02. Research area

This chapter contains a description of the research area and also describes the current problems that the area is facing. As mentioned earlier, a special focus is on two urban slums, Mathare and Kibera, which are both in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi. These two slums were chosen for this research because of the writer’s familiarity with them and because of their differences.

2.1        Kenya

Kenya is located in Southeast Africa, bound to the north by Ethiopia, with Somalia to the northeast and Tanzania to the south. On the western side is Uganda, and on the eastern side the Indian Ocean covers a 480 km beach (see Figure 2-1). Kenya has an estimated population of about 40 million people (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011). Around 40% of the Kenyan population lives in cities, such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Eldoret. This is where 65% of the gross domestic product (GDP) is generated (UN-HABITAT, 2005).

Figure 2‑1. Map of Africa, locating Kenya
Source: Map created with (ESRI, 2011)

Poverty has been growing rapidly in Kenya. In only five years (1992-1997) poverty increased from 44.8% to 52.3% (UN-HABITAT, 2005). This has created inequalities, economic stagnation and caused people to move to the urban centers in hope of a better life. Unfortunately this is not the case for most, since there are no employment opportunities or accommodation available. Alongside poverty and the creation of slums, Kenya faces a higher rate of crime, violence against women and child mortality (UN-HABITAT, 2005).

To respond to Kenya’s growing urban poor population, the government of Kenya put together and published the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) in 2005. The aim of the program is to improve the livelihoods of at least 5.3 million urban slum dwellers during a 16-year period by improving their living conditions, infrastructure services, land tenure and employment issues. This would be done with transparency and accountability, democratization and empowerment of the people while securing their current tenure (Republic of Kenya, 2004).

2.2        Nairobi

Nairobi is Kenya’s capital, a westernized city with skyscrapers, modern shopping centers and rich suburbs. The city is in the south central part of the country and is populated by just over three million people (see Figure 2-2). It is situated in the highlands at an elevation of about 1680 m. Behind the façade of this modern city, out of the sight of the tourist, around 60% of the capital’s population has settled in over 100 slums and squatter settlements within the city (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Some of the largest slums in the city are Kibera, Mathare and Korogocho.

Figure 2‑2. Map of Kenya, locating Nairobi
Source: Map created with (ESRI, 2011)

The rural-urban migration in Kenya has led to massive growth in the cities, such as Nairobi. According to Kenya Urban Sector Profile study from UN-HABITAT, the annual urban population growth in Kenya is 4.4%, making it the most rapid urbanizing country in the region (UN-HABITAT, 2005). Although Nairobi is a young city, it has become the biggest city in Kenya and one of the biggest cities in Africa.

Nairobi suffers many poverty-related issues, such as a high rate of domestic violence, frequent burglaries, skewed age distribution (50% of Nairobi’s population is under the age of 15), a high under-five mortality rate and an HIV/AIDS pandemic that has caused a loss of productive people (UN-HABITAT, 2006).

2.3        Mathare

Mathare is the second biggest slum in Nairobi, Kenya (see Figure 2-3). It is estimated that between 350,000 – 500,000 people live in Mathare, in an area that is 73.7 hectares in size (Pamoja Trust, 2009; Bright Hope, 2011). Mathare started growing around 1963 when a group of independence fighters settled on land owned by the government (Amnesty International, 2009). Mathare is split into different villages, and part of the land is owned by the government but is mostly privately owned.

Figure 2‑3. Map of Nairobi, locating Mathare
Source: Map created with (ESRI, 2011)

The housing in Mathare is poor, where most of the people live on the muddy ground in shanties made of tin walls and tin roofs (or made out of whatever material is available). Most families live in a one-bedroom shack with no electricity and no access to clean water. Sewage runs above ground between the houses since access to latrines is rare. This has caused a problem where people are throwing their bagged waste out during the night (better known as flying toilets). Although Mathare is a large slum, the area is not only made up of shanties. Health clinics, churches, schools and shops can be found in between, as different NGOs and other organizations have for a long time focused on trying to improve the lives of the slum’s dwellers.

Abuse of alcohol and other substances, such as glue, is common in the area, and many children can be seen lying in the streets high on any substance they can get a hold of. Access to public transportation is poor since there are not many roads in place. This also means that ambulances, fire trucks and police have limited access to the neighborhood.

2.4        Kibera

Kibera is one of the larger slums in Africa and the biggest slum in Nairobi (Republic of Kenya, 2004). It started growing after a group of Nubian soldiers from Sudan, who had participated in the First World War for the British military, settled in the Kibera woods (see Figure 2-4). The number of people living in Kibera is not well known. The United Nations (UN) estimates the population to be around 700,000, but KENSUP estimates the population to be around 500,000 people living on 225 hectares (Republic of Kenya, 2004; UN-HABITAT, 2011).

The housing in Kibera is similar to Mathare where families live in one bedroom with no electricity and no access to clean water. Sewage runs above ground between the houses since access to latrines is rare. Abuse of alcohol and other substances, such as glue, is also common in the area (Pamoja Trust, 2009). Due to poverty, the under-five mortality rate in Kibera is 18.7% compared to less than 1.5% in the high-income areas in Nairobi (World Health Organization, 2008). Although the housing is poor, most residents engage in small business, selling food and other basic commodities on the street corners.

Figure 2‑4. Map of Nairobi, locating Kibera
Source: Map created with (ESRI, 2011)

Different from Mathare, Kibera has gotten a lot of attention from the international community in the previous years. Ever since the government of Kenya decided to include Kibera in its slum upgrade program, many organizations have moved in, in the hope of improving conditions. Various organizations focus on building schools and medical clinics or to operate them, creating jobs for women and issuing microloans, mapping the community and  leading youth activities.

2.5        The technology landscape

At the end of 2010, around 25 million mobile phone subscribers were registered in Kenya. Mobile penetration, a term used to define the number of active subscribers within the population, is over 63% and continues to grow (see Figure 2-5). The last quarter of 2010 showed an amazing 12% growth in subscribers with around three million new subscribers joining the four mobile phone operators (Communication Commission of Kenya, 2010). There are no estimates available for mobile-phone ownership inside the slums, but observations and feedback from interviews point towards high ownership.

Figure 2‑5. Mobile penetration in Kenya
Source: Graph based on (Communication Commission of Kenya, 2010)

In 2009, the first submarine fiber cable connected East Africa, including Kenya, to the rest of the world. Until then all internet traffic was over satellite and therefore very slow. The arrival of fiber has made a big difference in internet availability and speeds, not only in Nairobi, but also in more remote areas through mobile internet (3G).

The high growth of mobile usage and increased availability of bandwidth has also fueled a growth in technology-based entrepreneurship. Very successful innovative solutions, such as Ushahidi, which is described in further detail in chapter 7.3.1, have led to other entrepreneurs following in their footsteps. The founders of Ushahidi have used their success to create iHub Kenya, an innovation facility that provides local technology entrepreneurs with an environment to create more solutions based on the needs and experiences of the local market.


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