Slum housing upgrade buries ‘flying toilets’ of Kibera


For many years, Kibera has been known for its overcrowding, poverty and lack of sanitation best captured by the ‘flying toilet’ phenomenon. But things are changing - Kibera is getting a major revamp and modern facilities are coming up every day.

Residents can now enjoy tarmacked roads, mobile clinics, police posts made from shipping containers, working street lights, clean toilets and, in some areas, even free Wifi. And with these developments come opportunities for many young people who once idled the days away except for the occasional run-ins with police. 

Adam Medi’s life has changed. He is one of several youths operating a pay toilet in Lindi.

Income source

“Right now, this toilet is our source of income. We share the proceeds among us,” he says, adding that before the project came, they were hustling and, because they had no income, some of his colleagues turned to illegal means such as mugging.

They charge Sh10 per person for the toilet. Anyone wanting a hot shower parts with Sh20.

Without revealing how much is collected daily, Medi says it is good money that is able to cater for their needs.

For Mbai Ambabu, tarmacked roads in the slum have helped him to increase his sales. Ambabu owns a small metal products workshop in Kambi Muru.

“This tarred road connects the Kibera Law Courts all the way to Mbagathi Way and eventually the city centre. Many people passing here notice my products and stop to not only look but also buy. This was not the case before,” he says.

“Those who buy my products, which include windows, beds, doors and gates, find it easy to transport them because the road is good.”

Zaina Ahmed says she had been saving money through a savings and credit co-operative (sacco) while working on the National Youth Service (NYS) project. When it ended, she took a loan and opened a grocery shop in Makina.

“I took a loan of Sh50,000 and invested in groceries that include onions, tomatoes, sukuma wiki, carrots and spinach. Since l started six months ago, the business has been good. I no longer depend on my mother to take care of my child like before.”

Also from savings, Alex Munjuri bought a boda boda motorcycle that he operates from Makina to Silanga, near Nairobi Dam. Initially, Munjuri did casual jobs on construction sites.

Saving money

“I was lucky to be selected and worked on the slum upgrade project. I saved part of the money l earned and eight months ago, I bought a motorbike and joined the transport business,” he explains.

In a day, Munjuri pockets at least Sh1,500. “The road makes the boda boda business very good,” he says.

Other residents who used to walk from one village to another now have the option of boda bodas, tuk tuks and even matatus. They reveal that it is easy to operate between Toi market, where most of them buy their merchandise, and other areas where they live and sell them.

There is a matatu that operates from Toi market through the slum all the way to Mbagathi Way.

“I buy vegetables from Toi market and sell them in Soweto. The road has made it easy and cheap to move around,” says Alice Wanjiku, who lives in Soweto.

Reduced crime

Residents also say the presence of street lighting and police stations and patrols in the area have reduced crime. Some of them who leave the slum early for work were initially subject to muggings. This has gone down.

“I was mugged several times and would lose money or a phone every time - before the lighting and police stations came. Today, the muggings are not completely gone, but they have really reduced - by about 80 per cent,” says Josephat Masinde, who works as chef in a restaurant in town.

Masinde wishes there was more lighting in some places and more police patrol to end all criminal activities in the slum and make it a good place to live.

Samson Bosire, who worked under NYS servicemen, gained masonry skills and is now an established mason.

“Today, l am hired as an expert ‘fundi’ (mason), earning at least Sh1,500 a day unlike before when l earned Sh500 a day,” he reveals.

On health matters, locals say they can now access medical care from clinics that were part of the slum upgrade and get help in emergencies.

“They treat or intervene in emergencies before referring patients to the major hospitals,” said an anonymous resident.

However, it is not all rosy in the slum.

The upgrade project provided an inadequate number of houses and there are still places that are crowded and that require better housing.

A report by the World Bank revealed that Kenya needs to build 2 million low-cost city homes as a measure to control the growth of slums.

It added that most Kenyans were living in the slums because of limited housing and in some cases, lack of affordability.

Better housing

In addition, residents who live near revamped roads have become victims of hiked rents.

“When my landlord realised that my workshop lies next to the road and attracts more sales, he increased the rent by Sh3,000. When l complained, he asked me to leave if l wasn’t satisfied,” says Ambabu.

Also, during the upgrade, there was a daily clean up and collection of garbage, which is not the case today. In some areas, smelly garbage fills the trenches and smelly and residents have called for intervention by way of garbage collection.

Continuous lack

The supply of water is inadequate, which affects the services provided by the pay toilets. Medi says continuous lack of water in the toilets sometimes forces them to close it, which results in losses.

“Hundreds of residents are used to these toilets and suffer a lot when we have to close them due to lack of water,” says Medi, warning that the ‘flying toilets’ might return if the problem is not addressed soon.

Meanwhile early last month, the Government announced plans to fast-track its slum upgrade programme to improve living and working conditions in the slums and other informal settlements.

Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the programme involved countrywide mapping of 498 slums, tenure regularisation and installation of critical social and physical infrastructure.

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