Kenyans in Poverty series: Episode 1 – Kibera


In Kenya there exists a slum that goes by the name Kibera. In Nubian dialects the terms Kibera refers to a jungle. One look at this extent of land covered in shanty houses and dirt paths will let you know that this description is not so far from the truth. The living conditions of people in Kibera are comparable to those of wildlings. There is rampant poverty amongst the residents and this has been the case since the seventies. Most Kenyans will agree that it is the side of their country that they would much rather not be reminded about. Yet the western hemisphere has been unable to look elsewhere and ignore this ever present image of African poverty. They continue marveling at the extreme affliction its residents face every day.


Population and wealth distribution

The population of Kibera slums is estimated to be 250,000 according to an independent team of researchers working under the Map Kibera Project that was carried out in 2008. The area covered by the slum is 2.5 square kilometers. Each resident household occupies roughly 4 square metres on average and shelters 7 persons. That means several household exist in which people sleep on the floor or on one another. Kibera is a densely populated area where people have low property entitlement given that the government claims to own the land occupied by the people there.

Households make do with an average income of 100 shillings per day. This comes from the small business that most residents run within the community, casual part time jobs and NGO initiatives which provide social work opportunities to young people. Consequently most people are unable to save for the acquisition of any other real assets or to secure loans for business expansion.


The government has been very slow in  making any real change for the impoverished population of Kibera. The area’s MP Raila Odinga happens to be Kenya’s Prime minister. Mr Odinga has been an MP for the people of Kibera for ten years now. Within these ten years, no notable improvements have been witnessed in the area. He himself makes about 3.56 million (excluding allowances) per month as Prime minister. Mathematically this is one thousand times what average Kibera slumdwellers live on. It equally makes him the 3rd highest paid politician in the world making more than both the U.S president Brack Obama and Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki himself.

His CDF fund allocation for Langata constituency has been poorly managed over the years, as records from show. Over 60 percent of these funds have been misused or went unaccounted for.

Kibera Apartments

The slum upgrade project

The biggest project that Kibera area has ever witnessed with regard to poverty alleviation was the slum upgrade project that was launched in 2009 by the Kenyan government and the UN. It saw several well designed and spacious apartment buildings get erected in a portion of land that is within a stone throw of the slum. The idea was to move the slum residents to these apartments gradually over the course of 5 years. They would be required to pay rent amounting to 10 dollars a month which fit perfectly into their personal budgets. 3 years down the line the project seems to be facing an indefinite standstill as problems have arisen in mobilizing the people into these new houses. Without any new workable policy designs being offered for the project, the fate of the impoverished civilians in this area remains unknown and no one seems to be speaking towards a solution for a problem which is over 40 years old.


6 thoughts on “Kenyans in Poverty series: Episode 1 – Kibera

  1. In evaluating slum conditions, writers gravitate towards potraying them as appalling and dehumanising. Undoubtedly, the deprivation experienced here is almost inconceivable. An often missed perspective by many is an inside one (emic perspective). I chanced to interact with a few residents and it was sometimes implausible that they could conjure a worse background. Great piece.

    • Of course they decry the deplorable conditions and wish for a change. However, some, or rather the bunch I talked to, see a lot of positives too. They talked of the good days when work is available and they manage comfortably, have food and pay rent on time.

    • I did not speak of ‘good old days’, everyone does. I meant there are good days. When looking at the slum in general, it’s painted with the pain of hunger and deprivation. But the individuals residing there will undoubtedly talk of some good things, however few, that may have come out of it, as I heard.

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