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Questioning the Kibera Discourse: Articulating Representations and Lived Experience in a Nairobi Slum
Unformatted Document Text:  KIBERA DISCOURSE 9 Millionaire (2008) introduced film audiences to slum communities in Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, and Mumbai, respectively. Rolfes (2009) argues the popularity of these media texts has led to the emergence of poverty tourism, in which visitors pay to go on guided tours of impoverished communities around the world. More and more people are discussing, researching, and reporting on slums. Much of this work in Kibera parrots the dominant hyperbolic and simplistic discourse. In Kibera, increased media attention and NGO influence along with slum tourism and voluntourism 2 have amplified Kibera’s notoriety. Many of those exposed to Kibera through media depictions, conversations, or personal experiences have unknowingly participated in the dominant discourse. I include myself in this list of unawares. Lacking familiarity with other competing discourses, we accept the dominant Kibera discourse as uncontested. We tell our friends and family about “the largest slum in East Africa.” We post photos online of miserable residents, especially women and children, who are the ideal victims (Höijer, 2004). We repeat astounding facts and figures provided by ill-informed media, unreliable hosts, and other unawares. We describe personal stories of disgust or sadness in response to our shocked senses, in the process confusing contextual assessments with absolute claims. In doing so, we repeat and reinforce the hyperbolic and simplistic Kibera discourse. But the purpose of this paper is not to analyze the discourse as it appears in media and the public; 3 rather, here I focus on the ways in which Kibera residents articulate their life experiences in relation to the discourse they see propagated by non-residents and Kenyan media. First, I want to contextualize this analysis by offering a short history of Kibera. 4 Kibera’s History and Present Kibera’s first residents were retired Sudanese soldiers who had served in the British East 2 Voluntourism describes vacations that incorporate volunteering for a charitable cause (Fogarty, 2009). 3 The present study is a part of a larger project that accomplishes this task. 4 I acknowledge that condensing 100 years of complex and contested history into a brief account is a discursive task, and I encourage readers to take it as such.

Authors: Ekdale, Brian.
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KIBERA DISCOURSE
 9 
Millionaire (2008) introduced film audiences to slum communities in Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, 
and Mumbai, respectively. Rolfes (2009) argues the popularity of these media texts has led to the 
emergence of poverty tourism, in which visitors pay to go on guided tours of impoverished 
communities around the world. More and more people are discussing, researching, and reporting 
on slums. Much of this work in Kibera parrots the dominant hyperbolic and simplistic discourse.
In Kibera, increased media attention and NGO influence along with slum tourism and 
voluntourism
 have amplified Kibera’s notoriety. Many of those exposed to Kibera through 
media depictions, conversations, or personal experiences have unknowingly participated in the 
dominant discourse. I include myself in this list of unawares. Lacking familiarity with other 
competing discourses, we accept the dominant Kibera discourse as uncontested. We tell our 
friends and family about “the largest slum in East Africa.” We post photos online of miserable 
residents, especially women and children, who are the ideal victims (Höijer, 2004). We repeat 
astounding facts and figures provided by ill-informed media, unreliable hosts, and other 
unawares. We describe personal stories of disgust or sadness in response to our shocked senses, 
in the process confusing contextual assessments with absolute claims. In doing so, we repeat and 
reinforce the hyperbolic and simplistic Kibera discourse. But the purpose of this paper is not to 
analyze the discourse as it appears in media and the public;
 rather, here I focus on the ways in 
which Kibera residents articulate their life experiences in relation to the discourse they see 
propagated by non-residents and Kenyan media. First, I want to contextualize this analysis by 
offering a short history of Kibera.
Kibera’s History and Present
Kibera’s first residents were retired Sudanese soldiers who had served in the British East 
2
 Voluntourism describes vacations that incorporate volunteering for a charitable cause (Fogarty, 2009).
3
 The present study is a part of a larger project that accomplishes this task.
4
 I acknowledge that condensing 100 years of complex and contested history into a brief account is a discursive task, 
and I encourage readers to take it as such.


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