Life remains a daily struggle in Kibra despite lavish promises

Kibra residents in Laini Saba pass by a polluted waterway. Kibra by-election candidates have promised to solve problems facing the residents.  [David Gichuru, Standard]

As the November 7 Kibra parliamentary by-elections inches closer, the sprawling slum has switched into full campaign mode.

Two massive campaign billboards boldly stand out on the way to the slum. The first is of footballer-turned politician McDonald Mariga, the Jubilee candidate, smiling, in a pristine white shirt. The second one is of a standing Eliud Owalo, a former Raila Odinga aide who opted to vie on Amani National Congress ticket. They will face off with ODM's candidate Imran Okoth.

Trailing further along the littered, sewage-covered road, a Jubilee-branded minivan parked by the roadside, emblazoned with Mariga’s image, blasts a campaign song in praise of the candidate through booming speakers.

Further deeper, the campaign imagery increasingly bombards you, from campaign posters plastered on the rickety shanty walls to low-hanging banners fluttering in the air, as the stench from the dark, stationary sewage and heaps of garbage intensifies.

For the residents, this sight of sewage and garbage is all too familiar; one they have become accustomed to, just as the campaign imagery recurs every five or so years.

With cautious optimism, the residents tell The Standard that while they are hopeful that things will change this time, they are careful not to fall for the grandiose campaign promises being made by candidates.

And the politicians are promising heaven, as the sprawling populous slum is turned into a stomping ground for a political battle that has echoes of the expected bigger fight in 2022.  

Mr Mariga, for instance, has, among other things, promised to fix infrastructure, provide jobs to the unemployed youth and set up an affordable housing project. Deputy President William Ruto, who at the weekend campaigned for him, also promised rapid transformation.

Okoth, on the other hand, has vowed to create jobs, bring quality education and develop infrastructure, particularly water and sewage infrastructure, which remains largely underdeveloped in the constituency.

Save for the nearly six-year term of the late Ken Okoth, where residents admit to witnessing sweeping changes, particularly in education, they reveal that in Kibra, the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

Majority of the previous leaders have done little to improve their lives and they are more careful now.

Hundreds, possibly more, of tiny metallic stalls line the long stretch of the main road entering the slum from the city centre, descending downhill into crammed settlements of minute, temporary structures, from mud-walled houses to structures made from old, rusty iron sheets and dwellings made out of unconventional materials like glass bottles.

Most of the homes and business establishments lack water, which explains the sight of water stations and carts with yellow jerricans every few meters.

Dozens of children and seemingly unemployed young people roam the streets, as young boda boda riders wait patiently for customers on their parked motorbikes.

Rows of shanty

At Olympic, directly opposite the rows of shanty houses, a new shiny apartment block has come up, but remains unoccupied despite completion.

Unbothered lone children live and play gleefully directly in front of garbage dumping sites as undisciplined drunks yell to the loud bar music.

For Anthony Ogutu, an unemployed father of three, life in Kibra is a daily struggle.

On the best days, he is lucky to get casual work at construction sites, earning a few hundreds of shillings, which he has to budget for responsibly, since he almost never knows when he will land his next gig.

“The young people in Kibra don’t have jobs. We have to hustle. Sometimes if I’m lucky I land a job, if I’m not I just call it a day and wait for the next day,” Ogutu says, adding his priority is to vote in a leader who will create jobs, particularly for the unemployed youth, whose hope dwindles further by the day.

Without a shower structure, Ogutu says his family, like many in the shanty neighbourhood, is forced to clean up inside their poorly put up houses.

“Sometimes your wife or kids want to clean up so you are forced to leave and find yourself something to do until they finish,” he narrates.

Showers and toilets cost money, which oftentimes, residents lack. For each turn at using the toilet, Ogutu says, they have to pay Sh10. Even though this amount seems little, Ogutu says it is usually difficult to come by for a substantial segment of the residents.

So, even in 2019, Kibra’s infamous flying toilets abound. “Sometimes you don’t even have that Sh10,” Ogutu reveals, adding that some residents are forced to relieve themselves in shrubs along the railway station that strikes through the slum.

Even business establishments such as bars and food joints lack toilets, forcing patrons to help themselves out in broad daylight.

Ogutu takes The Standard to see the railway line, which has bushy sections converted into toilets. To reach it, we walk past broken and leaking water pipes trapped in mounds of garbage and stationary sewage and onto a narrow path messed up with garbage and decomposing human waste. Such is the state of many roads inside the heart of Kibera.

Without a waste disposal system, residents have been left to dump garbage all along the railway, with larger garbage sites accumulating in random spots all over the neighborhood.

Undeterred by the presence of human waste, children and adults alike sift through the rotting garbage, rummaging for valuables and burning what they consider unimportant, deteriorating the poor air quality even further.

“If you walk by the railway at night, you will bump into people relieving themselves,” says Aloise Oduor, a cobbler who has been a resident of Kibra for 25 years.

A toilet built by the National Youth Service is the only one in the vicinity of Oduor’s work station, serving dozens of families and costing Sh10 for each use.

For many of the residents, the fact that they can easily get sick is not lost on them, but they stay for lack of better options, hopeful of an easier future.

“We used to get treated for free at Shofco, including expectant women, but now we have to pay,” Ogutu states.

Unlike jobless Ogutu, Oduor gets by through repairing shoes. In the two decades and a half that he has stayed in Kibra, little has changed, he says. According to him, the only MP who put in work was Okoth.

“We have had many MPs but most don’t do anything. It is only the late Ken Okoth who helped bring change to Kibera, especially in education. I know the leader we will elect won’t be able to assist me personally, but if he/she brings our children quality education, he will have helped us for sure,” Oduor says.

Oduor’s only hope is that the elected MP will further Okoth’s legacy, boosting the school infrastructure and providing bursaries to students.

“I am used to this place,” says Cosmas Omari, a boda boda rider born and raised in Kibra and now raising a young family of his own there.

Omari describes Kibra’s problems as plenty, but emphasizes poor infrastructure, especially to do with sanitation.

“We have an issue with the drainage. Water is also a big issue. Water pipes pass through sewage, so we end up drinking contaminated water always,” Omari says.

Rainy season

During rainy seasons, like now, residents say many of their homes become inhabitable, caused by lack of drainage systems.

“Water, sewage and dirt usually enter our houses, and those houses near rivers are sometimes swept away,” Omari explains.

Like Oduor, Omari insists that Kibra residents live solely by faith. “Even when there is a cholera outbreak, you never hear that anyone from Kibra was infected. God just loves us”.

Omari hopes the next MP will improve infrastructure. “Ken achieved a lot. It will be hard to get someone like him, but we have always voted for ODM. Maybe this time we should try a different party and hopefully the results will be different”.

Omari says that while many residents have been loyal to ODM, they are now open to other options.

With garbage and sewage littering directly in front of her vegetables stall, Nancy Okeyo states that her priority is voting in a leader who will develop infrastructure that will, in turn, improve hygiene.

Okeyo is confident that Owalo will do the charm, saying: “Many of the candidates are young, so I doubt that they will focus on development. Owalo is older and more trustworthy”.

Sarah Kwamboka, a shopkeeper, favours Imran, expressing optimism that he will continue with his late brother’s work. 

But some residents like James Amimbi, on the other hand, are disenchanted and skeptical that any of the candidates contesting will help Kibera.