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Questioning the Kibera Discourse: Articulating Representations and Lived Experience in a Nairobi Slum
Unformatted Document Text:  KIBERA DISCOURSE 20 They believe that people of Kibera, we are thugs, unlearned people, and people who don’t think about the future, cause we are living in slums. You know, when you live in slums and you go somewhere where people live high, they don’t notice most of the people of Kibera. They degrade us. (I03) Some said outsiders look at the rundown, poorly constructed homes in Kibera and judge the residents based on the appearance of these buildings. They say non-residents assume the quality of someone’s home is indicative of the value of the person. But respondents argued this is not the case: “They should not look at the houses. People are there with jobs” (I23). Further, two respondents claimed outsiders believe “nothing good will come or can come out of Kibera” (I27). I heard a variation of this phrase numerous times during my fieldwork. Kibera residents often feel they are battling a stereotype that says there is little good about Kibera, and all that is good about Kibera is only good in Kibera. Residents feel that they have to work twice as hard to prove their worth. First, they have to prove they have value; second, they have to show that their value has merit outside the borders of the slum. While respondents discussed both positive and negative aspects of their lives in Kibera, the majority defended Kibera when they were asked how outsiders view the slum. They felt non- residents’ views were unsophisticated and hurtful: People out there look at us as the most, should I say, primitive people on earth. They think that we are the most illiterate, that evil comes from Kibera, and everything that is bad about this place. (I26). Residents felt these views were simplistic and that outsiders “only know little” (I16) about Kibera. They said Kibera residents know much more about the community than those who don’t live there. As one young man stated, “people say that here in Kibera, especially the youths, they are bad people…but really, we know each other. We know the good guys and the bad guys” (I10). Even a student who earlier told us it was his dream to get out of Kibera said he was sad to know outsiders held these views, because many who stay in Kibera, “they like this place” (I07).

Authors: Ekdale, Brian.
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KIBERA DISCOURSE
 20 
They believe that people of Kibera, we are thugs, unlearned people, and people who 
don’t think about the future, cause we are living in slums. You know, when you live in 
slums and you go somewhere where people live high, they don’t notice most of the 
people of Kibera. They degrade us. (I03)
Some said outsiders look at the rundown, poorly constructed homes in Kibera and judge the 
residents based on the appearance of these buildings. They say non-residents assume the quality 
of someone’s home is indicative of the value of the person. But respondents argued this is not the 
case: “They should not look at the houses. People are there with jobs” (I23). Further, two 
respondents claimed outsiders believe “nothing good will come or can come out of Kibera” 
(I27). I heard a variation of this phrase numerous times during my fieldwork. Kibera residents 
often feel they are battling a stereotype that says there is little good about Kibera, and all that is 
good about Kibera is only good in Kibera. Residents feel that they have to work twice as hard to 
prove their worth. First, they have to prove they have value; second, they have to show that their 
value has merit outside the borders of the slum. 
While respondents discussed both positive and negative aspects of their lives in Kibera, 
the majority defended Kibera when they were asked how outsiders view the slum. They felt non-
residents’ views were unsophisticated and hurtful:
People out there look at us as the most, should I say, primitive people on earth. They 
think that we are the most illiterate, that evil comes from Kibera, and everything that is 
bad about this place. (I26).
Residents felt these views were simplistic and that outsiders “only know little” (I16) about 
Kibera. They said Kibera residents know much more about the community than those who don’t 
live there. As one young man stated, “people say that here in Kibera, especially the youths, they 
are bad people…but really, we know each other. We know the good guys and the bad guys” 
(I10). Even a student who earlier told us it was his dream to get out of Kibera said he was sad to 
know outsiders held these views, because many who stay in Kibera, “they like this place” (I07).


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