During the months of December 2009 and January 2010 I travelled to Kenya in Eastern Africa, landing in Nairobi to the sounds and smells of rush hour traffic, noticing big birds high up in the trees, colourful vehicles and no driving rules, I knew I was in for an amazing experience.
Blessed with the opportunity to visit the motherland, Kenya is a place of original roots and culture, beautiful and vast countryside landscapes including the massive Great Rift Valley, the big 5, a busy vibrant capital city with a buzzing night life and everything else in between.
The Masai Mara alone proved this to be true, from lions eating prey in the wild to the Masai people themselves and their history, Kenya is a special part of the land.
The people here are equally as nice, of course corruption within all levels of political factions is present, and post election violence tension is still glaring in some people’s eyes, Kenya is a place of great social understanding, the driving for example, is pretty crazy when looked at through any foreigners eyes, but living in a country and taking its roads everyday for nearly 2 months, I saw nowhere near as many road accidents as I do in London! Although drivers do not obey traffic lights and the workings of a roundabout do not mean anything, everybody seems to just get on with it, not moaning about everything like us Brits, I guess that’s cos they appreciate what they’ve got…
Back to the city, I found myself hooking up with an NGO in the Dandora slum called VYTDA (Vision for Youth Talent Development Association) headed up by local guys who dedicate their time to helping people in the community. I spent a good amount of time with them as they kindly took me around the slum during January 2010, with the sun blazing down and the life of the slum fully alive, school kids running round laughing and playing, tradesmen doing their thing and the voices of young children shouting “MOUZOUNGU!” (white man!)
For many of these children this may well be the first or second time they have seen a white man in their area and is a special occasion for them, I remember one time when 3 shy kids were standing in front of me saying something in Swahili, my friend Anthony translated… “we want to shake his hands but our hands our dirty” I felt so humbled and instantly took their hands, these kids were so cute and innocent, and unfortunately view the white man as superior to them, this is the harsh reality that is poverty in Africa, people from an Ancient land with Ancient ancestors reduced to slums with dirty waters, while the west continues to profit from the rich resources that are continuously raped from the continent – from the blood diamonds to Shell and BP taking oil and not giving back to the community its taking it from, in fact in most cases these corporations also end up polluting surrounding areas with total dis-regard to eco system and nature, often polluting reservoirs and streams, this is very obvious with the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf, which has resulted in over a million species dying not to mention the poisoning of local communities and damage that will affect those waters for decades to come.
In that sense, I have hooked up with the already established Kenya’n charity – Anno’s Africa who do some amazing work in Nairobi and this exhibition will be donating a percentage of all image sales to the charity to ensure further good work is carried out. Focussing on teaching arts to children in Kibera, Anno’s Africa now wants to set up a school in nearby Dandora. We are asking anyone with an old digital camera sitting at home not being used to please donate to this cause, the camera’s will go directly to the slums in Nairobi allowing children there the chance to learn more!
Working alongside an NGO called Vision for Youth Training and Development Association (VYTDA) the team (Anthony, Ras Abasa, Collins, Doreen, Wilson, Chacha and the kids) took me on many journeys around Dandora visiting various people in the slums, talking to teachers in schools, watching the kids play football on a Sunday and the most distressing part of the area – the dump site. In comparison to life on a dump site, every other poor part of the world I’ve been to just doesn’t seem as bad. The living conditions here are life threatening, with a new born baby in Dandora not expected to live past the age of 35 due to the hazardous nature of the poisonous fumes that extend from the dump.
Even local Kenyan’s who live in Nairobi are shocked when I show them some of the photos of the dump, saying things like “wow is that a pig in the river?” and “is that a child going through the rubbish?” yes indeed, they have lived here all their lives but have never set foot in Dandora to witness the situation for themselves. So for me this exhibition is not only about exposing this situation to the outside world, but to native Kenyan’s also. They way I see it, the more people know about the situation, the more hope there is for people coming together to pressure the government and human rights groups to come up with a solution, for I see this as nothing less than inhumane living conditions.
Dandora is home to east Africa’s largest dumpsite, spanning a 32-acre stretch of land overlooking the settlements of Dandora, Kariobangi north, Korogocho and Bada Ndogo – home to around a million informal sector workers, most on very low income earnings.
Approximately 10,000 workers are present on the dumpsite on any one day, many people here live on less that a pound a day and finding that working on the dumpsite, although hazardous to their health, can provide food on the table at home. Here workers, many of whom are children, can be witnessed going through the waste separating materials and finding what they can use to make money.
Politicians are allegedly involved in the dump site affairs, owning some of the lorries which dump garbage at the site. The dumpsite is believed to be a multimillion dollar industry and the local politicians are believed to be highly implicated in maintaining the status quo while taking different positions over the relocation of the dumpsite depending on which position is convenient to them at a particular point in time.
The Dandora dumpsite has a number of co-operatives of youth and women which have come up to sort and recycle some of this waste. Cartels hire them to sort out and recycle wastes from industries and residential estates in Nairobi. Due to hard economic times which has spawned a culture of survival, these people earn between Ksh 50-150 (USD 0.75-2.3) a day. They work under harsh conditions without any protective clothing. Their employers do not cover them when they get sick. Getting sick here is as common as a hobby and this is manifested in the high death rate of those working at the dumpsite.
I am pleased to have read recently that regeneration plans will commence in early 2012, with the aspiration of moving the dumpsite away from Dandora. The information is met with some speculation however as the garbage will simply be relocated. Time will tell who will be affected. Article here: All Africa
The Government owns all the land. 10% of people are shack owners and many of these people own many other shacks and sub-let them. All the rest are tenants with no rights.
The average size of shack in this area is 12ft x 12ft built with mud walls, screened with concrete, a corrugated tin roof, dirt or concrete floor. The cost is about Ksh 700 per Month (£6). These shacks often house up to 8 or more, many sleeping on the floor.
Only about 20% of Kibera has electricity. UN-Habitat is in the process of providing it to some parts of Kibera – this will include street lighting, security lighting and connection to shacks (this costs Ksch 900 per shack, which in most cases is not affordable). In most of Kibera there are no toilet facilities. One latrine (hole in the ground) is shared by up to 50 shacks. Once full, young boys are employed to empty – they take the contents to the river. UN-Habitat and a few other agencies are trying to help and improve this situation but it is painfully slow.
In Kibera there are no government clinics or hospitals. The providers are the charitable organisations: AMREF, MSF, churches plus some others. They do a great job. All people are encouraged to have a free HIV test and if positive to take free generic ARV medicine.
Kibera is one of the most studied slums in Africa, not only because it sits in the centre of a modern city, but also because the U.N.’s agency for human settlements is headquartered close by. In September 2009 the Kenyan government, which claims ownership of the land on which Kibera stands, began a long-term movement scheme to re-house the people who live in slums in Nairobi with the backing of the UN.
Critics argue that slum clearances tend to ignore the social problems that cause slums and simply redistribute poverty to less valuable real estate. Where communities have been moved out of slum areas to newer housing, social cohesion may be lost. If the original community is moved back into newer housing after it has been built in the same location, residents of the new housing face the same problems of poverty and powerlessness. There is a growing movement to demand a global ban of ‘slum clearance programmes’ and other forms of mass evictions.
A report issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union Commission issued in May 2010 and entitled ‘Promoting High-level Sustainable Growth to Reduce Unemployment in Africa’ states that African countries must prioritise the creation of decent jobs as a central pillar of economic policy in order to eradicate poverty.
Statistics taken from
With a large area to cover and not too much time to play with, I headed to two spots that really caught my attention:
The M2 Art Studio:
The whole collective is currently 10 members strong, putting on exhibitions worldwide including New York, Italy, Norway and other countries, they are also very keen on having their first exhibition in London and would appreciate any help on this, please contact me if this is your area.
The Selassie I Foundation:
The Selassie I Foundation, part of the Shiriki Charity Organization which works for sustainable development maintained the cleanest area of land in Kibera that I saw. With their minds focus on praising and preserving mother earth, these spiritual Rasta’s keep their area clean and green.
While to speaking to Ras Abasa in Dandora, I asked him if he knew of any other Rasta’s he could put me in contact with, at which point he mentioned the Selassie I Foundation. It was a great blessing for me to be invited in, I was humbled by the presence of these inspirational artists, weaving scarf’s, making jewellery, creating sandals, painting on canvases and practicing intricate and technical craftsmanship.
I was greeted by Ras Nganga, Jah Pillar and Ras Githaka, 3 community workers described the various activities they initiated to engage the community in Kibera and other parts of Kenya, including the set up of grass-roots sustainable agriculture, environment and education. I was showed a photo album of the volunteer work they have been doing with school children, teaching them how to plant trees, maintain a plant and grow your own food.
The movement is totally volunteer based, as they believe that it is their duty, as well as ours, to fulfil the creed that the hungry be fed, the sick nourished, the infants cared for and the aged protected.
It is a very simple, non-political non affiliated and non-religious volunteer movement with the aim of rescuing Africa’s youth, rising them with the awareness necessary for survival and the task of shaping and forging a united continent.
Only 3 days in to the trip, we headed southwest of Nairobi to the Maasai Mara (Masai Mara), known as Africa’s greatest wildlife reserve and home to the Maasai people.
Entering a small village just outside the reserve we were greeted by the Maasai and shown into their homes. Here we were brought face to face with the lifestyle and educated on the culture. One thing I found common throughout Kenya was the custom of men being able to have multiple wives. This is not a religious aspect of their lives but a cultural one, it was explained to me in the village that a man is able to choose a new wife and when he does, it is her duty to then build him a new home! And the mud huts they have are very well constructed as we witnessed…
As well as this the Maasai explain that they have been living the same way as their ancestors did over a thousand years ago, nomadic in their movements, the Maasai people are often seen walking all over the country, often leaving the village they were born in and not returning for years at a time. They explain that the national reserve however is part of their home also and surprisingly they are not scared to walk the landscape alongside lions and leopards. Quite the opposite in fact, when a young boy is in his teenage years and going through the motions of initiating into a grown Maasia man, one thing he must accomplish is to go into the wild with a group of men and kill a male lion, returning with its mane.
As much as the Maasai obviously have a great connection and respect for nature, being a lover of lions and other big cats I found this a little hard to understand. For the Maasai its a psychological advantage, making a statement and engraving it in their minds, that this is their land and they will walk freely and not be afraid of any specie that they encounter. Of course there are many animal rights groups who are not happy about this and it is a very sensitive area.
The Maasai also drink cow blood as a source of protein, this is done by making a small incision near the neck and is performed in such away that the cow only sheds a little blood and does not die. Due to the recent famine and drought however, this is now less practised as there are less cattle roaming the lands.
A lot of information on the Maasai can be found on the Maasai Association website.
Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru:
Spending 3 days travelling the Maasai Mara in a custom Matatu (13 seater) with the roof raised and camera’s at the ready, this safari was one of the best experiences of my life. We saw Giraffe walking the land tall and strong, high above all other land animals, the occasional Maasai man walking his cattle, Monkeys were literally everywhere, a couple of Hyenas turned up and most amazing of all were the big cats. I was happy to snap a great deal of Lion pictures as well as finding ourselves a beautiful Leopard relaxing in some shade.
Lake Nakuru was also a great experience with lots of White Rhino present, unfortunately we did not spot the million or more Flamingo’s we hoped for, instead we found that we could drive our jeep almost 300metres on to the salty shore where the lake has receded due to the continued drought in east Africa.
Gold Mining community in West Pokot:
Towards the end of my stay in Kenya I decided to get out of the busy city and head for the countryside. 10 hours on a bumpy bus headed north west of Nairobi took me to the remote farming region of Kitale. In fact the landscape I saw on this route was more spectacular than heading east or south from Nairobi, lush green fields and plantations were abundant as well as the sunset I got to see shortly before arriving in Kitale.
From here I ventured further north to the remote region of West Pokot – bordering Uganda and Sudan respectively, it was here that I stayed at a lovely campsite with John and his lovely family. John explained that he works voluntarily to build schools and teach children in the area. He made it very clear that a few donations such as building materials can go such a long way, his details are below.
John then took me down the valley to meet his father, working in the local gold mine with other community members. From urban poverty in Nairobi to rural poverty here, the fact remains that this community were struggling to survive, with mothers mixing down their staple food Ugali with water to stretch it further. John explained to me that this mine is almost done and the community workers will have to move on to another piece of land soon enough.
Related links and further information:
Ghetto Peoples Mix:
If you were lucky enough to attend the launch night and get a free goodie bag you would have received this mix CD that I created while in Kenya. After my first day in Kibera I returned home to edit through the pictures of the day and came across one particular image that I first made sepia and then cropped to a square factor, stepped back and thought – that’s an album cover!
So at that moment I began to create a mix CD with the reggae I had on my hard drive, as well as including a few samples from old reggae documentaries and soundclashes, the result, ‘Ghetto Peoples Mix’ – dedicated to all the good people I met in Dandora, Kibera and the rest of Kenya.
You can hear the mix by clicking the play button below, it is currently one long mix, I shall include a link here shortly where you will be able to download the whole album with split tracks and hi res covers! Enjoy…