Letters from Kibera (1950 edition)
I apologize for the year-long sabbatical from the blog. I can’t promise to be more regular, but I’ll try.
I’m back in Kenya for 5 weeks this summer, and this time I’ve gotten the chance to 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 thought I’d share this one letter that really struck me today.
Around 1950, the British government was developing plans to move the Sudanese (Nubians) out of Kibera. The plan was to relocate this group to Kibiko, about 15 miles further west of town. I’ll spoil the ending right now and let you know that they weren’t successful. The Sudanese resisted and the plans became financially prohibitive.
As I was reading over the correspondence and documentation about the plans for this resettlement, I found a letter dated 25 September 1950 from a member of the Sudanese Association of East Africa, sent to the District Commissioner of Nairobi. Here it is in full (I’ve tried to match the spelling and grammar to the original):
I most humbly and respectful before emit a word I lay down my particulars as follows:- I born in Nairobi at Kibra, 30 years old, married man, with two children and very intelligent in Nairobi Town, welfare, good health, and running to town daily for work, myself I can’t living outof town Nairobi 18 miles exept if Government forcing, but I do not like.
I approaching these my petition before you for kindly consideration. I have to explain you that through in our difficulty and tired is that: daily early morning and lateness evening we are walking to Nairobi and back, for our duties as you know we are serve our life as employment in town nothing else, we are spending the whole day’s without meal on account of less salaray, also thereis Bus runing but we can’t spend /40 Cts in travelling by Buses we are keeping for household we are very famine in this area.
Col. Lafontain was state that Kibera must be under Municipal or departure, this is quit too difficult to us we can not serve under Municipal at all we are poor we can not living on renting as he said Municipal shall built lodging houses at Kibra for us, this is quite clear Sudanese clan is to be scattered and lost and we are guest in this colonies. We are first looking an enemy in East Africa, as our fathers combine with British and attack African in East Africa and let them down under Government vengeance still going on between African and Sudanese, how we goin to serve our life if Government is going to leave us apon hill at Kibiko 18 miles from Nairobi, how we can reach Nairobi by walking, sir, this is quite through in fact to live under Municipal Control or, departure to Kibiko both we had rather not, we shall lost our clan and be “JANGILI.” We shall be very grateful if you could putithis my petition under reaction as the Land Commissioner Report state: within easy to reach in Nairobi. Therefore, we shall be lead on an easy life. I shall be very grateful to received your further information to assist me on these difficult.
I have the honour to be sir, Your obediently Servant,
Ahamed Mussa Sha-Aban
Unfortunately, this thoughtful and impassioned letter about the effect of the resettlement plan did not elicit an equally thoughtful response. Here it is in full:
I have to refer to a letter dated 25th September 1950 in which you complain that proposals for Kibira will seriously affect your life, and to say that these proposals give effect to this recommendation made by the Kenya Land Commission. I see no grounds for any further complaints in this matter.
I am, Sire, Your obedient servant,
I’ve posted pictures of the two original letters below.