A few days ago I attended the launch party for Megaslumming: A Journey Through Sub-Saharan Africa’s Largest Shantytown by Adam W. Parsons (you can download a free PDF of the book here). The author spent some time in Kibera as part of a larger book project on the world’s largest slums but ended up focusing this manuscript specifically on his time in Kibera. He’s now a part of a new UK-based NGO called Share the World’s Resources, which sponsored the book launch/panel. I just started reading, so I can’t really say much about the book itself, but the panel and ensuring discussion were pretty interesting.
The panel discussion included the following:
- Rajesh Makwana, director of Share the World’s Resources
- Adam Parsons, author of Megaslumming
- Rasna Warah, a Daily Nation columnist and social commentator
- Arthur Waweru, a Kibera resident who I know from his work with Hot Sun
- Djemba (sorry, I didn’t get his full name), a Kibera resident and one of the main sources in Parson’s book
Overall, I found the first three speakers a little dry and dispassionate, something Arthur took care of by speaking in a very frank (if not hyperbolic) manner.
The Q&A is where things got really lively. You can tell people have strong opinions anytime it comes to discussing slums. There were those that think the government is to blame, those that think blaming the government takes the focus away from individual responsibility, those that think donor/sponsors do more harm than good, and those that think slum residents need a helping hand because pulling at their bootstraps isn’t doing much good.
In the end, there are no easy answers. Kibera is a fascinating and incredibly complex place, and there is so much variance between and within each of Nairobi’s slums (let alone the world’s slums). I’m just starting to get a sense of how they work, I’m not bold enough to assume I know how to make them safer and more secure places for their residents.