I’m fortunate enough to have my fiancé, Louis Rezac, working with me for the summer at Hakijamii. We stepped off the Emirates flight into Nairobi almost a week ago. The airport was large- much bigger than anything I had seen in West Africa. The driver from Hakijamii graciously received us at the airport, and we drove through the massive traffic jams to get to the city center YMCA. At first glance the city doesn’t look much different from an American city- paved roads, large buildings, shopping centers, every kind of restaurant you could imagine. The YMCA was similar to other hostels I had stayed in. With American commodities and infrastructure came American prices- immediately it became clear that living here would not be cheap.
We began looking for apartments to rent right away. We wanted something modest but secure. Because of Nairobi’s notoriety, we knew we needed gates and a guard. After speaking with several different real estate agents and viewing various apartments, we realized that there was no “modest” living if one wanted to be secure. The apartments we viewed were large, luxurious, with lavish gardens and pools. Most we could not begin to afford. After several days of constant searching, we finally found one that, with an additional roommate, would come out to about what we pay in Massachusetts.
A five-minute walk from our safe haven is the Kibera slum. Also a five-minute walk from our place are two supermarkets and a mall. Modest accommodation as we have in the U.S. seems to not really exist here. As we walk to our relaxing, comfortable home from work or the market, most of the other people are walking to their 5-foot square home, made of mud, with no electricity, scarce water, and virtually no sanitation. Cholera and HIV/AIDS are just two of the prominent diseases in Kibera. I have witnessed inequality within the same city before, having been to Johannesburg, South Africa- but never at this level and within such a short distance. Walking through the city it is clear that Kenya has money, somewhere. Everywhere are people in business suits, driving cars and eating in fancy restaurants. But this money is not reaching millions of people, who lack access to the most basic of human services.
It is even clearer to me now the need for human rights organizations such as Hakijamii. For here, the problem is not so much the lack of “development” or “aid,” but rather where the money goes and the disparity between the rich and the poor. Kenya has a high Gini Coefficient of 42.5, a statistic the CIA uses to measure income inequality. Despite relatively advanced agricultural and industrial sectors, Kenya is still among the poorest countries in world, with per-capita income averaging $360, ranking 148th among 177 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index (more). With such advanced infrastructure but such low per-capita income, it is clear that most of the population lives in poverty. According to UN-HABITAT, the slum to urban population in Kenya is 71%. Rural to urban migration is increasing, and if nothing is changed within government and civil society, the slum situation will continue to get worse.
Posted By Christy Gillmore
Posted Jun 8th, 2010