Friday, March 03, 2006

DEVELOPMENT-KENYA: Portrait of a Shantytown

A somewhat overdone portrait of Kibera, from Inter Press Service News offers the view of one family. Still, it's a rather privileged example: if Paul Opiyo truly earns $20 a day at his job, that would be ten times more than many Kibera residents earn. The descriptions are a bit over the top (Kibera does not stink from the moment you walk into the community) but there's much here that's shockingly accurate.

The article ignores the potential power in incrementalism. If, as it notes at the end, residents are skeptical of all the NGOs because they haven't made a damn bit of difference in the community, it's also because those groups concentrate on these big ideas like upgrading. A single paved road in Kibera would save dozens of lives because ambulances and emergency vehicles could get into the community (today, if you're sick, you have to be hauled out of the community in a wheelbarrow). Laying city water pipes, even in one part of the community, would mark a huge improvement in people's lives. Going in and doing an official and totally transparent analysis of structure ownership would reveal the network of payoffs and corruption that allow the shantytown to flourish and permit rich people to own the mud huts and rent them to Kibera residents for a massive profit. For instance, I know for a fact that an official of the federal justice ministry owned a number of huts in Kibera, and was busily involved in evicting people who were not from his tribe and gauging tenants for too much in rent. That man simply ought to be given this choice: 'give the huts to their residents or you will be fired.' What he is doing is incompatible with justice.

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