07. Discussion

This chapter will provide an overview of the key issues affecting the slum upgrade projects, discuss ways to improve community participation and look at the potential role of technology in that process.

7.1        Issues affecting slum upgrade projects in Nairobi

Based on the literature review and the interviews performed and described in chapter 6, a number of issues affect the slum upgrade projects both in Mathare and Kibera. This section will highlight the key issues affecting both of the projects. The issues will be discussed along with ways to improve them, where possible. The issues are grouped into political issues as well as lack of transparency, involvement, understanding and trust.

7.1.1        Political issues

As described in sections 6.1.1 and 6.2.1 in both upgrade projects, political involvement caused issues. When elections are near, politicians come into the community and make election promises that change people’s opinions on projects already underway (B. Otieno, personal communication, November 23, 2011). Often these politicians utilize large projects, such as these as a platform for gaining popularity. Often tribal politics also play a role, most recently in the post-election violence that erupted following the 2008 parliamentary elections (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011).

Lack of broad political support behind these projects causes them to become polarized and used by politicians to gain popularity (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011). Lack of coordination between the different political levels (national, district, city council) also adds another layer of complexity on the political issues . Corruption is still a problem within Kenya, and as a result, politicians and other officials at different levels are often bribed to “work around the system” (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1st, 2011).

Based on these findings, unless the political issues are addressed and a broad coalition of political parties at all levels is behind the projects, they are likely to face issues similar to those that led to the termination of the Mathare 4A project.

7.1.2        Lack of transparency

As described in section 6.1.2, in the Mathare 4A project, information was more readily available to the citizens of the slums than in the KENSUP Kibera project. The KENSUP Kibera project, however, was more accessible to outsiders, since some of the project documents are available online (W. Ombese, personal communication, November 25, 2011).

However, based on the discussion with the community leaders and the citizen focus group (see Appendix A for a complete list), neither project was very transparent about the overall plan. Citizens were surveyed and asked about their needs, but when it came to presenting the overall plan and objectives, these were in most cases not widely known or understood by the citizens.

As a consequence of this, more work needs to be done in making sure that all project plans, maps and documents are easily accessible. This access should be provided both online and physically close to where the citizens live and the information should be provided in an easy to understand manner. The current situation is best described by the following excerpt from Douglas Adams’s book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 1979):

“But the plans were on display …”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a torch.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

7.1.3        Lack of involvement

Based on interviews with the informants from the communities, involvement in the first phases of both of the projects was good. Citizens praised how they felt that they were a part of the project. But as the projects evolved, their input was not considered as much and eventually they did not become an integral part of the project (D. Namale, personal communication, November 22, 2011).

As described in section 4.3, successful community participation requires the involvement of the community at all stages of the project, not just in the initial phases. If properly done, the structures put in place for community involvement should survive the project itself and act as a community coordination mechanism for issues that arise after the completion of the project (Imparato & Ruster, 2003).

For many of the people who live in the slums, life focuses on ensuring that they can have some food on the table and that they can have some shelter over their head. Many of them live on two USD or less per day. For them to participate and be actively involved in a project like KENSUP Kibera or Mathare 4A, it means that they need to be compensated for their participation and have expectations that the project will improve their lives (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011).

Compensating for the loss of work can also have an adverse effect on the level of participation of the citizen. Instead of expressing their voice, citizens may simply agree to everything they are told because they fear that if they express their real opinion, they may lose the opportunity for future compensation (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

7.1.4        Lack of understanding

Community leaders interviewed and NGOs surveyed pointed out that many of the citizens may lack an understanding of how they can be involved in the process of improving the area they live in (see a complete list of community leaders and NGOs in Appendix A). Although the literacy rate is relatively high in Kenya compared to other sub-Saharan countries, many of the slum dwellers are unaware of their rights (W. Ombese, personal communication, November 25, 2011).

7.1.5        Lack of trust

Large-scale pilot projects, such as the Mathare 4A project and the Soweto East Zone A project, need to be closely monitored and fostered. As pointed out in section 6.1.4 if these pilot projects fail, it is likely to severely hinder future projects. Lack of listening to the community in a pilot project will drive lack of trust in future projects (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011).

Decades of corruption and broken promises have also created distrust in anything that the government or politicians say. This increased dramatically following the post-election violence in 2008, when election results were forged by the ruling party (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011).

Literature points out that in order to regain the trust required to move large-scale projects like these forward, transparency needs to be increased and the voice of the citizens must be listened to (Imparato & Ruster, 2003). The broader community needs also to be involved to ensure that different aspects are taken into consideration (Davidoff, 1965). People also need to be made aware of their rights and of the ways in which they can be involved in the process (W. Ombese, personal communication, November 25, 2011).

The international community also needs to put trust in the local citizens. Today they come in and build a clinic, schools, toilets, etc. and then want to continue running it as part of their in-country operations. This makes the Kenyans feel like the international community does not trust them. It is important that Kenyan citizens and local community organizations are instead empowered to improve their own surroundings and that the international community provides the guidance, the funding and the monitoring required to successfully empowering them (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011).

7.2        Improving community participation

As mentioned in section 4.4, it is important to look at to what extent the people are involved in the slum upgrade. It is important to not only have people involved in the early stages but that they are involved throughout the whole process to ensure that they feel ownership of the project, so that they cherish it and are proud of it (Imparato & Ruster, 2003).

As the findings in chapter 6 shows, unfortunately, the people have mainly been involved in the beginning of the projects or not at all. Both of the projects have had one-way communication, if any at all, to inform people about what the plans are for the slum dwellers. Using the definitions in Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation (Arnstein, 1969), it can be concluded that in many ways, the people are being manipulated into thinking they are involved, their participation is not real, since most decisions have already been made (W. Ombese, personal communication, November 25, 2011).

As sections 6.1.1 and 6.2.1 point out then people have gained some better housing and short-term work while the buildings are being built, but the projects fail to finalize, and in the meantime, the structures they gained deteriorate and the people are yet again left with sub-standard living conditions. As a result, people have lost hope for a better future since they feel that they were manipulated into believing things would get better (J. Ochienge, personal communication, November 22, 2011).

Organizations, both governmental and NGOs that are moving into the slums to start projects, need to do a better job of involving the community from the beginning. The slum dwellers often feel that some of the organizations come into their area to do projects for the organization’s sake and not to solve issues that the slum confronts (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011). Due to lack of coordination among these various organizations involved, there will be duplication of efforts related to popular slums or popular fields while other areas and fields are left unsupported (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011).

Involvement of the slum dwellers from the start in identifying important unmet needs and underserved areas is essential to help focus the work being done. Mapping of what is currently being done and by whom would also help in identifying these gaps and overlaps (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011). Finally, it is important for this work to create jobs for the slum dwellers, not just jobs for well-educated people. Allowing slum dwellers to provide their share of the work as sweat-equity is also essential since many of them cannot afford to put any financial equity into solutions in their area.

Community leaders (see Appendix A for a complete list) pointed out in their interviews that until new technology is available and actively used the people are not going to gain much with short community meetings, as the slums are overwhelmingly large and information not easily spread to everyone.

Citizen participation is still fairly new for slum dwellers and is still a learning process. People are not used to their voice being heard and are still suspicious that plans are not at all what they appear to be (W. Ombese, personal communication, November 25, 2011). It is therefore important that appropriate levels of involvement are ensured and real participation is aimed for rather than the lower manipulation levels, as described by Arnstein in section 4.4, which unfortunately end up being too often the case.

7.3        The role of technology

As shown in the research presented in the last chapter (see sections 6.1.3 and 6.2.3), technology is not playing a direct role yet in increasing citizen participation in the slum upgrades in Nairobi. There are, however, great opportunities for leveraging new and innovative technologies for this purpose (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

7.3.1        Existing solutions focused on improving lives of slum dwellers

A number of technology solutions, being developed in Kenya by local software entrepreneurs, such as those fostered by iHub, do address the needs of the local population and provide solutions to many of the issues faced by those people (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011).

Although not directly related to citizen participation an overview of these solutions is presented below, since they do address the overall issue of improving lives of slum dwellers.

Examples of these solutions pointed out by the iHub Research Project Manager (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011) are:

M-Maji (Mobile Water in Swahili) is a mobile-based platform for sharing information about water availability in slums. Water is a scarce and costly resource in the slums. Often people, especially women and children, spend a considerable time each day to find water at a price they can afford.

M-Maji addresses this issue by providing a mobile-based platform for water vendors to advertise their water availability, price and location. The water buyers then query M-Maji to find the closest and cheapest available water. The service is free of charge and works on the most basic mobile phones.

Huduma (services in Swahili) is a platform that allows citizens to amplify their voices in demand for services directly to those that provide these services. It allows citizens to use text messages, voice calls, pictures and videos to channel their concerns to the authorities.

Huduma is intended to serve as a free and transparent problem-solving platform that acts as an interface between citizens and the authorities. A broad partnership of community-based organizations and government institutions supports the project.

Msema Kweli (“speaking the truth” in Swahili) is a smartphone application that can be used to track and monitor ongoing community projects. It allows citizens to provide comments and share pictures of the projects via their mobile phones. It also allows them to get up-to-date information about projects in their area.

Comments and information about projects can easily be shared via text messages, email and social media platform. The platform is free of charge.

Kuhonga (“bribing” in Swahili) is a platform for tracking corruption in real time. Citizens can report incidents of corruption either by sending an email or by using the website. This information is then anonymously forwarded to the relevant authorities for action.

The Ushahidi (“evidence” in Swahili) platform was initially created during the post-election violence in 2008 to allow people to report cases of violence and visualize them on a map. The Ushahidi platform has since then been used in various disaster and conflict situations around the world as well as an election monitoring tool.

Many of the tools mentioned above utilize the Ushahidi platform as their core underlying technology. It has facilities to accept reports from various sources, such as text messages, email, websites, etc. and geolocate them on a map. Reports received often require translation, verification and geo-location and this part of the process is often crowd-sourced. A smartphone application is available, allowing reports to be provided, as well as maps to be visualized when connectivity is available.

Previously the Ushahidi platform had to be downloaded and installed on a web server, but recently the Ushahidi team made their platform available as a cloud-based solution, allowing new crowd-sourced maps to be created in minutes. This has led to hundreds of maps, focusing on different aspects to be created. These can be viewed at the website https://crowdmap.com.

The rapid growth of the software-entrepreneur community in Kenya and the rest of Africa, especially those fostered through innovation hubs like iHub, is likely to produce more solutions like these that address issues facing citizens in developing countries (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011).

7.3.2        The Role of Facebook and social media

The exponential growth of social networks over the last three years has reached most continents. Facebook, with its over 800 million active worldwide users, 80% of which are outside of the United States, has become a popular site in Africa with over 30 million users, approximately 1.1 million of which are in Kenya (Facebook, 2011; Internet World Stats, 2011).

In the western world, Facebook is mainly used as a means of communication and sharing information with friends and family around the world. In developing countries, such as Kenya, social media outlets like Facebook are used by people to share information about what is happening in their surroundings (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

People use social media to share information about their success, their companies and also to mobilize people around a cause.  This is now well-known after the uprisings in both Egypt and Libya, where people used Twitter and Facebook to share information on gatherings and to tell the world what was happening (Hounshell, 2011).

Surprisingly, many Kenyans have access to Facebook, even in the slums. Kenyan slum dwellers do not necessarily surf the web or use the internet actively but have free or very inexpensive access on their mobile phones to Facebook (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011). As a result, while internet cafes are available in the slums, they will most likely be a thing of the past since cheap smartphones are what most people will be investing in in the near future (Rangaswamy, 2011).

Many Kenyans refer to being on the internet as being on Facebook. They use this communication medium not just to get information about their friends, but to gain news from different areas in their surroundings. This means that most people add not just friends and acquaintances but also friends of friends or people from areas that they have interest in. This allows them to have more access to what is happening in the areas of the world that they have interest in (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

In many ways it can be said that the typical greeting “habari yako” (information/news of you in Swahili), which normally is used with a broad meaning of “what is happening not only to you but in your surrounding area” is now being replaced electronically by people posting status updates about what is happening in their area and in their life and others learning about it by reading these updates.

This broad definition of what it means to be someone’s friend on Facebook means that within the youth community, many have as many as 4,000 “friends”. Although this allows them to get a wealth of information about what is happening in these places that previously were not accessible to them, this many updates also cause a lot of “noise” on Facebook, with a lot of information getting lost in the process (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

Facebook and Twitter are yet to be used as an urban planning helping tool in Kenya. Although an easy way of sharing information, people seem to be too scared of scams (as many kinds of scams are already happening through mPesa and mobile phones).

7.3.3        Issues faced when using technology

Based on discussions with researchers from iHub, Nokia, Internexium and Microsoft in the area of mobile use (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011; J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011; C. Johannsen, personal communication, November 4, 2011; N. Rangaswamy, personal communication, November 1, 2011) then there are a number of issues that need to be taken into consideration when applying technology to citizen participation:

  • Trust

People in Kenya are wary of the fact that mobile technology can be used to scam them. There are already examples of mPesa scams where people are sent a message telling them that money has been transferred to their account. They then get a call or text message a short time later telling them that the money was transferred by mistake and are asked to transfer it back. Since no money was originally transferred to their account, they lose the money when they correct the transaction (G. Dima, personal communication, December 1, 2011). Any kind of messages, surveys, etc. that the government or other organizations send out will thus have to be sent out in a way that somehow verifies its authenticity. The concept of information privacy is also relatively new to many developing countries. Knowing where the information they share goes and what it is used for is also important to improving trust (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

  • Mobile literacy

Although mobile phones are widespread in the slum dwellers community, many mobile users in developing countries are not experienced in using phones for anything beyond basic voice calls. This can be coupled with generic literacy issues, which may further restrict users’ ability to read text messages or on-screen instructions (Knoche, Rao, & Huang, 2010). It is therefore essential to design any interaction with the slum dwellers in such a way that it does not require extensive knowledge of how to use their phones or how to read and write (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011). Another option might be to utilize mobile literate facilitators who can perform surveys inside the slums using mobile phones, asking the slum dwellers for the input (C. Johannsen, personal communication, November 4, 2011).

  • Technology acceptance by government

The willingness of the government to use technology as part of the citizen participation effort may be restricted. For many of them a culture of holding meetings is very strong, and acceptance for trying out new methods, such as mobile technology, may face institutional resistance. Research on and awareness-building about mobile-based governance efforts (mGovernance) may assist in bringing about change in this area (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011).

  • Targeting

Today the only way of reaching slum dwellers via mobile phones is if they are willing to provide you with their mobile numbers for use in the citizen participation efforts. Without cooperation from mobile phone operators, it is impossible to pro-actively reach all mobile phone users within a particular area (C. Johannsen, personal communication, November 4, 2011). There are recent examples of this kind of collaboration between NGOs and mobile operators, which should be leveraged to get similar cooperation with mobile operators serving the slum community (Trilogy International Partners; Voilá; IFRC, 2010). By sending a text message to all users of a particular tower, they were asked if they would be interested in participating in further communications about the project in question. It is not until the user responds that his mobile number is revealed to the NGO.

  • Simplicity

Any solution developed for slum dwellers needs to be designed in such a way that it provides a simple and intuitive human-to-mobile interaction. The use of symbols and images can be used to address issues, such as literacy, while at the same time, it is important that those symbols and images correctly reflect the issues in a cultural context that is understandable to the slum dwellers. Text needs to be clear and written in a language and dialect that is understandable to the user (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011).

  • Incentives

Incentives, such as free mobile airtime or prizes for participation, need to be carefully thought through. People should be appropriately compensated for the time and effort of participating, but it is important that the incentive does not become the only reason people participate. It is also important that the incentive does not hinder people from providing their opinion out of fear of losing the incentive opportunity (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011). Simple and small incentives, such as mobile airtime, which is also effective to track, should be considered as a preferred mechanism for rewarding people for their time.

  • Types of mobile communication

As mentioned above, mobile literacy can hinder citizens from participating in surveys or using information sharing through mobile phones. It is therefore important to look at the different types of mobile-technology communication options, such as voice calls, text messages (SMS), multimedia messages (MMS) or SIM Application Toolkit (STK). For the broadest reach, it may be required to create multiple channels of communication for the same surveys or information sharing (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011).

  • Demographic representation of mobile users

It is important to keep in mind that the demographic distribution of mobile phone users within the slums may not represent the demographic distribution of the inhabitants of the slums. Mobile phones, especially more technologically advanced ones, may be more used by the younger generation, while the older, non-internet-enabled phones will be used by the older generations. It is important to identify marginalized or minority groups that have low mobile phone ownership and ensure that their voice is still heard as part of a mobile-phone-enabled citizen participation (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

7.3.4        Opportunities for further use of technology

As the previous sections point out, then there are a number of ways that technology, in particular mobile technology, can be used to further improve citizen participation in the slum upgrade process. The first step in that process is to get citizens to sign up their mobile numbers for easier targeting. Once that connection has been established, the most basic way to use mobile technology is in the form of text messages containing information about citizen meeting schedules and other similar information (C. Johannsen, personal communication, November 4, 2011).

Once trust has been established through the use of mobile phones for informational purposes, the next step would be to use the phones for performing surveys to get people’s views on issues that affect the upgrade process. This can either be done via voice surveys or through text messages, depending on the mobile literacy of the users. Simple incentives, such as 50 KSh airtime in return for their time, could be utilized to improve participation (J. Impio, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

An easy way to improve flow of information is to make more of the project documentation and maps available online. Having easy to access websites with specific short addresses (for example http://kensup.gov.ke) would also make the information easier to locate. Web-based mapping (for example, based on Open StreetMap) can then be used to make information about the slum upgrades more interactive to citizens (K. Chapman, personal communication, November 14, 2011).

As smartphone and internet-enabled phones become more readily available, specialized applications, such as those mentioned earlier in this chapter, can be developed to provide more interactive citizen participation (A. Crandall, personal communication, November 24, 2011). This will be particularly applicable when trying to reach the younger generations. Organizations, such as UN-HABITAT and Microsoft, could join forces and encourage young software developers to develop these kinds of applications through prize challenges, such as the Imagine Cup (Microsoft, 2011).


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