Are Slum Dwellers Children of a Lesser God?

In Kenya 2011 began on a high note. The promulgation of a new Constituion last year in August has given hope to the people of this country. However, the governemnt seems to drag its feet in the implementation of the new cosntitution and times are very hard, especially for those living in the sl;ums of Nairobi.  MAny of the slum dwellers are still trying to salvage the businesses which were destroyed during the post-election skirmishes in 2008. The recent inflation orginating from the US has also added the frustrations of the poor who survive below a dollar. I interviewed a few dwellers in the sprawling city slums and learnt that life there is not for the faint hearted. One has to be tough and cunning to survive epsecially due to the high crime rate and economic hardships.

A life of uncertainty and struggle

Asha Hassan, a resident of Kibera slums says that they are urging the governemnt to reduce the prices of food becasue they do not understand why the price of food is increasing everyday. Hassan explained that since the post-election violence chaos, life had become unbearable; adding that depsite their hard work, for rent and food to feed their children, the meagre money they earned could not sustain them. In Korogocho slum, to the East of Nairobi, children drop out of school to scavenge for food in the nearby Dandora dumpsite or to search for valuable scrap to sell in order to buy food. Girl’s stories are espeicially disturbing. “Parents marry off their school goiong daughters to avoid taking responsibility for them,” says David Ochola, Deputy Headmaster of St John Informal School in the slum.

He adds that life gest worse by the day, especially in Korogocho which was badly hit by the post-election violence.”Two weeks ago the price of a packet of maize flour was Kshs 78 and now it is 100 plus shillings. Many people here are sl;eeping hungry,” he lamented.

George Ochieng, Secretary at St John Informal School adds that transport costs had also shot up an dmost people who live in the slums are casual labourers in industrial area who are paid as little as Kshs 200 per day or even less. In three smaller slums: Deep Sea, Maasai and Suswa situated next to the posh Parklands estate, the government demolished the three slums claiming the place was a road reserve. The residents lost their small time businesses which were their sole means of survival, and worse they were left without shelter. Evanson Githonge, a resident of Deep Sea explained that he has lived there for over thirty years. Among  the myriad problems  he talked of were basic food items like maize flour skyrocketing beyond the reach of ordinary people.

From Katwekera village a part of the larger Kibera slum, Rosy Akhabesa struggles to sell peanuts and mangoes at a price of two shillings each beside the busy railway road cutting through the slum. She was once emplyed as a maid but her former employer chased her way during the post-election crisis. And now she can barely afford kerosene, her main source of fuel. Only a little white back, it retaile at Kshs 35 a litre and today it is over Kshs 80. Those running small businesses in the slums find it increasinlgy hard to survive.

Constant Molago who lives in Gomongo slum says that unemployment has increased insecurity in the area. “Vijana wa mtaa hawataki kuona mtu akiendelea Wakisikia simu ikilia wnakunyang’anya na wengi wao wamejifunza karati na taekwondo kwa hivyo ni vigumo sana hata kupigana na wao.” (Young boys in slums dont like seeing anyone developing. When a phone rings they will snatch it away and one cannot fight them because many of them have klearnt martial arts like karate and taekwondo).

Ochieng, brought up in the Kibera slum advices young people not to give up no matter the challenges they face. Not to expect to get everything they need because the problems they face are not confined to slum dwellers or Kenya alone.

Women groups, a great blessing

Women groups in one of the slums-Kibera, are putting a smile to some orphans and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHIV/AIDS)  in the slum. Fatima Salim, the coordinator of Kibera Women Network group explains that after the 2007-2008 post-election chaos, many people lost all means of livelihood, which is what prompted them to come up with a feeding programme for orphaned children and those infected with HIV/AIDS.

In Kenya, even the lower middle class people are also struggling to make ends meet. Many Kenyans today are facing worsening socio-economic problems. Nevertheless, poverty seems to be on a rapid increase in many other African countries witnessing a rise in the cost of living where inflation has hit the poorest populations hardest. Many poor people find themselves at a loss, wondering if it can get any worse, and fearing that it certainly will.