This is one of my first articles in this blog.
When starting anything new, it takes bit of time and practice. I know
how I feel – overwhelmed and frustrated, but with a lot of support and
help from new friends in this business, I have a hope that it is not
going to be as scary or as difficult.
When climbing a mountain you need to step up one step at a time. You
can’t suddenly be at the top by thought alone. You may run to get there
quicker – but you have more chance of stumbling on the way – mind you
had to learn how to walk first before you could run.
So after saying all these, I start my story:
Have you ever seen a slum – or lived in one. Well as for myself, I
happen to be born in a slum area – brought up there, and started my
To understand the agony of all these, let us look in our encyclopedia
for the meaning of the word slum. I chose to look in Wikipedia – the
free encyclopedia, which says – ‘ a slum as defined by the United
Nations agency UN- HABITAT, is a rundown area of a city characterized
by substandard housing and squalor, and lacking in tenure security. The
meaning fits very well with the area I am about to describe – Kibra.
Kibra is a village on the outskirts of Nairobi – the capitol city of
Kenya. It is situated approximately 12 kilometers on the west side of
the city center. Kibra slum is considered to be the second largest slum
in Africa , and third largest in the world. The area of Kibra
originally was about 4000 acres. This piece of land was a reward given
to the Nubian soldiers as an appreciation of their service in the army.
This story is not only about the slum – but the historical injustices
connected with the land.
The first settlers in Kibra were Nubians who were settled there by the
British in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.
Citing the United NationsCommission of Human Rights ( UNHCR ), the community now living in Kibra are descendants of the Sudanese soldiers forcibly conscripted by the British in the 1800’s.
Kenya has an estimated 100000 of these stateless people from the Nubian
ethnic community. This is according to the latest human right report
released by the US state department.
Kibra land row.
The land and Nubians living in Kibra are so historically, intricately intertwined that no amount of effort to downplay or ignore the row would end it.
Attempts to separate the two have always targeted turmoil and
volatility over the last decade or so. This state of affairs survived
the last century, and chances are that the status quo is likely to
remain for a long time to come as the security of tenure needs are not
The then heavily forested area of 4197.9 acres on the outskirts of
Nairobi – the capitol city of Kenya, was allocated the Nubians of the
then Kings African Rifles and their descendants in 1904, surveyed in
1917 and formally gazetted in 1918.
The beneficiaries immediately named the area ‘Kibra’, meaning in their
language ‘jungle infested by wild animals, as this area was part of the
larger Nairobi National Park.
The Nubians then created sub localities, (villages) like Makina, Lomle
etc. which they developed according to their needs, and under the
control of the colonial administrators.
The military handed over the administration to the civilian in 1928.
The colonial administrators left a legacy in form of a school they had
built in the heart of KIbra, which was opened by the then Governor of
Kenya – Sir Evelyn Baring, in 1953, (it is in this school where the
writer of this document received his first primary education).
A memorial plaque the governor unveiled during the function is still
there to this day. It bears the inscription: ‘This building
commemorates the gift of 2000 British pound from the Army Benevolent
Fund in grateful memory of the gallant and loyal service rendered by
the Sudanese soldiers who died for the couse of Eastern Africa in the
two world wars and whose descendant s will be taught in this school’
From the outset, Nubians formed close-knit family units based on
decency – they upheld strong values about hard work, perseverance,
honesty, integrity, respect for one another and good neighborliness.
It was the community cardinal understanding through specially
constituted group of elders, to ensure good and fair social order
prevailed and that the young were brought up practicing the values.
A typical Nubian homestead at the time consisted of a hut, few cattles
and a small farm – as prescribed and controlled by the local
administration. The environment was thus conducive to economic
development – practicing and maintaining the cultural heritage, and
preserving social activities such as weddings, burial, education,
sports and other forms of entertainment.
The Nubian then integrated freely with the other tribes in the
neighborhood – notably the Kikuyus, through trade and cultural
The Nubians were part of the development of Nairobi as a city. Self
employment at their village level provided essential retail goods and
services such as shops, hawking of fruits and vegetables.
In the years that followed, the Nubians gradually reduced ties with the British and moved towards sharing a common vision and goals with fellow Kenyans. As the struggle for independence gathered momentum in 1950’s and peaked in 1960’s, Nubians readily associated themselves with the nationalists political parties.
In the meantime the Nubians became more vocal in their demanding security of tenure for the Kibra land. This demand is still not met – but the momentum and the drive for the pursuit of the cause has not diminished one bit.
The scramble for the rapidly diminishing open land area show the shortcomings resulting from poor planning, deliberate lack of control by those in authority, and exploitation of weaknesses in land policies or lack of them. Nubians seem to bear the brunt of the unguided competition.
The unending disturbances in Kibra have their roots in the unresolved land question in the face of relentless competition brought about by uncontrolled urban migration in search of employment and affordable accommodation.
The influx has been brought about mainly by politicians who wish to settle potential voters on what they refer to as government land – which implies that there is no control as to who is eligible for settlement. This resulted in a free-for-all and survival of the fittest.
The migration was minimal in the 1960’s when the Nubian community had a representative in the government as area councilor, then as a member of parliament.
When the Nubian member of parliament was replaced with a non-Nubian, in 1975, the area started seeing a serious wave of migration into the area.
The inflow of non-Nubians did not reduce even with the entry of Mr. Philip Leakey – a Kenyan of British origin as the member of parliament for Kibra in 1980’s.
To the Nubians, Mr. Raila Odinga’s political entry in 1990’s (member of parliament from a dominating tribe), further increased the influx in the area. The numbers had grown probably almost exponentially.
The wave had the chilling effect of numerical domination of the area by different groups of non-Nubians – signaling the nudging of the Nubians to the periphery.
The reality now is that there is no more land area left to accommodate more immigration into Kibra. The land is badly congested and therefore the third largest slum in the world. The area is becoming increasingly difficult to government to control.
At the start of the settlement, the ratio of non-Nubians to Nubians was 1:4, but by the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Nubian numerical advantage had been reversed – and the newcomers outnumbered them by 2:1. It is therefore not surprising that today it is estimated that the Nubians are in the minority in the ratio of 12:1.
In the current seemingly ethnicity based political order in Kenya, what chance do Nubian have for representation other than through nomination as a minority group where lobbying rules are undefined.
During the colonial time, the the administration major role was to control settlement in Kibra by issuing permits to enter the area, and providing security. This power was used to maintain a balance between the available economic resources and the population – which they could comfortably sustain without compromising security and social order.
After independence the administration gradually lost control because of pressure from the growing new political posturing and administration officials personal commercial interests.
Today it is not a secret that a significant number of uncontrolled housing structures in Kibra are owned by former provincial administration officials who, together with vested interests, also dominate businesses. Thus the original homestead configuration enjoyed by the Nubians have disappeared.
The government nobble objective soon after independence was to provide affordable housing in keeping with better urban planning and avoiding the mushrooming of uncontrolled structures.
Today, six estates have been built in the Nubian land between 1963 and 1977. Although it was expected that the people to benefit from the new estates would be Nubians – the reality was different. Through the combination of skewed allocation and prohibitive eligibility criteria, mostly financial, most deserving Nubians who had lost their villages were locked out. They were constrained to join the scramble for housing in the growing slum.
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