Before I visited Kibera for the first time in 2009, I tried to read and watch as much as I could to better understand the community. Much of what I consumed was from international news and academic journals, which largely focused on health, crime, and housing issues in Kibera. After spending some time on the ground getting to know residents and seeing how the community worked, I came to realize that, while these issues are real and significant, they are only part of Kibera’s story.
Like people everywhere, Kibera residents live complicated lives filled with joys, sorrow, boredom, and pain. I have a new article in Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies that is my attempt to reconcile these two different perspectives: the complexity of life experienced by residents in Kibera and the oversimplified narrative of despair circulating in the media and the public imagination.
Here is the abstract for “Slum discourse, media representations and maisha mtaani in Kibera, Kenya“:
This article examines the discourse surrounding Kibera, a highly populated low-income community in Nairobi, Kenya. Based on 11 months of fieldwork and interviews with 56 Kibera residents, this article discusses the disconnect between the lives experienced by residents and the hyperbolic and essentialised discourse that depicts Kibera as a community defined by sickness, crime and despair. While residents do not deny many of the hardships that are central to the Kibera discourse, they articulate maisha mtaani [life in the neighbourhood] as complex, diverse and contextual. Sadly, several groups that claim to serve the good of Kibera are partially responsible for perpetuating this harmful discourse. In fact, some NGOs, journalists and residents benefit from reproducing a discourse that actively marginalises Kibera and its people.
I realize that academics often exist in silos (an unfortunate reality that is encouraged by structural factors), but I have two sincere wishes for this article. First, I hope it helps people like me who want to get a better understanding of what life is like in Kibera from the perspectives of those who live there. Second, I hope it contributes to a process of changing how we talk about Kibera and how it is represented in the media.
You can find a copy of the article on my academia.edu account.