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Title: Kibera  
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Subject: Carolina for Kibera, Nairobi, Lang'ata, Jamii Bora Bank, Rooney Mara
Collection: Shanty Towns in Kenya, Slums in Africa, Suburbs of Nairobi
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View of Kibera
Dwellings in Kibera, Nairobi Kenya (ca. 2008).

Kibera (Nubian: Forest or Jungle[1]) is a division of Nairobi Area, Kenya, and neighbourhood of the city of Nairobi, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the city centre.[2] Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa.[2][3][4] The 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census reports Kibera's population as 170,070, contrary to previous estimates of one or two million people.[5] Other sources suggest the total Kibera population may be 500,000 to well over 1,000,000 depending on which slums are included in defining Kibera.[6][7][8][9]

Most of Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 per day. Unemployment rates are high. Persons living with HIV in the slum are many, as are AIDS cases.[10] Cases of assault and rape are common. There are few schools, and most people cannot afford an education for their children. Clean water is scarce and therefore diseases caused by related poor hygiene are prevalent. A great majority of people living in the slum lack access to medical care.

The Government is addressing the problem, having initiated a programme to replace the slum with a residential district consisting of high rise apartments, and relocating the residents to these new buildings upon completion. The apartments are being built in phases in line with the Government's budgetary allocations, and a few apartments in phase 1 of the project have already been occupied.

The neighbourhood is divided into a number of villages, including Kianda, Soweto East, Gatwekera, Kisumu Ndogo, Lindi, Laini Saba, Siranga, Makina and Mashimoni. Conditions in Kibera are extremely poor, and most of its residents lack access to basic services, including electricity and running water.


  • History 1
    • Colonial era 1.1
    • Post-independence 1.2
  • Geography 2
  • Demographics 3
  • Infrastructure 4
  • Education 5
  • Slum upgrading 6
    • Clearance 6.1
  • References in popular culture 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, the largest slum in Africa[11][12] and third largest in the world.[2]

Colonial era

Nairobi, where Kibera is located, is a city that was founded in 1899 when Uganda Railway line was built, thereby creating a need for its headquarters and British colonial offices.[13][14] The colonial administration intended to keep Nairobi a home for Europeans and temporary, migrant workers from Africa and Asia. The migrant workers were brought into Nairobi on short-term contracts, as indentured labor, to work in the service sector, as railway manual labor and to fill lower-level administrative posts in the colonial government.[15][16] Between 1900 and 1940, the colonial government passed a number of laws – such as the 1922 Vagrancy Act – to segregate people, evict, arrest, expel and limit the movement of the natives and indentured workers.[16][17] Within Nairobi, Africans could live in segregated “native reserves” at what was then the edge of the city.[18][19] Permits to live in Nairobi were necessary, and these permits separated living areas of non-Europeans by ethnic group. One such group with official colonial era permits, were soldiers who served the African interests of British colonial army, and the assigned area for them developed into a slum, now known as Kibera.[20][21][22]

Kibera originated as a settlement in the forests at the outskirts of Nairobi, when Nubian soldiers returning from service with the King's African Rifles (KAR) were allocated plots there in return for their efforts around 1904. Kibera was situated on the KAR military exercise grounds in close proximity to the KAR headquarters along Thika Road.[23] The British colonial government of the time allowed the settlement to grow informally, primarily because of the Nubians' status as former servants of the British crown, which put the colonial regime in their debt. Furthermore the Nubians, being "Detribalized Natives", had no claim on land in "Native Reserves". Over time, other tribes moved into the area to rent land from the Nubian landlords. With increase in railway traffic, Nairobi's economy developed, more rural African migrants moved to urban Nairobi in search of wage labor. Kibera and other slums developed throughout Nairobi.[17][24]

Kibera slum was established in early 20th century, and has grown ever since on public lands, around water streams and railway tracks. Its current residents are people from all major ethnic groups of Kenya.[25]

Proposals were made in the late 1920s to demolish and relocate Kibera, as it was within the zone of European residential holdings; however, the residents objected to these proposals. The colonial government considered proposals to reorganize Kibera, and the Kenya Land Commission heard a number of cases which referred to the "Kibera problem".[26] By then, Kibera was not the only slum. A 1931 Colonial Report noted the segregated nature of housing in Nairobi and other Kenyan towns, with housing for Europeans reported as good, and widespread prevalence of slum property for Africans and other non-European migrants.[27]


After Kenya became independent in 1963, a number of forms of housing were made illegal by the government. The new ruling affected Kibera on the basis of land tenure, rendering it an unauthorized settlement. Despite this, people continued to live there, and by the early 1970s landlords were renting out their properties in Kibera to significantly greater numbers of tenants than were permitted by law. The tenants, who are highly impoverished, cannot afford to rent legal housing, finding the rates offered in Kibera to be comparatively affordable. The number of residents in Kibera has increased accordingly despite its unauthorized nature. By 1974, members of the Kikuyu tribe predominated the population of Kibera, and had gained control over administrative positions, which were kept through political patronage.[28]

However a shift in Kenyan demographics has taken place since then, the Luo and Luhya tribes from the West of Kenya being the primary areas of internal emigration. By the year 1995, Kibera had become a predominantly Luo slum and Mathare Valley nearby the predominantly Kikuyu slum area. The coincident rise of multi party politics in Kenya has caused the Luo leader and MP for much of Kibera, the parliamentary seat of Langata, Raila Odinga to be known for his ability to bring out a formidable demonstration force instantly. Meanwhile Mathare Valley has become a hotbed of gang warfare. Political tensions in the nation between the ethnic tribes escalated after the re-election of President Kibaki in 2007.

The relative location of Kibera in Nairobi

The Nubian community has a Council of Elders who are also the Trustees of its Trust. This Trust now claims all of Kibera. It claims that the extent of their land is over 1,100 acres (4.5 km2). It claims that owing to State sanctioned allotments the land area is now reduced to 780 acres (3.2 km2). The Government does not accept their claims but its rehousing program envisions a land extent around 300 acres (1.2 km2) for the claimed Nubian settlement. Neither side has left any room for negotiation from this position.

Presently, Kibera's residents represent all the major Kenyan ethnic backgrounds, with some areas being specifically dominated by peoples of one ethno-linguistic group. Many new residents come from rural areas with chronic underdevelopment and overpopulation issues. The multi-ethnic nature of Kibera's populism combined with the tribalism that pervades Kenyan politics has led to Kibera hosting a number of small ethnic conflicts throughout its century-long history. The Kenyan government owns all the land upon which Kibera stands, though it continues to not officially acknowledge the settlement; no basic services, schools, clinics, running water or lavatories are publicly provided, and the services that do exist are privately owned.[29]


Kibera is in southwest Nairobi, roughly 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the city centre. Much of its southern border is bounded by the Nairobi river and the Nairobi Dam, an artificial lake that used to provide drinking water to the residents of the city, but now there are two main pipes going into Kibera.

Kibera is divided into 13 villages, including Kianda, Soweto East, Gatwekera, Kisumu Ndogo, Lindi, Laini Saba, Siranga, Makina and Mashimoni.


The population density in the Kianda village in western Kibera

The 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census reported Kibera's population as 170,070.[5] The Kibera slum was previously thought to be one of the biggest informal urban settlements in the world. Several actors had provided and published over the years growing estimations of the size of its population, most of them stating that it was the largest slum in Africa with the number of people there reaching over 1 million. According to Mike Davis, a well known expert on urban slums, Kibera had a population of about 800,000 people.[30] International Housing Coalition (IHC) talked about more than half a million people.[31] UN-Habitat had released several estimations ranging between 350,000 and 1 million people.[3][32][33] These statistics mainly come out of analysis of aerial pictures of the area. IRIN estimated a population density of 2000 residents per hectare.[34]

In 2008 an independent team of researchers began a door-by-door survey named “Map Kibera Project”[35] with the aim to map physical and socio-demographic features of the slum. A trained team of locals, after having developed an ad-hoc surveying methodology, has so far gathered census data of over 15,000 people and completed the mapping of 5000 structures, services (public toilets, schools), and infrastructures (drainage system, water and electricity supply) in the village of Kianda. On the basis of data collected in Kianda, the Map Kibera Project team estimated that the whole Kibera slum could be inhabited by a total population ranging from 235,000 to a maximum of 270,000 people, dramatically scaling down all previous figures.[36][37]

The breakdown of ethnic groups inhabiting Kibera and their gender-specific representation is[38] Luo: 34.9% (male), 35.4% (female); Luyia: 26.5% (male), 32.5% (female); Nubian: 11.6% (male), 9.1% (female); Kikuyu: 7.9% (male), 6.4% (female); Kamba: 7.5% (male), 10.3% (female); Kisii: 6.4% (male), 2.2% (female); Other: 5.2% (male), 4.1% (female)

Railway Tracks in Kibera, Nairobi Kenya. Uganda Railway line linking Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu on Lake Victoria began about 1901 under the British colonial empire. The British government gave Kenyan soldiers in its regional army in early 20th century, the right to live on public land near the railway tracks, which created Kibera.[39][40]


The Uganda Railway Line passes through the centre of the neighbourhood, providing passengers aboard the train a firsthand view of the slum. Kibera has a railway station, but most residents use buses and matatus to reach the city centre; carjacking, irresponsible driving, and poor traffic law enforcement are chronic issues.

Kibera is heavily polluted by human refuse, garbage, soot, dust, and other wastes. The slum is contaminated with human and animal faeces, due to the open sewage system and the frequent use of "flying toilets". The lack of sanitation combined with poor nutrition among residents accounts for many illnesses and diseases. The Umande Trust, a local NGO, is building communal toilets that generate methane gas (biogas) for local residents.[41]

A community radio station, Pamoja FM, has been a pivotal tool towards not only upgrading Kibera slum but also all the slums in Nairobi.

Kibera Journal has existed since November 2006. The paper covers issues affecting the people of Kibera, and it has played an important role in training the youth in basic journalism skills that they use to cover issues in their communities.


Most education centres in Kibera are classified as informal, but various initiatives have been underway to add schools.[42] Some start as babycare centres, which later develop into schools. Most are not regulated by the government. Some of the notable schools are Olympic Primary School, one of the leading government schools in the country, Kibera Primary School (also called Old Kibera),

  • Clean Water for Kenyans: Multimedia story on Water Sanitation Projects in Kibera
  • BBC News: Nairobi Slum Life

External links

  • De Lame, Danielle. "Grey Nairobi: Sketches of Urban Socialities." In: Charton-Bigot, Hélène and Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres (editors). Nairobi Today: The Paradox of a Fragmented City. African Books Collective, 2010. p. 167-214. ISBN 9987080936, 9789987080939. The source edition is an English translation, published by Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd. of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in association with the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) of Nairobi. The book was originally published in French as Nairobi contemporain: Les paradoxes d'une ville fragmentée, Karthala Editions (Hommes et sociétés, ISSN 0993-4294). French version article: "Gris Nairobi: Esquisses de sociabilités urbaines." p. 221-284. ISBN 2845867875, 9782845867871.
    • Includes a section on Kibera, titled "Kibera: Land of the Nubi?", p. 180-185 (In French: "Kibera : site Nubi?", p. 238-244).

Further reading

  1. ^ "AHI: United States " Kibera: Africa's largest slum". 7 July 2005. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "A Trip Through Kenya’s Kibera Slum". International Medical Corps. 27 March 2006. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  3. ^ a b ". Sanitation – vacutug | Participating countries". Un-Habitat. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Machetes, Ethnic Conflict and Reductionism
  5. ^ a b Karanja, Muchiri (3 September 2010). "Myth shattered: Kibera numbers fail to add up".  
  6. ^ Adolescence in the Kibera Slums of Nairobi, Kenya Annabel S. Erulkar and James K. Matheka, Population Council, New York (2007)
  7. ^ Understanding the Grassroots Dynamics of Slums in Nairobi: The Dilemma of Kibera Informal Settlements Emmanuel MUTISYA and Masaru YARIME, International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, & Applied Sciences & Technologies, Volume 2, No.2 (2011); pages 197–213
  8. ^ Audio Slideshow: Dr. Biden Sees the Neighborhoods of Kenya The White House, United States (June 2010)
  9. ^ Kibera: How slum lords cash in on misery Kimathi Mutegi, The Nation, Kenya (19 September 2013)
  10. ^ "Video: The women of Kibera in Kenya | Amnesty International". 4 March 2009. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  11. ^ "Facts and figures". Kibera UK. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  12. ^ "BBC News – Improving sanitation in Kibera". BBC News. 29 September 2011. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  13. ^ Gatabaki-Kamau, R., & Karirah-Gitau, S. (2004). Actors and interests: The development of an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. In K. T. Hansen & M. Vaa (Eds.), Reconsidering informality: Perspectives from urban Africa. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute
  14. ^ Brian Ekdale, in A Companion to Media Authorship, (Editors: Jonathan Gray, Derek Johnson), ISBN 978-0-47067096-5, pages 158–180
  15. ^ Furedi, F. (1973). The African crowd in Nairobi: Population movements and elite politics. Journal of African History, 14(2), 275–290
  16. ^ a b Clayton, A. (1975). Government and labour in Kenya: 1895–1963. London: Cass, ISBN 978-0714630250
  17. ^ a b Macharia, K. (1992). Slum clearance and the informal economy in Nairobi. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 30(2), 221–236)
  18. ^ The Nubis of Kibera: a social history of the Nubians and Kibera slums Johan Victor Adriaan de Smedt (1951), Leiden University, Netherlands; pages 62–85
  19. ^ Roberts, J. I. (1936). Plague conditions in an urban area of Kenya (Nairobi township). The Journal of hygiene, 36(4), 467–484; Haynes, W. S. (1951). Tuberculosis in Kenya. British medical journal, 1(4697), 67
  20. ^ Mitullah, W. V., & Kibwana, K. (1998). A tale of two cities: Policy, law and illegal settlements in Kenya. In E. Fernandes & A. Varley (Eds.), Illegal cities: Law and urban change in developing countries (pp. 191–212). New York: Zed Books Ltd
  21. ^ Aiyar, S. (2011). Anticolonial Homelands across the Indian Ocean: The Politics of the Indian Diaspora in Kenya, ca. 1930–1950. The American Historical Review, 116(4), 987–1013
  22. ^ Boomtown slum – A day in the economic life of Africa’s biggest shanty-town The Economist (22 December 2012)
  23. ^ de Smedt, Johan (2009). "Kill Me Quick, A History of Nubian Gin in Kibera".  
  24. ^ Obudho, R. A., & Aduwo, G. O. (1989). Slum and squatter settlements in urban centres of Kenya: Towards a planning strategy. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 4(1), 17–30
  25. ^ Adolescence in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya Annabel S. Erulkar and James K. Matheka, Population Council (2007)
  26. ^ Parsons, Timothy (1997), Kibra Is Our Blood: The Sudanese Military Legacy in Nairobi's Kibera Location, 1902–1968. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 30(1), 87–122
  27. ^ Colonial Reports, Annual No. 1606 Kenya Colony and Protectorate (1931), His Majesty's Stationery Office, London; page 17-20
  28. ^ Lowder, Stella (1986). The geography of Third World cities. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes Noble Books.  
  29. ^ a b 
  30. ^ M.Davis, (2006) The Planet of Slums
  31. ^
  32. ^ ". Sanitation – vacutug | Phases". Un-Habitat. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  33. ^
  34. ^ "IRIN In-Depth | KENYA: Kibera, The Forgotten City | Kenya | Environment | Urban Risk". 13 September 2006. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ Marras, S. (2012) “GIS, web, and 3D. Tools for holistic and shareable knowledge. The experience of the Map Kibera Project." in Territorio, n.61: 110–114
  37. ^ Marras, S. (2010) “Map Kibera Project. Risultati e analisi dalla prima mappatura indipendente della baraccopoli di Kibera.” in Lotus, n.143: 32–33
  38. ^ Annabel S. Erulkar, James K. Matheka. "Adolescence in the Kibera Slums of Nairobi Kenya" (PDF). Population Council. Retrieved 10 July 2012. 
  39. ^ Parsons, T. (1997). " Kibra Is Our Blood": The Sudanese Military Legacy in Nairobi's Kibera Location, 1902–1968. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 30(1), 87–122
  40. ^ Smedt, J. V. A. D. (2011). The Nubis of Kibera: a social history of the Nubians and Kibera slums (Doctoral dissertation, Faculty of the Humanities, Leiden University)
  41. ^ Shimanyula, James (27 October 2014). "Biogas helping to clean up Nairobi slum". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  42. ^ Slum dwellers' response to free primary education: a case study of Kibera slum, Nairobi Caroline Njeru, University of Nairobi (2010)
  43. ^ "Kibera Black stars football club". Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  44. ^ a b c d e f g "Kenya begins huge slum clearance". BBC. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2009. 
  45. ^ a b c d e "Kenya moves 1,500 slum residents to new homes". The Standard. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2009. 
  46. ^ a b c "Ecstasy as Kibera slum residents finally reach 'promised land' after years of waiting". The Standard. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2009. 
  47. ^ "Kenya". 8 March 2006. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  48. ^ YUNUS NDETI 25 October 2003 (25 October 2003). "OneWorld South Asia Home / News – Slums have a history too". Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  49. ^ "Upwardly mobile Africa: Boomtown slum". The Economist. 22 December 2012. p. 59. Retrieved 29 December 2012. 


See also

The Netflix 2015 series Sense8 features a character named Capheus based in Kibera, showing the hardships of a fictional matatu driver there.

The Economist published an article in 2012 suggesting that Kibera "may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet" and that "to equate slums with idleness and misery is to misunderstand them".[49]

In his documentary Living with Corruption, Sorious Samura stayed with a family in Kibera to film the corruption that occurs even at the lowest levels of Kenyan society. Furthermore, Kibera is portrayed in the Austrian 2007 documentary Über Wasser: Menschen und gelbe Kanister.

Kibera is the backdrop for the award-winning short film Kibera Kid, which featured a cast entirely drawn from residents. It has played in film festivals worldwide including the Berlin Film Festival and won a Student Emmy from Hollywood. Recently, Hot Sun Foundation and Hot Sun Films started the first film school in the slum, the Kibera Film School. The school teaches the youth from the slum how to make films and tell their stories. In 2009 through 2010, the Kibera Film School and Hot Sun Foundation collaborated on the feature follow-up to Kibera Kid, which is titled Togetherness Supreme.

Robert Neuwirth devotes a chapter of his book Shadow Cities to Kibera and calls it a squatter community, predicting that places like Kibera, Sultanbeyli in Istanbul, Turkey, and Dharavi in Mumbai, India, are the prototypes of the cities of tomorrow. Among other things, Neuwirth points out that such cities should be reconsidered and not viewed merely as slums, because many locals were drawn to them while escaping far worse conditions in rural areas. Michael Holman's 2005 novel Last Orders at Harrods is based on a fictional version of the slum, called Kireba. Bill Bryson visited Africa for CARE and wrote a companion book called "Bill Bryson's African Diary", which includes a description of his visit to Kibera.

[48] Kibera is featured in

Shooting feature film Togetherness Supreme in Kibera and with the collaboration with Kibera youth trainees

References in popular culture

The project has also come under fire from urban planners who say that it risks repeating the mistakes of previous schemes, when poor families either shared two-room apartments with one or two other families to pay the rent, or sublet them to middle-class families and moved back into the slums.[44] Workers earning a minimum wage in Kenya make less than US$2 per day.[47] There is also controversy over the timing of the project, with the first phase, rehousing 7,500 people, being delayed by five years and one government official stating that if the project continues at the current pace it will take 1,178 years to complete.[45]

The process has been legally challenged by more than 80 people, and the Kenyan High Court has stated that the government cannot begin demolition works until the case is heard in October but will be able to demolish the homes of people who leave voluntarily before then.[44][45] The 80 plaintiffs are a mixture of middle-class landlords and Kibera residents, and they claim that the land in Kibera is theirs and hence the government has no right to demolish the shacks. The Nubian community, who have lived on the land for nearly 100 years, are also disappointed with the scheme, and one elder has said that the present housing should be improved instead.[44]

The project start was postponed several times when Prime Minister Odinga was unavailable to oversee the first day.[46] He was joined on the first day by Housing Minister Soita Shitanda and his assistant Margaret Wanjiru, with all three helping residents to load their belongings onto the trucks.[46] Also present were several dozen armed police officers to oversee the arrangements and to deter any resistance.[46]

The clearance of Kibera was expected to take between two and five years to complete. The entire project was planned to take nine years and to rehouse all the slum residents in the city.[45] The project had the backing of the United Nations and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was the area MP, and was expected to cost $1.2 billion.[44][45] The new communities were planned to include schools, markets, playgrounds and other facilities.[44] The first batch of around 1,500 people to leave the slum were taken away by truck on 16 September 2009 from 6:30 am local time and were rehoused in 300 newly constructed apartments with a monthly rent of around $10.[44][45]

On 16 September 2009 the Kenyan government, which claims ownership of the land on which Kibera stands, began a long-term movement scheme which will rehouse the people who live in slums in Nairobi.[44]

The new apartments being built adjacent to Kibera


The third complicating factor is the unyielding topography and cramped sprawl of the area. Few houses have vehicle access, and many are at the bottoms of steep inclines (which heightens the flooding risk). This means that any construction efforts are made more difficult and costly by the fact that all materials must be brought in by hand.

The second is the lack of building foundations. The ground in much of Kibera is literally composed of refuse and rubbish. Dwellings are often constructed atop this unstable ground, and therefore many structures collapse whenever the slum experiences flooding, which it does regularly. This means that even well-constructed buildings are often damaged by the collapse of nearby poorly constructed ones.

There are three significant complicating factors to construction or upgrade within Kibera. The first is the rate of petty and serious crime. Building materials cannot be left unattended for long at any time because there is a very high chance of them being stolen. It is not uncommon for owners of storm-damaged dwellings to have to camp on top of the remnants of their homes until repairs can be made, to protect the raw materials from would-be thieves.

Kibera, as one of the most pronounced slums within Kenya, is undergoing an intensive slum upgrading process. The government, UN-HABITAT and a contingent of NGOs, notably Maji na Ufanisi, are making inroads into the settlements in an attempt to facelift the housing and sanitary conditions.

Kibera is one of the most studied slums in Africa, not only because it sits in the centre of the modern city, but also because UN-HABITAT, the United Nations' agency for human settlements, is headquartered close by. Ban Ki-moon visited the settlement within a month of his selection as UN secretary-general.[29]

The ground in much of Kibera is composed of refuse and rubbish

Slum upgrading

are also concerned and involved in educational projects. [43]

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