18 February, 2007

With Kibera In Mind

Anonymous said...

Slum Tours :Go to cape town, Shanty town tours is the in thing,Go to joburg, Soweto slum tours is the order of the day.Go to brazil, slum tours is scheduled daily. In pro poor tourism, the net benefit goes to the poverty alleviation of the Poor in the area visited. What is this husle with James Asudi of victoria safaris introducing a new thing in Kenya. Bravo Asudi, You need a Reward for this effort.In 2006, 56 billion K.shs. came in through Tourism , How much went to alleviating poverty in kibera and other slums in kenya. Critics who have no knowlege of Pro poor tourism should shut up and go for a tour with the only Tour Operator in kenya - Victoria safaris, who considers the plight of the poor in the slums.

I received this, above anonymous comment as a response to a comment I made at being sad and considering it cruel, of tourists visiting slums. I am not a critic nor a critique of tourists visiting slums; I do believe that - whatever is done by any one or organisation to help in making the lives of slum dwellers better - should be encouraged, supported and praised. Still, I wonder - do the slum dwellers, the real needy ones, benefit from tourists visiting them?

Whenever I write of Kibera or slums, I do so with a first hand experience at that. I write from 'within'. I have been to Kibera many times; I still will be in Kibera many times. I have been to the other Kenyan slums, many times too: Nyalenda, Obunga, Mathare, Korokocho and the many Majengos and Bondenis found in the many Kenyan urban centers; I have lived in one of these slums, by choice, for some times. I still have many close friends living in Kibera and other Kenyan slums. I know what it's like to be there. And I know how it feels. The lack of infrastructure; the lack of security; being surrounded by - garbage, filth and stench; the material and social deprivation; and the hunger that is a part of slum life. I know all that. I have lived it. Maybe when I write about Kibera and slums in general, I become sentimental and emotional. Whatever, this I know: no slum dweller likes being gawked at by tourists! Non! Just as I know: no one from the upper class Nairobi areas - Muthaiga, Runda, Gigiri and others - would find being gawked at by tourists, acceptable. I have lived both lives: being totally deprived Kibera style and being over fed and pampered Runda style; I know, living at either - no one likes being gawked at by tourists!

I can understand the need for students, social researchers and workers being interested in slum life; I can understand too, of tourists being interested in that. But, how many businessmen out there are interested in improving lives in these slums? Are the businessmen now very interested in Dharavi (Mumbai's largest slum and one of the largest slums in the world, but economically much, much better off than Kibera) truly and honestly interested in the slum's occupants and uplifting the Dharavians lives? As Kenya's leading paper, the Daily Nation, recently asked: "What is this fascination with Kibera among people who do not know what real poverty means?"

And: "How do Kenyans themselves feel about this back-handed compliment as the custodians of backwardness, filth, misery and absolute deprivation?"

Answer: Not a lot, at least according to an informal, random survey by this correspondent in Kibera itself.

While all recognise the potential for good from such attention, plus the pressure it puts on the Government and others to help slum-dwellers, most said tangible benefits so far were few, while the embarrassment factor was growing every day.

"They see us like puppets, they want to come and take pictures, have a little walk, tell their friends they've been to the worst slum in Africa," said car-wash worker David Kabala.

"But nothing changes for us. If someone comes, let him do something for us. Or if they really want to know how we think and feel, come and spend a night, or walk round when it's pouring with rain here and the paths are like rivers." Try spending a night in Kibera, just one night - and feel it! I have spent such nights. Many. Months. I know.

Still, Anonymous and all those who are for tourists visiting slums, still - I repeat: whatever is done, however little it is - to alleviate the suffering and misery of those living in Kibera and all the other slums worldwide, I support and would encourage. Any thing that would improve their material and social conditions, I would wholly support. If done by businessmen with honest, philanthropic intentions - I support and would praise. And yet, I have yet to find many (if any) businessmen with good intentions for the poor. Whenever I visit Kibera and many of the other slums I know of, including Kisenyi in Uganda - I find that the condition and situation is even much worse than the last time I had been there. How long this would continue, only God knows.

Further Reading: Wikipedia, CSG, Maisha Mema, Redrose, Lahash

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