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Poverty and Inequality in the Kibera Slum

inadequacy-and-inequality-in-the-kibera-slumKibera is an informal settlement, or slum, in Nairobi, Kenya — the largest slum on the African continent. Rampant poverty in the Kibera slum is the source of numerous grievances and foundational inadequacies. Factors such as gender discrimination, crime, widespread unemployment and inaccessible electricity feed the continuation of poor conditions in the Kibera slum.

Slums in developing countries are narrowly defined as areas of “overcrowding, poor and informal housing, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation and insecurity of tenure.” A growing proportion of the population born into overcrowded impoverished conditions curbs movement toward a healthy economic foundation. Increasing inequality and the lack of infrastructure in the Kibera slum foster a poor quality of life.

Factors Exacerbating Poverty in Slums

  • Gender discrimination and gender roles in slum society. Women are expected to care and provide for their children more than men. Due to societal expectations, girls are discouraged from attending school. In the “Slum Survivors” documentary produced by Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) in 2007, Carol, a slum-dweller from Kibera, explains her father’s refusal to send her to high school as he believed the education of girls “is a waste of money.” Instead of completing school, many young girls become young mothers or child brides. A lack of education among girls serves to exacerbate cycles of poverty. Discriminatory cultural norms and institutions account for the rising percentage of female-headed households, which Carol explains from an imprisoning rather than an empowering standpoint as female-headed households face higher rates of poverty.
  • Criminal activity. Due to high rates of poverty, some resort to the illegal sale of alcohol and wood derived from illegal logging to make a living, among other illegal business activities. Crime is widespread in urban slums, such as Kibera — Crime surveys conducted by the Security Research and Information Centre (SRIC) with support from the Government of Kenya and UNDP Kenya reported that “98.8% of the respondents had witnessed crime being committed in the last three months of the study period.” The study highlights rampant poverty and low incomes in slums as the driving factors behind crimes in Kenya’s major slums. Kenya struggles to keep up with the rapid growth of cities, leading to a lack of housing, infrastructure and opportunities.
  • High unemployment rates. Economic instability and a lack of job opportunities encourage crime and contribute to the 50% unemployment rate in the Kibera slum. Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment, many individuals are unable to afford vital medicine or hospital bills. Incentives for quick and easy money encourage waste dumping and illegally cutting trees at night.
  • Inadequate electricity access. The Kibera slum relies on unsafe and poor-quality electricity. Electric fires and electrocutions are not uncommon in the slum. A partnership between Kenya Power and Lighting Corporation and the World Bank has led to improved access to safe electricity for slum-dwellers in the last couple of years. However, a number of Kenyans still resort to buying illegal connections from local cartels.

Poverty in Developing Countries Impacts the US

A remote and unattainable outlook prevents action from the international community. Distance between continents widens the rich-poor gap between the United States and low-income countries. Developed countries may view urban poverty in developing nations as out of their reach. Domestic issues almost always take precedence over worldwide injustices, with foreign aid accounting for less than 1% of the U.S. federal budget. Contrary to popular belief, Kibera’s poverty impacts the U.S. — impoverished countries are unable to afford U.S. goods and products. By investing in the development of lower-income countries, the U.S. can expand its markets and further grow the U.S. economy.

USAID’s Initiatives in Kenya

USAID has created numerous programs with tangible courses of action and projects that are currently underway. In 2022, USAID and the Government of Kenya (GOK) signed a five-year agreement to bolster education and employment opportunities for Kenya’s youth. The ultimate goal is “preparing a new generation of young African leaders with the skills and mindset to transform the region and the continent.”

The agreement discusses commitments to improve “education, youth workforce development and youth leadership programming” with a special focus on marginalized girls. USAID says “the GOK has committed to co-finance at least 15% of the total joint investments in education and youth development priorities in Kenya and East Africa.”

This partnership is creating jobs and empowering youth, working to reduce gender-related obstacles and illegal activity. Moreover, USAID’s Small Business Development Center program “strengthens the capacity” of micro, small and medium businesses (MSMEs) in Kenya and establishes “linkages to U.S. counterparts.” USAID’s actions will help some of “Kenya’s 1.5 million formally registered MSMEs and [more than] 5 million informal MSMEs.”

Looking Ahead

Poor conditions in the Kibera slum make it difficult to revitalize the economy and move closer to equality. For instance, low socioeconomic standards and an insufficient justice system elevate vulnerability to crime and marginalization. Even though those living in preferable living conditions outside of slums may feel removed from the problem, everyone’s perception and actions have an impact. Inequitable resource distribution pertains to every socioeconomic group in an unprecedentedly globalized world.

– Anna Zawistowski
Photo: Wikimedia Commons