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The sad tale of Mathare Valley Slums


On the eastern side of Nairobi (Kenya’s capital city), lies Mathare Valley slums. The slum, one of the oldest in Africa, is home to over half a million households all confined within a mere square kilometer stretch of land. Like in the proverbial animal farm, survival is a daily struggle only reserved for the fittest. Livelihood bets on a backdrop of poverty, anarchy, prostitution, lack of basic amenities among a myriad of social complexities. A walk within the slum actually reveals the complex nature of life in Mathare. There is absolute inaccessibility to the most basic amenities among them food, water, shelter and healthcare. Road infrastructure is totally not existent. One wonders what would happen in the event of a catastrophic fire outbreak that would require fire engines in the slum.  

Housing is in a pathetic state. Residents have to live within their makeshift structures which also serve as business outlets for the few lucky slum dwellers that operate small-scale businesses. The makeshift shanties are either made of rusty iron sheets, red loam soil or in some cases, polythene walls. Raw sewer openly drains from the nearby suburbs like Utalii Hotel, Muthaiga, and Survey of Kenya. The stench of raw sewer fills the air as human waste flows across the shanties, eventually draining into the nearby Nairobi River. Security is never guaranteed. Not even a police post can be found within Mathare Valley. A vague symbolization of security few scattered chief camps which only operate during the day.

As darkness finally falls, slum dwellers are left at the mercy of irate terror gangs. Walking in the 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 temporary structures. The dilapidated state of the surrounding environment exposes the residents to the risk of contracting water and food borne diseases. Toilets are considered a luxury. Most residents actually make use of polythene bags to answer to nature calls. Amazingly, these bags are easily spotted among garbage and along footpaths. The situation is even worse for children who find themselves born and raised here. It is not uncommon to find children running around naked or in tattered rags, scrambling for playing space and often begging for money to buy food. The harsh reality faced by children is necessitated by poverty as nearly all households survive on less than a dollar a day. Left alone to fend for themselves, young girls indulge in prostitution at a tender age, leading to early pregnancies, abortions, and early marriages. Boys, on the other hand, find their way to drug abuse and eventually join terror gangs.

Barely 14 years away from the much publicized Kenya’s Vision 2030, has social equality seemed so close, yet so far. Before his painful assassination in 1975, the late Josiah Mwangi Kariuki famously lamented that Kenya was a country of ten millionaires and 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 million beggars. The ten or more million beggars represent the poor countrymen who languish in abject poverty.

The post - colonial Kenyan republic remains characterized by sour, elusive dreams to date. The great disparity shows how imminent yet so elusive social justice is. The rich become richer by the day, as the poor remain poor and even poorer. As long as slums still exist, the question that begs is ‘who will free the society from the shackles of doom?’

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