Technology Enabled Citizen Participation in Nairobi Slum Upgrades


Urbanization is one of the key issues faced by humanity. As the population of cities grows steadily every year, the urban slums grow bigger and will continue to do so if nothing is done to prevent the growth. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. To achieve this aim, governments around the world are driving slum upgrade programs.

In 2001, the Government of Kenya and UN-HABITAT established a program to address the issues of slums in Kenya. This 15-year program, called the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP), has the objective of improving the overall livelihoods of the slum dwellers by improving shelter, infrastructure services, land tenure and employment opportunities.

This research looks at Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, which is part of KENSUP, as well as Mathare, the second-largest slum in Nairobi, which is not part of the program. The research looks at urban slum upgrade projects in both slums that have completed projects and others that are currently in progress. In particular it looks at how citizens have been included in the two different upgrades and at what level they were involved, if at all.

Based on the experience in these two slums, the research also looks at ways in which it is possible to get slum dwellers better involved in the slum-upgrading process, in particular through use of technology, such as geographical information systems (GIS) and mobile phones. Technology has been used for years in developed countries to improve citizen participation, but this research looks at how it can be adapted for use in developing countries.

GIS, mobile phones, public participation, slum upgrade, Nairobi, Kenya


My sincere gratitude goes to my two supervisors, Ásdís Hlökk Theodórsdóttir and Lars Peter Jensen, for their encouragement and assistance in this thesis and for allowing me to proceed with a project like this one.

For the people of Kibera and Mathare who participated in this research and allowed me to tell their stories and opinions, I have the highest respect and gratitude. They live in an environment that very few of my readers will ever encounter, and the importance of making their voice heard led me to pursue this research.

George Sigar Dima, a family friend and a community leader in Mathare, gets special thanks for all his help, especially in arranging many of my field interviews. Without him, this research would not have been mastered.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank my husband and my children for their endless patience, encouragement and assistance.

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