Monday, 21 March 2011

Poverty as entertainment?

This post is a direct response to Rasna Warah's post in Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper of 20 March 2011. I came across it here where it was reposted.

I watched Famous, Rich and in the Slums (here on YouTube) when it was aired in Britain by the BBC recently and my consternation at the issues featured was directed neither at the makers of the documentary, nor at those who participated in it. My anger, instead, was directed at the authorities in Kenya, who seem to be clueless as to their responsibility towards the country's citizens and in particular, the inhabitants of Kibera, a slum area in the country's capital city. Lest I incur the angst of my readers, I make haste at this point to clarify that this is not intended as an onslaught on the aptitude of the Kenyan government singly, since such ineptitude is characteristic of the majority of the governments of Africa.

The author in the Daily Nation opined:

"There are dozens, if not hundreds, of charities operating in Kibera and other slums like it, with few significant results to show for their efforts.

There may be slightly more sanitation facilities in the slums now, but the living conditions have become only slightly less appalling - they have not improved dramatically. And the slum continues to grow."

And I ask, in all of this where are the Kenyan authorities? What function does the municipal authority in Nairobi perform when a sizeable segment of the city's population are forced to live in such squalid conditions? The author in the Daily Nation was critical of the NGOs that operate in the slum and seemed unhappy about what was referred to as "slum tourism", but I beg to differ.

Its puzzling that we do nothing about a problem and then think that we are justified in criticising the foreigners who make an effort to tackle our problem, one which we have previously ignored. Why do we become angered when westerners point at our festering sores that we have pretended did not exist? Most annoying for me is the fact that Raila Odinga, Kenya's Prime Minister, holds the parliamentary seat for Langata Constituency, which covers much of the Kibera slum.

My take on this is that it was never the intention of the makers of and participants in this documentary, (participants who in any event, include a considerable number of Kibera residents themselves), merely to provide entertainment for the film's viewers. What the film did for me was to vividly highlight the failure by another of Africa's governments to take an interest in, and responsibility for the welfare of those whom they govern. The situation is the same in much of Africa and I have written about the same thing in relation to Nigeria previously on this blog.


Shaka Chronicles said...

Its not only foreigners who are asking questions or pointing fingers at what is happening in Kibera.The residents of Kibera are doing that.Lots of charities(foreign and local) are working in the Kibera slum,receiving millions of euros in terms of aid money but with actually very little if not nothing to show for it.

Take an example of a donor based somewhere in Europe who has no regional office here.For monitoring and evaluation,they depend on the photos/stories the recipient organisation sends to them.The same photos/stories sent to another organisation.This is just an example and i can quote many other instances!

'Its puzzling that we do nothing about a problem and then think that we are justified in criticising the foreigners who make an effort to tackle our problem, one which we have previously ignored.'

Who said that it is only the foreigners who are making an effort to tackle our problems?And the last time i checked,we are also critical of our own efforts.And we HAVE NOT IGNORED OUR PROBLEMS.I cant speak for the Prime Minister.And im not a politician.But as a social activist and development expert,i can safely say that,Kibera can not be transformed in a day,month,year!!Its a process that will take time.The slum upgrading process began and the highrise buildings are a testament...

I agree with Warah on slum tourism.I have seen them.And even embassies and INGO's approach organisations working there to 'give them a tour of the slum.'Later in the evening,they facebook,blog and twit about their 'life changing' trip through the filth of the Kibera slum.And their friends twit back wanting the 'slum tourist' experience.The key words here are 'deplorable,chronic poverty,extreme hunger,less that a dollar day.' etc And they sleep better knowing that they are very lucky indeed.Some are 'touched' and go ahead to raise money using the photos-money that never reaches the slum dwellers.

Anengiyefa said...

Hey J, nice to see you and thanks for the comment.

If they are tackling the problem, as you say, there isn't very much to show for their efforts, since as Warah confirms, the conditions have not improved appreciably and the slum continues to grow..

Kibera and other slums like it all over Africa are a problem that CAN be resolved through concerted governmental effort. These are not situations that should be left to charities and "social activists". My grouse is that these slums are not a new problem. The sanitary conditions and the health hazard that this represents are sufficient reasons for any responsible government to have intervened long before now.

Had the authorities acted in the way that they should have done all along, there would be no chance today for "slum tourism" and we would not be holding this discussion.

Shaka Chronicles said...

What Warah forgot to mention is that there is some change within Kibera but she has chosen not to see it.I think its rather hypocritical of her to 'stand,hands akimbo and condemn.'Others likes us are on the ground working in those places they refer to us 'filthy,inhuman,deplorable.' From Kibera to Korogocho slums,we do what we can.And lest Warah forgets,the slums grow because of the high rate of rural to urban migration among other factors.As a UN expert(habitat),Writer etc,i presume she is aware of it all.The goverment like any other country facing the slum menace carries it share of the blame.It should do more-Yes.