Brian Ekdale

Associate Professor, University of Iowa

Blog, Highlights, Kenya

A History of Kibera

Before I first visited Kibera in 2008, I started tracking down books, newspaper articles, and journal articles to learn more about Kibera’s history. During this search, I found a couple of real gems. For instance, Timothy Parson’s article “Kibra is Our Blood” offers an excellent account of Kibera’s history from its founding until Kenyan independence in 1963, focusing particularly on the fascinating relationship between British military authorities and Kibera’s first Nubian settlers.

But I also found that most accounts of Kibera’s past are quite brief. Plus, there is little out there that discusses Kibera’s tremendous growth from independence until the present. So in the past 2+ years, I’ve continued to track down material to help me acquire a more substantive understanding of Kibera’s history.

The 13-page document at the end of this post is the result of those efforts. While this historical account is a part of my yet-to-be-finished dissertation, I wanted to post it here first for a couple of reasons.

One, for those who are interested in learning more about Kibera, I hope this history serves as a primer for this fascinating and complex community. Please check out some of sources on the references page, too. Don’t just trust what I have written here.

Two, I’m interested in what others have to say about my account of Kibera’s past and present. Are there key moments I missed? Are there any parts of this historical account that you think are off track? I’m very interested in getting feedback from others who live in and study Kibera. Histories always reflect certain perspectives, so I want to hear yours.

While I don’t pretend to offer the authoritative account of Kibera’s past, I hope this proves to be useful for those just getting familiar with Kibera. I also hope this starts a conversation about the defining moments of Kibera’s past and our understanding of its present.

Kibera’s History (PDF)

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Update (5/6): My smarter half suggested I change the title of this post from “The History of Kibera” to “A History of Kibera.” Her suggestion was spot on. Thanks!

8 Comments

  1. Primož

    May 4, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Nice work Brian!

    I’ll spread the word!

    Primož

    1. bekdale

      May 4, 2011 at 9:48 am

      Thanks! I’d love to get feedback on what other folks think I got right, I missed, etc.

  2. Mikel Maron

    May 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Brian, excellent

    Eager to see how the historic imagery we’re finding will relate to this story. http://cube.telascience.org/kibera/aerial/ (choose Nairobi 1961)

    1. Brian Ekdale

      May 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm

      That’s awesome, I hadn’t seen that satellite imagery before. Cool stuff.

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    October 15, 2011 at 5:16 am

    […] responded to the Daily Nation article with What’s in (a Name and a Number?) He offers a history of Kibara and just defended his dissertation on the subject (congratulations!): “Creativity and […]

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    November 11, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    […] That is Kibera in 1961. Choose “Nairobi 1961″ from this map. Really, just a preview, it’s going to blow people’s minds, especially with Brian Ekdale’s concise history of Kibera. […]

  5. Letters from Kibera (1950 edition) | Brian Ekdale

    June 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    […] spend some time in the Kenya National Archives. There are some great finds in there concerning the history of Kibera and Mathare, as well as some other gems about the growth of media industries in Kenya. Anyway, I […]

  6. Letters from Kibera (1950 edition) | Brian Ekdale

    December 5, 2015 at 3:42 am

    […] spend some time in the Kenya National Archives. There are some great finds in there concerning the history of Kibera and Mathare, as well as some other gems about the growth of media industries in Kenya. Anyway, I […]

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