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Kenyan government and the United Nations urban development program known as UN-Habitat. This new project aimed to improve housing, infrastructure, and the overall livelihood of people living in Kibera’s informal settlements. With a grant of $250,000 given from the Cities Alliance and the World Bank, 600 families were able to move into new homes in 2009.


Mama Sabeti was one of the fortunate people who were scheduled to move into a block of flats in one of the newer phases of the slum upgrading program. She is worried that she can’t afford the down payment of $1,300 (134,00 Kenyan shillings) which is the mortgage which the government is demanding before she is able to move into the new home. The Kiberan residents who were hoping to move into these homes are saying that wealthy people are buying the houses and are taking advantage of the slum population’s inability to pay the deposit for the homes.


The Human Needs Project has built the Town Center, which is described as “a self-contained, clean tech, infrastructure facility.” The Town Center provides basic amenities such as water, toilets, showers, and laundry, as well as a cyber café with internet access in the heart of the slum. The manager of the Center, Ned Nyaima, says, “It’s [the Town Center] a place of opportunities. We want the Town Center to be self-sustainable so that the prices we charge for service are affordable for the community.”


There are still major development efforts that are still underway in Kenya such as, the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (Kibera Pilot), the Nairobi Railway Relocation Action Plan, and the National Youth Service-led Kibera Slum Upgrade Initiative. Findings show that interventions in the slums can reduce crime, insecurity, flood risks, and can strengthen the resilience in the highly dense environments, if these interventions do three specific things. First, they should include processes that build the “social contract.” Second, they should bridge the social capital between ethnic groups and they should avoid reducing bonding capital within groups. Third, and finally, they should integrate different sectoral interventions. There are pros, such as the Town Center and new blocks of homes to the slum development programs, and cons such as wealthy people who buy the homes and take advantage of the Kiberan population’s inability to pay a mortgage. As the slum development continues, we hope to see more improvement in the living conditions and the quality of life for Kiberan residents.



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