On the eastern side ofNairobi (Kenya’s capital city), lies Mathare Valley slums. The slum, one of theoldest in Africa, is home to over half a million households all confined withina mere square kilometer stretch of land. Like in the proverbial animal farm,survival is a daily struggle only reserved for the fittest. Livelihood bets ona backdrop of poverty, anarchy, prostitution, lack of basic amenities among amyriad of social complexities. A walk within the slum actually reveals thecomplex nature of life in Mathare. There is absolute inaccessibility to themost basic amenities among them food, water, shelter and healthcare. Roadinfrastructure is totally not existent. One wonders what would happen in theevent of a catastrophic fire outbreak that would require fire engines in theslum.
Housing is in a patheticstate. Residents have to live within their makeshift structures which also serveas business outlets for the few lucky slum dwellers that operate small-scalebusinesses. The makeshift shanties are either made of rusty iron sheets, redloam soil or in some cases, polythene walls. Raw sewer openly drains from thenearby suburbs like Utalii Hotel, Muthaiga, and Survey of Kenya. The stench ofraw sewer fills the air as human waste flows across the shanties, eventuallydraining into the nearby Nairobi River. Security is never guaranteed. Not evena police post can be found within Mathare Valley. A vague symbolization ofsecurity few scattered chief camps which only operate during the day.
As darkness finallyfalls, slum dwellers are left at the mercy of irate terror gangs. Walking inthe wee hours of the night is a great risk. Staying indoors is equally unsafe,as nobody can tell when armed robbers would spring a surprise on the temporarystructures. The dilapidated state of the surrounding environment exposes theresidents to the risk of contracting water and food borne diseases. Toilets areconsidered a luxury. Most residents actually make use of polythene bags toanswer to nature calls. Amazingly, these bags are easily spotted among garbageand along footpaths. The situation is even worse for children who find themselvesborn and raised here. It is not uncommon to find children running around nakedor in tattered rags, scrambling for playing space and often begging for moneyto buy food. The harsh reality faced by children is necessitated by poverty asnearly all households survive on less than a dollar a day. Left alone to fendfor themselves, young girls indulge in prostitution at a tender age, leading toearly pregnancies, abortions, and early marriages. Boys, on the other hand,find their way to drug abuse and eventually join terror gangs.
Barely 14 years awayfrom the much publicized Kenya’s Vision 2030, has social equality seemed soclose, yet so far. Before his painful assassination in 1975, the late JosiahMwangi Kariuki famously lamented that Kenya was a country of ten millionairesand ten million beggars. Four decades after J.M‘s lamentation, Kenya Indeed,has evolved into a dismal country of a few billionaires and over ten millionbeggars. The ten or more million beggars represent the poor countrymen wholanguish in abject poverty.
The post - colonialKenyan republic remains characterized by sour, elusive dreams to date. Thegreat disparity shows how imminent yet so elusive social justice is. The richbecome richer by the day, as the poor remain poor and even poorer. As long asslums still exist, the question that begs is ‘who will free the society fromthe shackles of doom?’