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Questioning the Kibera Discourse: Articulating Representations and Lived Experience in a Nairobi Slum
Unformatted Document Text:  KIBERA DISCOURSE 11 After independence from the British in 1963, the new Kenyan government took a hard stance on Nairobi’s informal settlements. Much to the dismay of Kibera residents, the administration announced that Kibera was state land, thereby turning all current residents into illegal settlers. Yet the end of colonial rule led to a population boom in Nairobi as more and more rural Kenyans migrated to the city in search of work. So while the government tried to demolish Nairobi’s numerous slums, the city’s lack of low-income housing led to exponential growth in slum populations. Reports estimate Kibera’s population grew from 8,000 in 1968 to between 15,500 and 17,000 by 1972 (Amis 1988; Temple, 1974). 5 When the government realized they could not clear all of Nairobi’s slums, they changed their approach from hostile to tacit acceptance and required all new housing developers in Kibera to acquire government permits (Amis, 1984; K Akumu & Olima, 2007). At this point, residents of Nairobi’s slums could not be considered ʼ squatters as most were paying rent for their accommodation, and they were not living in shantytowns as most of the residences were comparable to homes in upcountry Kenya (Hake, 1977). This new permit policy led to a real estate boom in Kibera, and the population grew to 62,000 by 1979 (Amis, 1984). New homes were smaller and more cheaply constructed as landlords tried to maximize profits. While the population continued to grow over the past few decades, the government announced several plans for slum development programs. But these projects were hindered by corruption and political patronage, as most housing sites originally intended for low-income Kenyans were instead sold to the middle class or given to political allies (Muraya, 2006). In turn, residents have learned to distrust government assistance and instead rely on community and international non-governmental organizations to provide most of their health care and community development services (Lamba, 1994). 5 Because of this sudden growth, population statistics about Kibera started to become more varied and less reliable and should be understood as such.

Authors: Ekdale, Brian.
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After independence from the British in 1963, the new Kenyan government took a hard stance on 
Nairobi’s informal settlements. Much to the dismay of Kibera residents, the administration 
announced that Kibera was state land, thereby turning all current residents into illegal settlers. 
Yet the end of colonial rule led to a population boom in Nairobi as more and more rural Kenyans 
migrated to the city in search of work. So while the government tried to demolish Nairobi’s 
numerous slums, the city’s lack of low-income housing led to exponential growth in slum 
populations. Reports estimate Kibera’s population grew from 8,000 in 1968 to between 15,500 
and 17,000 by 1972 (Amis 1988; Temple, 1974).
 When the government realized they could not 
clear all of Nairobi’s slums, they changed their approach from hostile to tacit acceptance and 
required all new housing developers in Kibera to acquire government permits (Amis, 1984; 
K Akumu & Olima, 2007). At this point, residents of Nairobi’s slums could not be considered
squatters as most were paying rent for their accommodation, and they were not living in 
shantytowns as most of the residences were comparable to homes in upcountry Kenya (Hake, 
1977). This new permit policy led to a real estate boom in Kibera, and the population grew to 
62,000 by 1979 (Amis, 1984). New homes were smaller and more cheaply constructed as 
landlords tried to maximize profits. While the population continued to grow over the past few 
decades, the government announced several plans for slum development programs. But these 
projects were hindered by corruption and political patronage, as most housing sites originally 
intended for low-income Kenyans were instead sold to the middle class or given to political 
allies (Muraya, 2006). In turn, residents have learned to distrust government assistance and 
instead rely on community and international non-governmental organizations to provide most of 
their health care and community development services (Lamba, 1994). 
 Because of this sudden growth, population statistics about Kibera started to become more varied and less reliable 
and should be understood as such. 

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