Kibera: An in Depth Look at Africa’s Largest Slum


KIBERA, Kenya — Located in Kenya, Kibera is notorious for being one of the world’s largest and most impoverished slums. There is no exact number for how many individuals are living in Kibera, but estimates range from 170,000 to one million people. In Kibera, overcrowding is common and living conditions are in disarray. In Africa’s largest slum, housing conditions and toilets are unsanitary, alcohol abuse and crime is an everyday reality and access to electricity and clean water is limited.

Living Conditions in Kibera

The population of Kibera lives in small shacks made up of mud walls and corrugated tin roofs. The shacks are 12 foot by 12 foot and as many as up to 8 people will share one. These shacks are all grouped together into plots, and most plots do not have toilet facilities. Since many of Kibera’s residents do not have access to toilets, they will relieve themselves in the street or by the main railroad that runs through the slum. This causes a major issue for sanitation conditions.

Open sewers are also fairly common. If the plot is a larger one, which typically constitutes 50 families, there will be one latrine for the plot to share. Once it is full, boys are employed to empty and clean it. This is usually done by taking its contents and dumping them into the river. Not only is the process unsanitary for those collecting the waste but it also contaminates the nearby water sources.

Alcoholism in Kibera

Chang’aa, a homemade alcoholic brew, is common in Africa’s largest slum. Because it is cheaper and significantly stronger than a traditional brew, it is more popular. However, if Chang’aa is made incorrectly, it can pose serious threats to those who consume it because contains high levels of methanol. There are charities in place that are attempting to demonstrate how to make Chang’aa in the correct manner so that it is safer to consume.

In Kibera, daily crime is a reality for many of its residents. Since more than 50 percent of Kibera’s population is unemployed, many people drink throughout the day, which contributes to Kibera’s problems of widespread crime. In one three-month period, 98.8 percent of residents living in Kenya’s slums reported being witness to a crime. Overall, theft contributes to 35 percent of the crime rates. One study found that the main causes of crimes were the high levels of poverty and unemployment. Kibera also has an extremely high number of gangs in the city of Nairobi.

Basic Necessities in Kibera

Only about 20 percent of Kibera has electricity, and clean water is scarce. Prior to 2015, what little electricity there was in Kibera was brought in through illegal power connections. Kenya’s national utility started implementing a program to take down the illegal connections and install the correct ones. Since then, electricity has gone from 5,000 households to 150,000 households.A big part of why electricity is so scarce in Kibera is that it is not affordable to most families because so many live on less than a dollar a day.

Along with electricity, many homes are lacking running water, which forces Kibera’s residents to purchase water from private vendors who sell it at a marked up price. The water sold to the people is not always stored or sanitized properly, which leads to disease. However, this sold water is not available every day for each village of Kibera. If there is no water in one village, then residents will travel to a neighboring village to collect water, which can take up to two hours. The good news is that there are multiple initiatives in place to facilitate access to water in Kibera.

Bringing Water to Kibera

One effort to bring water to Kibera is a course at Stanford that is helping residents to access water through the use of cellphones. Cellphones in Kibera are common because of how cheap they are. This course is working on technology that will show the people of Kibera where water is available on a specific day by simply dialing a number.

More recently, the governor of Nairobi has distributed more than 1000 water tanks under the Ward Based Water Projects. Each tank is capable of containing 10,000 liters. Along with this distribution, Governor Sonko now pledges to drill 20 boreholes throughout Nairobi with most of them in slum areas. This will help with the water shortage in Kibera.

Life in Kibera poses a great number of problems; however, there are strategies being put into place to give a better quality of life to the residents of Africa’s largest slum. Hopefully, with the help of some of these strategies, living conditions will improve.

– Paula Bouza
Photo: Flickr


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