With a potential opportunity to work in Nairobi, I set about trying to learn more about this sprawling city where 60% of the citizens live in informal settlements. I came across many, many references to slum upgrading programs, and a headline where $150 Million was promised to improve slum living conditions across urban Kenya in 2020. For me, the most relevant conversation I found was a 17-minute YouTube interview from one year ago, hosted by Silantoi, a well-known interviewer, podcaster, and senatorial candidate. Her guest was Octopizzo, a famous Kenyan Hip Hop artist, and humanitarian with his own foundation and fashion brand. He is a child of Kibera, and Silantoi is from the Kiambiu slum. The focus was on slum upgrading interventions, and who better to discuss this than those who grew up there and understand that way of life from personal experience.
It struck me that both participating in this conversation were people in the public eye with a big national and East African following, and who were tackling a topic with relevance to the majority of Nairobians. It also spoke to someone like myself who was introduced to Kibera through the window of a taxi. By the 17th minute, for me, this video was a sign of changing conversations and slum portrayal, or at least in some walks of society.
Like watching friends chatting, many topics were covered. Pride in where they grew up, their 'hood mothers', and their language were evident. The intermingling of some Swahili through a predominantly English language interview made for an honest and expressive conversation tackling issues, including interventions or improvement programs failing. The larger question of the 'fixing' of slums was addressed. From their perspective, the point of view of the residents themselves should be the main consideration when planning change. The mistake of making decisions without resident's input on where or how they live was strongly conveyed. Considerations of income, family dynamics, and lifestyle must play a part in rehousing communities appropriately. And more importantly why move people in the first place? According to Octopizzo:
It's not about people moving to a nicer building. It's about people having a better life.
The failing aspects in their community that need addressing, according to this interview were aspects such as lighting, building materials, water quality, sanitation, and roads.
We speak the same language and it's a part of a community that should never be broken.