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Questioning the Kibera Discourse: Articulating Representations and Lived Experience in a Nairobi Slum
Unformatted Document Text:  KIBERA DISCOURSE 13 represented Kibera’s district, would defeat Kibaki, but in the end Kibaki emerged the winner amidst serious allegations of vote rigging (“Ballots to Bullets,” 2008; Commission of Inquiry, 2008). As part of their protest, Kibera residents uprooted the railway tracks, temporarily rendering the line useless (Gettleman, 2008). In 2009, residents again tore up the railway to express their anger over a land dispute between Uganda and Kenya (Kuria, 2009). Because of these two events, the uprooted railway has become emblematic of lawlessness and mob retaliation in news coverage of Kibera (Makeni, 2009). Depending on which source you access and trust, Kibera’s current population is somewhere between 170,000 and 2.5 million, a wide range that demonstrates the false precision of the Kibera discourse. This uncertainty in Kibera’s population is evident as far back as 1990. During their 1990 survey of Kibera residents, Parker and Dondo (1991) found local leaders estimated Kibera’s population at 250,000, while a national housing organization believed the numbers were closer to 700,000. Parker and Dondo’s data collectors visited homes and businesses throughout every village in Kibera, leading the authors to project the population near yet below 300,000. But even this was significantly larger than the 122,000 figure listed in the 1989 Kenya national census for Kibera (“Kenya Population Census, 1989,” 1994). Twenty years later and numbers on Kibera’s population are even more disparate. UN-HABITAT’s report (2003) estimated Kibera’s population at 400,000, Davis (2006) listed it at 800,000, and Neuwirth (2006) stated it was between 500,000 and 1 million. A recent Huffington Post article initially listed the population at 2.5 million before later changing that number to 500,000 without noting this as a correction (Starkman, 2011). As indicated by the Friends of Kibera quote that opened this paper, NGOs often use 1 million, and at the time I first visited Kibera in 2009, this was the most common number I encountered. But in 2010, the Kenyan government released its 2009

Authors: Ekdale, Brian.
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represented Kibera’s district, would defeat Kibaki, but in the end Kibaki emerged the winner 
amidst serious allegations of vote rigging (“Ballots to Bullets,” 2008; Commission of Inquiry
2008). As part of their protest, Kibera residents uprooted the railway tracks, temporarily 
rendering the line useless (Gettleman, 2008). In 2009, residents again tore up the railway to 
express their anger over a land dispute between Uganda and Kenya (Kuria, 2009). Because of 
these two events, the uprooted railway has become emblematic of lawlessness and mob 
retaliation in news coverage of Kibera (Makeni, 2009). 
Depending on which source you access and trust, Kibera’s current population is 
somewhere between 170,000 and 2.5 million, a wide range that demonstrates the false precision 
of the Kibera discourse. This uncertainty in Kibera’s population is evident as far back as 1990. 
During their 1990 survey of Kibera residents, Parker and Dondo (1991) found local leaders 
estimated Kibera’s population at 250,000, while a national housing organization believed the 
numbers were closer to 700,000. Parker and Dondo’s data collectors visited homes and 
businesses throughout every village in Kibera, leading the authors to project the population near 
yet below 300,000. But even this was significantly larger than the 122,000 figure listed in the 
1989 Kenya national census for Kibera (“Kenya Population Census, 1989,” 1994). Twenty years 
later and numbers on Kibera’s population are even more disparate. UN-HABITAT’s report 
(2003) estimated Kibera’s population at 400,000, Davis (2006) listed it at 800,000, and Neuwirth 
(2006) stated it was between 500,000 and 1 million. A recent Huffington Post article initially 
listed the population at 2.5 million before later changing that number to 500,000 without noting 
this as a correction (Starkman, 2011). As indicated by the Friends of Kibera quote that opened 
this paper, NGOs often use 1 million, and at the time I first visited Kibera in 2009, this was the 
most common number I encountered. But in 2010, the Kenyan government released its 2009 

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