Sep 16 2009

Kabash on Kibera?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:48 PM

Rem Koolhaus, the Dutch architect, has celebrated the poorest neighborhoods in some of Africa’s most densely populated cities, such as Lagos and Nairobi. Stewart Brand, another cutting-edge thinker, has identified these African cities as hothouses for grassroots urban innovations. Yet popular media calls these areas “slums,” and concentrates on the crime, poverty and lack of basic hygiene in these often chaotic, dangerous and tense neighborhoods.

African central governments periodically determine the need to clear, or at least, sanitize these “slums,” hoping to impress foreigners who often see the slums as breeding grounds for human indecency. Their own citizens, however, often view slums as essential compromises between living altogether on the streets and possessing the basic middle-class living quarters.

The debate is now urgently expressed in Nairobi, where the government of Kenya is moving to clear the entire Kibera settlement over the next five years. With an estimated one million residents, Kibera is the largest “slum” in East Africa and one of the biggest shantytowns on the planet.

The government this week unveiled 300 new apartments for people evicted in the first round of slum-clearing. Resistance has already surfaced, principally from residents of Kibera who have called the neighborhood home for decades.They argue that many years of living in a place — even a Kibera shack — entitles them to some right to remain, if not permanent legal rights.

I’m rooting for “Kiberans” to win a reprieve and to find ways of improving their shantytown at least enough to silence advocates of government clearance. Perhaps the none-too-effective Kenyan government will remain true to form — and somehow not follow through on threats to demolish any more of Kibera than the little it already has. Kiberans deserve a better reward for enduring the hardships of living in East Africa’s biggest experiment in urban camping and improvisational living.

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