Assistant Professor, University of Iowa

Tag: representations

How Journalists and the Public Get It Wrong About African Poverty

How Journalists and the Public Get It Wrong About African Poverty

REPOST: This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Ordinary people’s stories can change the world’s views about Africa We cannot see salary data in the faces of others, but most of us have similar mental images that structure how we […]

New Article: Taking on the Kibera Discourse

New Article: Taking on the Kibera Discourse

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 […]

Things You Should Know About Kibera

Things You Should Know About Kibera

As part of my research, Genesis Njeru and I conducted a bunch of interviews with Kibera residents (you can read more about the process here). These interviews covered a lot of different topics, but one of the things we asked early on was how they would describe life in Kibera. As you can imagine, residents discussed many of the challenges of living in Kibera, but they also talked about some of the positives in their community.

As a follow-up question, we asked (with some variation in wording): “Is there anything you wish people who live outside Kibera knew about Kibera?”* Here are some of their responses:

What I know about Kibera is that when we come together, we can do something great. That is what I know.

Outsiders they should…not think of the mentality that Kibera people can’t make it. We can make it, if we are helped by other people or organizations. I think Kibera can change. And we can do more better than we were [during the post-election violence], because I believe in some years we were in darkness. But right now I can see the light in Kibera.

In Kibera here, we are able people. So we just want [outsiders] to know, to help us in all conditions because we don’t have houses, we don’t have enough water…Life is difficult somehow because even diseases are here. Because people are just going for toilet and they throw like this [demonstrates flying toilet]. So we’ve got some diseases. So what I can say, those who are outside to help those who live here.

I’ll tell people who are living outside Kibera, they should not isolate people who live in Kibera, because I think they are the same-same people. They are Kenyans. We should love them, we should protect them, and we should just reason with them correctly.

I think…that media helps in negativity. Media at least, they market things on negativity, so when the point of view is in the media form, media always [sensationalize] the negativity of Kibera to the public.

[rough translation] Outsiders talk of what they see from the screen, from the TV, from the media. So they might even be talking about things that they don’t even know.

Right here in Kibera, we’ve got talents. Right hidden. But we don’t have ways of pulling ourselves, or even getting ourselves up just because of funds, things like this. We are lacking resources. Of course resources are the major things, it is the major part of us. We are lacking resources. That is the only thing which we are lacking.

We have talent. We are talented in so many things. Maybe football, music, drama. We are talented in a lot.

[rough translation] People in Kibera are working too hard to make their daily bread. So I want to tell those people who are living outside that they should also respect and love the people who are living in the slums.

Yeah, they should not look at the houses [and judge Kibera residents on the condition of the houses]. People are there with jobs.

They don’t know that the people of Kibera are very good people because these people are the ones who are working for them. They are working for them. For example, their maids are just these people who are coming from Kibera.

These people should know that we have very decent people in Kibera. Just to take you back to the Bible. People didn’t think that anything good could come out of where Jesus Christ himself was born. So man, don’t just judge us by our cover, by the bad houses we live in from outside. Just come, know about us more before you judge us.

[rough translation] Kibera is not only a place of fighting, but there are also some good things that happen.

[rough translation] There are a lot of talents here in Kibera and if given a chance, [outsiders] can also see the talents that are in Kibera and they will actually see that Kibera does not only consist of those people who cannot do anything.

Yeah, they should know that apart from the rusted roofs they see around, there is something, there is a gold mine. Yeah, there is talent, there is everything.

In Kibera there is a lot of talent. And people, they are friendly.

[Outsiders] don’t know how people suffer from this…slum. So they just ignore it and just think about more things that are outside.

*While I recognize the insider/outside dyad is problematic, as a shorthand it was a helpful way to talk with interviewees about differences between those who know a great deal about life in Kibera and those who know very little.