1. Identify five characteristics of slum life that are indicated in your article
2. Is there a place identified with this reading? If so where is it and what point is being
3. What survival techniques do you see slum residents using in this reading?
4. Are there any positive developments that your article discusses? If so please briefly
5. Is there any new information you have learned? Add it to the Characteristics of Slum Life
UN Habitat has defined five features of a slum:
1. Lack of durable housing;
2. Insufficient living area,
3. Lack of access to clean water,
4. Inadequate sanitation, and
5. Insecure tenure.
Have students individually reflect on:
How does your article compare to this list?
Which features were mentioned?
Were there others you identified? What are they?
1) Hand out Question sheets for Video – Slums Questions
2) Watch the video here:
3) Take up Questions
Excerpts from: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/teachers/lessonplans/world/jan-
Nairobi slum life: Into Kibera
Private contractors run water into Kibera - and charge double
By Andrew Harding
East Africa correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya
The first in a four part series looking at what life is like for Nairobi residents in
Africa's largest slum.
I am sitting on a narrow bench, squashed between a postman called Akhmed, who's already
snoring, and two schoolboys - Harrison and John - who are busy elbowing each other and
pretending to look at a battered old maths book.
It's 4:45 on a Friday evening, and any second now, the train we're on is going to lurch out
of Nairobi station, pass under Uhuru Highway, slip through the cutting next to the golf
course, and struggle up the hill towards the biggest, poorest slum in Africa. A place called
It's pleasantly cool today. Nairobi is more than 1,500 metres above
sea level. At this time of year, a hot sun prowls above the thick grey
clouds - but rarely breaks through.
The schoolboys look smart in their bright white shirts and grey
Harrison says his dad works as a messenger at Barclay's Plaza. Not
a great job, but enough to pay, most terms, for Harrison's school
fees and enough to rent the family a wooden shack in the slum, with
a mud floor, and a tin roof - but no loo, or running water.
The train gives a gasping whistle - and moves out of the station.
Only to squeal to a halt, a minute later, in what looks like a patch of
Another ten people clamber up into our crowded carriage. An earnest young man in a red
cap decides there's room on the bench between me and the postman.
For a while, we all sit and stare through the open window due south towards Nairobi's
National Park. A small plane - probably full of foreign tourists - comes in to land at Wilson
Behind us, three women are crocheting - standing in tiny circle - their bags piled up on the
floor between them.
The man in the cap is called Julius Mzembe. He's an assistant at a wholesale shop in the city
centre. He works from nine to five, six days a week, and takes home just under $75 a
month to his wife and two daughters.
"I usually walk in to work in the mornings," he says. "It takes me
two hours, but it's downhill, and I save ten shillings on the fare".
That's about ten pence or 15 US cents. Tomorrow is a working day -
Sunday is for church and chores.
Julius smiles politely, but he's in a bad mood. The government has
just raised the price of a loaf of bread by four precious shillings.
Suddenly, the light changes and we both look out of the window as
the train emerges from a dark cutting. We're in the slum.
As you reach Kibera, the
smell greets you
"Home," says Julius without looking at me.
The smells leaps into the carriage. Wood fires, fried fish, excrement, rubbish - the rich
stench of 800,000 people living in a ditch.
Which is, basically, what the Kibera slum is. Six hundred acres of mud and filth, with a
brown stream dribbling through the middle.
You won't find it on your tourist map - or any other map. It's a squatters camp - an illegal,
forgotten city - and at least one third of Nairobi lives here.
The train stops again. Akhmed wakes up. He, Julius and the schoolboys all say goodbye and
head for the door. I stay on. I've arranged to meet someone at the next stop.
By now the light is fading into a hazy, blue glow. From the train track at the top edge of the
slum, thousands of corrugated roofs look like the dull brown scales of a giant snake.
I climb down onto a muddy slope, and start to follow the crowds, hopping over the puddles
- the ground is littered with thousands upon thousands of tattered plastic bags.
"I thought we have a beer," says John Kanyua.
After payday things go
He's a tall, confident 25 year old in a tracksuit and almost impossibly crazy here. Everyone
gets drunk - the
clean sneakers. He's lived here all his life, and has agreed to show me muggers have a field-
First we have to get through the crowd of laughing children who are
grabbing my hands and shouting "Howareyou? Howareyou?!" John Kanyua
"Tssst," says John sternly - trying to clear a path through them, and still keep his sneakers
"We don't get many white faces here - especially not in the evenings. It can get dangerous -
please stick close to me."
We set off into the darkening maze. Rap music thumps out from a row of wooden shacks -
two barbers shops, a carpenter, and a dark room with a television flickering inside and sign
saying hotel on the door.
We duck under a clothes line and down a steep alley - barely three foot across - with a
stinking ditch running through the middle.
Five minutes later, we're sitting in a tiny, mud-walled bar. It's empty.
"Corner of the month," John explains. "That's the third Friday - when no-one has any money
left. Next weekend - after payday - things go crazy here - everyone gets drunk - the
muggers have a field-day."
Behind the bar, a fading official portrait of President Daniel arap Moi stares down at us. John
drinks his beer, and explains the ground rules of Kibera.
This place is like an island - it's not really part of Kenya at all. The state does nothing here.
It provides no water, no schools, no sanitation, no roads, no hospitals.
And why should it bother? As I said, this is an illegal squatters camp.
Kibera's water is piped in by private dealers, who lay their own hosepipes in the mud, and
charge double what people pay for the same service outside the slum.
The security comes from vigilante groups - who, for a price, will track down thieves and
Usually, the Nairobi police are too scared to come here. But if they do, they're just looking
And as for the sanitation.... John smiles.
"You remember all those plastic bags you were talking about. Well they're called flying
toilets. At night, when it's too dangerous to leave your home, some people do their business
in bags, and fling them out the door."
John's friend, Isaac turns up. They're both footballers, working as coaches for a charity
organisation that teaches the game to young kids.
"The hard part is finding a pitch," Isaac complains.
"We've only got one left for the whole slum. Landlords bribe the local chiefs to let them
build shacks on them instead."
Nairobi slum life: An evening in Kibera
Danger lurks in Kibera when night falls
By Andrew Harding
East Africa correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya
The second in a four part series looking at what life is like for Nairobi residents in
Africa's largest slum.
Sunsets are early and quick on the equator - like a garage door slamming shut.
By 1915, the muddy valley outside Nairobi is already submerged in darkness.
It is a dangerous time. Muggers and pickpockets mingle with the crowds heading home
quickly along narrow alleys, jumping nimbly across open sewers, their paths occasionally lit
by the lamps and candles of stall owners selling fruit and fried fish.
"Do you want to meet a drug dealer?" asks John - the young football coach who's agreed to
guide me round Kibera with his friend Isaac.
We squelch and duck and feel our way along the alleys. Or rather I do. John and Isaac seem
to know every ditch and every scrap of jagged metal.
A rat scuffles past my foot. Round one corner, we almost stumble on
top of an old man, squatting in the path.
Tom Moya is busy rolling joints when we arrive - lining them up on a
wooden box into piles of 10. He lives in tiny smoke-filled room, lined
In the dark corners, half-naked white women smile from the torn
pages of magazines. There's a sign on a chest of drawers which
reads: "Real women don't hit men."
Tom doesn't sell hard drugs. Just marijuana - or bhang, as it's called
here. "I used to collect fares on a Matatu," he says, licking the edge
of the cigarette paper. "Now I do this. That's poverty for you."
Matatus are the overcrowded minibuses which tear round Nairobi
with a death wish. Most have strange, macho names painted on the sides - Kosovo Conflict
is a current favourite. Death Wish and Death Warrant are old classics.
"This job sounds a bit safer," I suggest to Tom. "Yup. But the pay is worse. And the police
still hassle you. They come in maybe once a week asking for money - I give them 100
shillings and they go away."
At that moment, two boys come in and sit down next to me on a filthy old sofa. Then three
more crowd in. They're all 12 or 13 years old. A joint works its way slowly round the room.
"Relaxation," says Samuel Mwangi, in his best Rasta accent. The others grin - and punch
each others' fists in a salute. Samuel is 13.
He's wearing flip-flops and shorts. "School? Yeah I go to school
sometimes," he says. But he's an orphan, and he sleeps at his
grandmother's home just along the alley.
Often there isn't enough money to pay the school fees. Or buy
dinner. His friends all chime in, looking at me andtrying not to grin:
"Yeah we haven't eaten dinner either. Maybe you could buy us
A few minutes later, the tallest boy in the room passes a joint to his
neighbour, stands up and declares: "We are His Majesty's Boys."
A high price is extracted by
both muggers and the police
That, it turns out, is the name of their football team - His Majesty
being the Rastafarian icon Haile Selassie.
Then Samuel takes a long puff on the joint and starts lecturing me about dreadlocks. "God
gave you hair, and you mustn't shave it."
"But you have," I say, pointing to his closely cropped head.
"Yes," he says, patiently, leaning back on the sofa, "but I'm a cub scout."
John isn't a fan of the Rastafarians. "They're a bad influence," he says, when we're outside
again. "They just smoke, and try to look cool. But we're coaching his Majesty's Boys at
football - trying to keep them busy, and away from the Rastas."
The slum is getting quieter now - the music has stopped. The lights of Nairobi glitter in the
distance. The soft light from a paraffin lamp catches John's teeth as he grins and says:
"Now, how about some home brew..."
And so our slum pub crawl moves on to another dark wooden hut. Inside, Evelyn, Tonica
and Orasa giggle and start clearing the tiny room. Evelyn makes room for us, by leaning
over and picking up two small children who are sleeping on the floor. They both wake up
and stare quietly at me, then crawl into a corner.
Chang'aa is a spirit, usually distilled from maize or sorghum. The good stuff is not unlike
vodka. The bad stuff can be topped up with methanol - last year more than 100 people died
in Nairobi from one particularly lethal brew.
I let John go first. He swigs it back from what looks like a shampoo bottle. "Good stuff," he
says, through clenched teeth - and passes it to me.
And he's right. Sort of. It's like dirty brandy.
The sisters have lived here for seven years now. Like most people in Kibera, they came
from the countryside, not far from Lake Victoria, hoping to find jobs. Evelyn sits on the bed,
watching us quietly. One of the children - three-year-old Marcus - is hers. But there's no
father about. Orasa takes 50 shillings from me for the drink, and goes outside to buy some
milk for the kids.
Brewing chang'aa is illegal in Kenya. So the police come to collect a bribe once in a while.
They pester us, says Evelyn. Sometimes they stay for an hour or two...
I'd already guessed that the sisters were prostitutes. All three of them, working together in
the one room - the sleeping children pushed out of sight into the corner. The youngest
sister, Tonica, doesn't look more than 14 herself.
John tells me later that she's the big attraction. "Men are attracted by her youth," he says.
They spend an evening with the sisters, drink chang'aa, have sex, then fall asleep. The
women steal a little extra money from their pockets."
Two dogs follow us, as we walk back up the hill towards the railway line. We turn a corner,
and a drunk man lurches into us. He's got a bandage wrapped round one hand, and a rotten
avocado in the other.
I can sense John and Isaac tense up, then relax as the man stumbles past.
"That fellow is the most dangerous man in Kibera," Isaac says. "Even when he's drunk. I've
seen him take on four people. He's crazy."
In the dark, we can see small groups moving along a path, maybe 20 yards away.
"Muggers," John whispers. "It's nearly 11 - this is when they go off to the estates, looking
for people coming out of bars."
Just then, four men turn and head towards us. "Don't worry, I recognise these guys," John
says, stepping forward to punch fists, Rasta-style. We all follow suit.
The men move off, laughing, walking along the railway track.
We stand for a while, looking back down the hill towards Nairobi. The clouds have cleared,
and the sky is cold and full of stars. "Good," says Isaac. "No rain tonight, so no burglars in
"It's the noise," he explains. "The sound of rain on all those tin roofs. You can shout all you
like, but no-one will hear you."
Nairobi slum life: Kibera's children
Kibera's children face a future full of risks
By Andrew Harding
East Africa correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya
The third in a four part series looking at what life is like for Nairobi residents in
Africa's largest slum.
In the grey gloom of first light it looks like a pile of rubbish - a clutter of cardboard and
cloth on a damp pavement.
There is a loud clunk, as the wheels of a city bus lurch through a nearby pothole. Then a
small hand reaches out from the middle of the heap, and tugs at a
black plastic bag.
It's 0600 and 11-year-old Eric Omondi is waking up. He's usually the I don't think I have a
first. Some of the others have sniffed solvent the night before, to try bright future
to take the edge off the cold. Eric doesn't like the solvent - it makes
his chest hurt.
There are four boys in all, huddled under their cardboard blankets on the edge of Africa's
Eventually the others get up. Twelve-year-old Evans, John who's 13, and the oldest Musa -
who's just turned 19.
The boys leave their bedding where it is. It'll probably be stolen during the day - but they've
got nowhere else to put it, and they need to start work.
It's about half an hour's walk to Adam's Arcade - a cluster of shops on Nairobi's Ngong road.
The boys aren't allowed inside - they'd be chased away by the security guards.
But they can beg nearby, and sometimes people need bags carrying.
There's also a place on the other side of the road where they can sit
and shell peas for a local businessman - who pays them 20 shillings
- about 30 US cents - for a full bag.
Eric arrives at the Arcade wearing everything he owns. Two t-shirts,
a pair of green and red shorts, and a battered set of flip-flops. He's
eaten nothing since yesterday afternoon.
So he stands near the road, asking for money from the morning
commuters - as they squeeze on board mini-buses bound for the
Someone gives him five shillings. Eric slips it into his grubby shorts
and gives his nose a good pick.
An hour later, all four boys are sitting on a patch of grass behind the arcade, sipping
steaming porridge out of plastic mugs. They seem to have got used
to me tagging along.
Eric is holding an old football. "It has a hole," he says, squeezing the
"It belongs to us four - we share it. There's a businessman across
the road who locks it up for us at night in his shed." Clothes apart -
it is their one and only possession.
The boys were all born in the nearby slum. A cramped and filthy
squatters camp called Kibera. Home to some 800,000 people - who
can't afford to stay anywhere else.
Stealing could see you
lynched in minutes
At least half the population of Nairobi live in Kibera and other
nearby slums - hidden away like a dirty secret along railway embankments, and beside
Eric ran away from home in December, when tribal violence erupted in the slum. He got
separated from his family and hasn't seen them since.
Evans left home when his mother died, and his father simply drifted away. John says he was
chased out by his mother. Although now he thinks she was actually his step-mother.
"She was bad," he says matter-of-factly.
Musa, the oldest boy, has been on the street for longer than he can remember. He's spent
time in a juvenile detention centre in Nairobi.
"I was lucky," he says. "I was not raped."
He'd like to get a proper job, but none of the boys have identity cards, which means the
police can round them up whenever they like.
"I don't think I have a bright future," says Musa solemnly.
They all hate the police. When we talk about jobs - that's the one thing they don't want to
"All they to is take bribes and beat people," Musa mutters. Although to be fair, the police
here earn so little, that it would be absurd to expect them not to demand bribes.
Eric, who had been dozing, stirs and sits up - looking around at his friends, and the
potholed street outside Adams Arcade.
Quietly, he says "I think maybe we'll live like this forever."
Eric is in a good mood. He's already earned 30 shillings today.
He can afford dinner, and then maybe an action movie in one of the crowded video shacks
on the edge of the slum.
A shower costs five bob (shillings). Eric always tries to spend what
he's earned. Otherwise someone will just steal it from him in the
"There's a big boy called Marcus," he says. "He's a nightmare. He
terrorises all of us."
Eric has tried stealing for himself. So have the others. A mango
from a stall. A few shillings from a commuter. But it's a very, very
In Nairobi, in fact anywhere in Kenya, a lynch mob can form in a Without ID cards jobs are
hard to secure
matter of seconds. The reflex action of a poor community with no
faith in the police or the courts.
"I saw one boy I know getting lynched," Eric says. He starts acting out the scene. Showing
how the crowd put a car tyre round his neck and set fire to him with petrol.
In the evenings, private vigilante groups patrol the slums, looking for troublemakers. Musa
saw one group in action last week. "They'll burn you if you steal one shilling," he says.
And with that, the four boys start wandering back towards Kibera.
An orange sun is already low on the horizon. Just above it, a row of black clouds has formed
along the edge of the Rift Valley - half an hour's drive to the west.
The boys are laughing now - kicking a stone instead of their punctured football. And it
makes me smile to think that these four dirty, hungry, lonely humans are still children at
heart - still able to have fun.
Nairobi is full of street-kids who have lost that instinct. The dead-eyed zombies who patrol
the roundabouts down town.
Ten-year-olds with plastic solvent bottles wedged between their teeth, brandishing balls of
human excrement - ready to thrust them into an open car window - to force the driver to
A little later, Eric and his friends stop to pick up scraps of cardboard and coal sacks -
tonight's sleeping bags. Later, when it's dark, they'll return to their usual spot on the
They pay five shillings a night to a watchman who guards the area. There's normally some
iron sheeting they can use to shelter from the rain.
By ten o'clock on a weeknight, the slums are quiet. A few campfires flicker in the darkness.
Under a starless sky, Eric, Musa, Evans and John arrange their bedding and huddle down on
the cold roadside. A familiar routine. John and Musa on the outside - the two younger boys
sandwiched together in the middle.
Nairobi slum life: Escaping Kibera
Businesses do thrive in Kibera despite the filth
By Andrew Harding
East Africa correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya
The last in a four part series looking at what life is like for Nairobi residents in
Africa's largest slum.
Elizabeth Wambui has been plotting her escape for years. She is 22 years old and is
beautiful. Her long hair is meticulously straightened.
She's standing inside her mother's shop in the middle of the Kibera slum. The small
courtyard outside has been swept clean. An old portrait of President Moi hangs above a
fridge full of coke and sprite bottles.
Elizabeth has just come back from her lessons at Nairobi University.
She's studying commerce. "I have to be home well before seven," she I want to become an IT
says. "It's very dangerous here after dark." specialist. I'll earn
good money and move
the whole family out of
A couple of the girls in her class know she lives in the slum. "But I try Kibera
to keep it a secret," she says.
"The teachers talk about Kibera like its some sort of filthy jungle. Like Elizabeth
no one intelligent could possibly live here. They're snobs. Sure, it's
dirty. But we can still afford the basics."
Elizabeth is a member of the Kikuyu tribe - the largest and richest tribe in Kenya. Her
parents built their brick house in the slum years ago.
Over the years, they've built other wooden shacks nearby to rent
out. They've also got the shop - and a water pipeline - half a mile of
tubing which they've connected up to the city mains. The tap in the
courtyard is a lucrative business.
Elizabeth's mother, a large woman called Teresia, shuffles in slowly
on her flip-flops, wiping her hands. She's been manning the tap all
morning. Three shillings to fill a jerry can - maybe a hundred
customers a day.
"I'm not telling you how much we earn," she says. "But business is
ok. I moved here from the countryside in 1987 to be with my
husband. He was born here."
Like her daughter, Teresia is immaculately dressed. Her cream shirt
is like a gesture of defiance. A two-fingered salute to the mud and
squalor surrounding their little courtyard.
"This place is not so bad most of the time," she says. "But the clashes were terrible. We
thought we'd all be burned alive."
On 4 December 2001 - the slum suddenly turned into a battlefield: a blur of machetes,
gunfire, burning huts and fleeing crowds. By the time the fighting stopped, a week later, at
least 15 people were dead.
The roots of Kibera's violence go way back. In fact, if you're looking
for someone to blame - you could try the British.
In the 1920s the British colonial government here decided let a
group of Nubian soldiers settle on a wooded hillside outside Nairobi.
The Nubians - an ethnic group from neighbouring Sudan - had been
fighting on the side of the allies in World War One, as part of the
King's African Rifles.
They had done a good job, and the British were toying with the idea
of keeping them on after the war. But then the colonial authorities
had second thoughts, and told the Nubians they could put down It costs three shillings to fill a
their guns, and live on their hillside. jerry can
For some reason, though, the British never gave the Nubians the title deeds to their new
land. The soldiers built homes, and set up businesses. But they were squatters - with no
legal rights. They called the place - Kibra, meaning jungle.
Over the years, other tribes moved into the area. Some managed to carve out their own
plots of land. But most became tenants - renting their huts off the Nubian landlords.
Fast forward to the present day and the population has exploded - from a few thousand to
almost a million. The country has been independent for almost 40 years.
But the Kenyan Government has done precisely nothing for Kibera. No title deeds, no
sewage pipes, no roads... no services of any kind. And of course, they have the perfect
excuse - after all, the slum is still illegal.
From time to time, politicians do come to Kibera - but for their own purposes. Usually to
whip up support from their own tribe, by lashing out at the Nubians.
Which is exactly what happened last December. President Moi, who lives - some of the time
- in a mansion overlooking Kibera, blithely announced that the rents there were too
expensive. A local MP from the Luo tribe parroted the same line - and within a few days -
the Luos and the Nubians were killing each other.
Elizabeth and her family survived, unscathed behind their courtyard gates. But the violence
left her more determined than ever to find a way out of the slum.
"I'm the oldest child," she says. "My parents have sacrificed a great deal to put me through
college. I want to become an IT specialist. I'll earn good money and move the whole family
out of Kibera."
Unfortunately Kenya's economy has been going through it's worst recession since
independence. "The job market is bad right now, " Elizabeth concedes. "But maybe in five
She sits down on a chair and switches on a small television. "I like the soaps... Days of Our
Lives, the Bold and the Beautiful."
The family got electricity installed in the house quite recently. The bill comes to a PO Box in
town. "Imagine a postman coming to Kibera," Elizabeth laughs.
"There are no streets here. No house numbers. They would never find us."
Outside, a thin electrical cable snakes over the courtyard wall, and across a corrugated field
of brown tin roofs.