Slum upgrade spurs growth in Nairobi's Kibera slums

It is has been three months since the Kibera slum upgrade project, which is being undertaken by the National Youth Services (NYS), was launched.

And according to Lydia Mathia, the advisor on youth affairs in the Planning and Devolution ministry, the initiative has so far engaged 3,600 youth and women groups in the Nairobi slum.

Casual labourers pocket between Sh385 and Sh470 a day, with experts in mixed trades, such as carpenters, masons and welders, getting paid Sh1,000 per day to put up new buildings and roads.

This has increased the purchasing power in the slum, with local traders saying business has increased since the project started.

“In the past, this market recorded high sales only during end month. This changed recently when the upgrade project started and provided money for residents of Kibera. We now see high sales every weekend,” said William Chege, a second-hand clothes trader at Toi market.

For James Olago who owns a mattress outlet, sales have been higher than normal. In October, he sold 80 mattresses that cost between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000.

Some residents who had never considered going into business have quit formal employment to start their own enterprises and profit from the windfall.

Mary Awuor lives along Karanja Road and abandoned a job she had held as a househelp for five years in Lang’ata to start a grocery and chips kiosk. The business she started with Sh5,000 is booming.

High demand

The furniture business is also doing well. Robert Bosire, who has a small workshop, said beds, chairs and tables are now in high demand.

“On average, I make beds worth between Sh1,500 and Sh2,500, tables worth Sh1,000 and simple settees for not more than Sh3,000,” he said.

Lazaro Laize, who sells charcoal near Toi, is also a beneficiary of the improved business environment.

“Purchases would be higher if more people were deployed in the upgrade programme. The demand for jobs is high, but we are working with the groups we can sustain,” said Ms Mathia.

Since the construction of a road started in Kibera, matatus have begun plying areas like Kambi Muru, Lindi and Silanga. Before, residents in these areas relied on boda bodas.

“We are now paying Sh20 for matatus instead of Sh50 for boda bodas; and Sh50 for distances we paid more than Sh100 on these motorbikes,” said Simon Wekesa, a resident of Silanga.

In less than a month, 10 matatus have been registered under the Kibra-Lindi Sacco on the new route.

“The route had a lot of customers, but the problem was the road. It was bad and congested, making it hard for matatus to operate,” said James Oraro, a matatu conductor.

Mr Oraro, who abandoned the Kibera to town route for Makina-Lindi, said the new route pays more.

“There are no traffic jams here and you don’t need to wait for passengers.”

Trusted clients

However, for boda boda operators, the upgrade initiative has brought with it dwindling incomes, as they are losing their passengers to matatus.

Those who made on average Sh1,000 a day are now getting less than Sh500, they said. To stay relevant, some are charging the same fare as matatus.

“We have been forced to go back to the drawing board,” said one operator at the Makina stage.

Another added: “We still have our trusted clients who call us to pick them up and take them wherever they want. We hope they will not abandon us.”

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