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Kibera: Background information when reading Find Me Unafraid

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Find Me Unafraid

Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum

by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner

Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner X
Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 352 pages
    Jul 2016, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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This article relates to Find Me Unafraid

Print Review

Map of KiberaKibera, in Nairobi, Kenya, is one of the largest slums in the world; in Africa, it is second only to South Africa's Soweto, with a population of anywhere from 200,000 to over a million depending on who is doing the measuring. Early in Find Me Unafraid, Jessica Posner writes:

In Kibera, hundreds of thousands of houses made from sheets of corrugated metal and other recycled materials are piled nearly on top of another. Garbage-lined paths thread the neighborhood instead of roads, and the terrain consists of hilly slopes and steep inclines that without paving are uneven, making it difficult to maintain balance. With its own markets and shops, Kibera is almost a city unto itself, except that inside of the slum there are no government schools or health services, running water or legal power services.

What is the history of Kibera that led to this?

Soldiers from Sudan became part of the British Army in the late 1880s, and were brought to Kenya in the early 1900s. They served in a division called the King's African Rifles during World War I and were crucial to the defense of Kenya from Germans, as well as the development of East Africa.

Kiberan homesThe British colonial government set aside 4,197 acres of land in 1912 for the Nubians (as the soldiers were called, probably because most originated, or were assumed to have come from, the northern part of Sudan that was formerly Nubia) in a forested region a few miles from central Nairobi. This settlement became first known as "kibra" or "land of the forest", which then became Kibera. From the get-go it was marginalized. While the British government designated what they called "Native Reserves" for Kenyan tribes to live on, the Nubians were denied land in these reserves, as they were considered non-native to Kenya. Over time, the population of Kibera expanded as native Kenyans moving in with the hope of finding work in Nairobi.

In 1963, Kenya declared its independence from Britain. In 1971, a bill demarcating and titling parcels of land in Kibera was passed, but it was never implemented. Because of this, all Kibera residents are considered squatters. The Kenyan government owns all the land that makes up Kibera, but won't officially acknowledge its existence. The Nubian community has a Council of Elders who are also trustees of a Trust that claims Kibera, and they are in constant battle with the government over its size, as well as its programs, such as rehousing.

Kiberan kidsIn large part due to the efforts and publicity of Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner, there are a few potentially positive changes at work in Kibera. In October 2015, for example, the Nairobi government announced that long-lasting LED lights would be installed there. It is claimed that the streetlights currently available in Kibera have reduced criminal acts from 1,200 a month to 300, and these additional lights could provide more relief from crime. And the organization Human Needs Project held the first Kibera Talent Search, seeking to find exceptional artists living in its 13 villages.

Kiberan resident 12-year-old poet Eunice Akoth traveled to New York City with Odede in April 2015 to perform her poetry at the Women in the World Summit. Akoth is a sixth-grader at Odede's Kibera School for Girls. During her visit, she met New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof (who first introduced Odede and Posner to the world in his book A Path Appears, co-written with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and who wrote the foreword for Find Me Unafraid), and expressed her desire to be a reporter and show the world what life is like in Kibera.

There is still an imposing amount of work to do in Kibera to make life better for its citizens, like so many other similar situations around the world. Interestingly, Kibera is one of the most studied slums in Africa. This is because UN-HABITAT, the United Nations' agency for human settlements, is located nearby. As a result of this intensive examination, the Kenyan government, along with UN-HABITAT and other NGOs, have revitalization programs in the works. But it is also thanks to social activists such as Odede and Posner that small steps are being taken to make Kibera a better place to live.

Map of Kibera, courtesy of Gernheim~commonswiki
Homes in Kibera, courtesy of Flickr upload bot
Children in open sewer in Kibera, courtesy of Arria Belli

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to Find Me Unafraid. It originally ran in November 2015 and has been updated for the July 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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