01. Introduction

As the world’s population grows, more and more people move into the cities in search of a better life, causing more poverty and creating bigger slums in cities. In the year 2001 over 900 million people lived in slums around the world. If nothing is done to prevent the growth of the slums, the estimated number of slum dwellers will increase to about two billion by the year 2030 (UN-HABITAT, 2003).

In the year 2000, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with 189 nations around the world created a number of goals they aimed to achieve by 2015 (UNDP, 2011). The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) focus on eight areas of improvement: ending poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability and global partnerships. Millennium Development Goal 7, environmental sustainability, aims, as one of its targets (7.D), to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 (UNDP, 2011).

This thesis revolves around two slums in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. As the city’s population grows steadily every year, the slums grow bigger and will continue to do so if nothing is done to prevent this growth.

What is a slum? The United Nations’ definition of slum is a “run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security” (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Other characteristics of a slum are the extreme density of the neighborhood where low income people, most living under the poverty line, have settled on a privately or government-owned land where there is limited access to clean water, basic healthcare and electricity.

The term slum will be used in this thesis, as it is accepted by people living in the slums, inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world.

Following a meeting between the President of Kenya and the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT in 2001 the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) was established. The objective of the program is to improve the overall livelihoods of slum dwellers by improving shelter, infrastructure services, land tenure and employment issues. This also includes addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS in slum settlements (Republic of Kenya, 2004).

Part of a successful slum upgrading process is to provide the people with adequate and affordable housing with access to affordable financing to improve their current shelter. The upgrading process also includes improving physical infrastructure services, such as building of roads, making footpaths, supplying street lighting and implementing a sewage, water and drainage system. Other infrastructure includes health clinics, schools, playgrounds and religious facilities. An important factor is security of tenure, which can be provided by ensuring the rights of residency and holding (Republic of Kenya, 2004).

By enhancing the opportunities of income generation and employment creation with more employment opportunities, investment opportunities and by establishing an appropriate microfinance mechanism, the upgrading process can become more successful.

Creating a partnership between the government and the community is an important part of a successful slum upgrade. This gives the people a sense of belonging and of knowing that they are creating a better community for themselves. By having a voice and by participating in the slum upgrading process, the community will also get a sense of ownership in the upgrade.

It is this community involvement that is the focus of this thesis. I will look at the current level of involvement and look at how technology can be utilized to make the process more effective.

1.1        Aim and objectives

The aim of this research is to identify ways in which it is possible to get people more involved in the slum upgrading process in developing countries. This will be achieved by analyzing the current level of participation and to find out if the use of GIS, mobile phones or other technology can get people better involved in the slum upgrading process.

In order to reach this aim the research will look into the following:

  • Identify the level and approaches of community participation in selected urban slum upgrade projects in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Identify the potential for mobile technology in improving community participation in urban slum upgrade projects.
  • Identify availability of geo-spatial (GIS) data and its use in urban slum upgrades in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Identify how the local knowledge of the community can be gathered through the help of GIS and mobile technology and utilized to improve the slum upgrade projects.

1.2        Research question

Underlying this research is the question:

Can community participation in urban slum upgrade projects in Nairobi, Kenya be improved through the use of technology?

After analyzing the current level of and approaches to community participation in the urban slum upgrade in Nairobi, Kenya, the study will investigate if and how community-driven geo-spatial information (GIS) can be used to improve the level of community participation in the urban slum upgrade process, supported by the explosion in ownership of mobile phones.

1.3        Restrictions

The urban slum upgrades in the Kibera and Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya, will be used as case studies, due to the researcher’s familiarity with the area. The Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme presents different goals, such as improving the livelihoods of those living and working within the slums, providing security of tenure and housing improvement, etc.

The reason the two slums have been chosen is also due to the fact that Kibera is part of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme and Mathare is not. Many organizations and the government have focused on Kibera, starting different projects and bringing together groups of people as the voices of the people within the slum. Mathare, however, has not been part of this particular upgrading process; therefore, the two slums can also be compared, with perhaps a visible success in Kibera.

Although technology and geo-spatial information can be utilized for improving livelihoods in other ways, this thesis will only focus on its use in relation to community participation in the upgrading process.

1.4        Rationale

The first time I stepped into a slum in 2008, I was shocked and terrified to see how people were living below any humane standard (see Figure 1-1). Children were playing in open sewage with bloated bellies and runny noses. The small, one bedroom shacks they lived in had muddy floors with no access to bathrooms, showers or clean drinking water. A large number of people I met were ill, either with malaria, worms or even HIV/AIDS.

Living in the world I do today, I find it unacceptable for people to live this way, having to drink polluted water, not being able to feed their children, being unable to attend school, sleeping on muddy ground and hoping not to be robbed or even raped.

The people living in slums often go unnoticed and live in a society that does not function or by definition even exist. For decades, the urban plans for Nairobi depicted the slums as green forest areas, thereby ignoring the issues at hand.

I understand that not everyone can be saved and handing out money is not going to benefit anyone in the long run. I do however help educate some children, support their medical costs and buy their food, but as the old Lao Tzu saying goes:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Involving the people and giving them hope and a sense of ownership creates a more fulfilling solution to everyone. Creating a community that cares about their surroundings is essential to making these places better places to live. 

Figure 1‑1. Inside Mathare, the second-biggest slum in Nairobi, Kenya

1.5        Thesis structure

The thesis is split into the following chapters:

  • The second chapter describes the research area and what current problems the research area is facing. Mathare and Kibera, two of the biggest slums in Nairobi, Kenya are also described in more detail.
  • The third chapter describes the research methodology used for this thesis. The methodology has been split into two major parts, a literature review and field research. This chapter provides a detailed overview of how each part was conducted.
  • The fourth chapter describes in short the evolution of urban planning towards public participation, what public participation is and why it is needed. “The Ladder of Citizen Participation” by Sherry Arnstein is discussed, and examples of participation, including e-participation, are provided.
  • The fifth chapter describes the use of GIS, paper mapping and public participation GIS (PPGIS). It also describes how mobile phones can be utilized in participation.
  • The sixth chapter goes through the results of the research. This chapter is split into two case studies. The first one looks at a slum upgrade project in Mathare, which lasted from 1992-2008. The second one looks at a similar project in Kibera that started in 2005. For both projects, the level of community involvement in the upgrading projects is described.
  • The seventh chapter discusses the results of the research and identifies opportunities for further community participation in slums through the use of technology, how the community could be better involved and what issues the upgrading projects in Mathare and Kibera were affected by. This chapter also discusses the research question and the aim and objective set forward in the beginning of the research.
  • The eighth chapter provides a conclusion to the research and identifies further areas for research.

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