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Kibera upgrading project full of contradictions

Thursday June 25 2015

Some of those moved from the informal

Some of those moved from the informal settlements in Kibera to better houses rent them out and build new shanties, making a mockery of the government’s efforts to improve their living conditions. PHOTO | LUKORITO JONES | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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The road to Ms Vivian Mugure’s home is long and treacherous. We hop over huge pools of raw sewage, pass by the dilapidated, rusting corrugated iron shanties, and dash through narrow, muddy footpaths.

Some of the places smell awful. When I step on a squishy paper bag, I silently pray that it doesn’t contain human faeces. I am taken aback when I see food vendors selling githeri and fish right next to the murky rivulets that run through the slums.

There are pools of raw sewage all over, and no self-contained houses for at least two kilometres around. “We suspect this sewage comes from the estates in Lang’ata and the prisons,” Ms Mugure says. She points to a river known to the locals as “Sewage”, whose waters are unfit for human consumption, but on whose banks you occasionally see children playing.

“Be careful not to touch the walls of these houses,” she warns when she notices that we’re trying to grab onto the iron-sheet shanties’ walls. “The electric wiring in these houses is shoddy and if you’re not careful, you can get electrocuted.”

These squalid conditions in the overcrowded Kibera slum are what Mugure knew as home six years ago.

“I came to Nairobi when I was 15 to try and eke a living but life consigned me to Kibera,” she says. Mugure lived in Kibera’s Soweto East Zone A before the government relocated the 1,200 households in the area to Lang’ata in 2009 to pave the way for the area’s re-development. After 40 minutes of careful navigation through the slum, we finally finally reach her new home in Lang’ata.

“The Lang’ata site has 613 housing units comprising 17 blocks of three-room, self-contained houses,” says Mr Sikuku. In some of the houses, families were allocated one room each, with a shared kitchen and bathroom.


Ironically, Ms Mugure says the living conditions in her current house are not much different from the life she and her neighbours led in the Soweto East slums. In fact, the second-hand clothes’ dealer says she dearly misses the way of life in the slum.

“Many of problems that we hoped to escape from in the slum have followed us,” she laments.

“We experience acute water shortages here. For instance, blocks A, B, C, P and H have not had running water for more than a month now. Most residents have to queue for a long time for water,” she says.

Ms Angela Atieno, a hairdresser and fellow resident, concurs.

“Even in the blocks that receive water regularly, it is rationed so severely that there is little difference between us and those still out there (in the slums),” Ms Atieno says.

Garbage disposal is also a problem. Numerous rubbish heaps can be seen both inside and outside the gated compound. But the acrid smell that hangs in the air is not from the garbage, but from the sewage that flows through the settlement. “We fear that this might expose us to diseases such as cholera,” a worried Ms Atieno says.

“My fami