Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa. It means forest in Nubian, but it has been a long time since there were any trees to be found here. Located 5 kilometers from the city center, it is divided into a number of villages, including Kianda, Soweto East, Makina and Mashimoni. Most of its residents lack access to basic services such as electricity and running water.

One of the odd things about Kibera is that no one knows how many people actually live there. It all depends on who you as and how that person defines the area. UN-Habitat has released several estimations, ranging between 350,000 and 1 million people. According to Mike Davis, a well-known expert on urban slums, Kibera has a population of about 800,000 people.

Life in Kibera is hard and dangerous: most of the residents live earn less than $1.00 per day, and unemployment rates are high. Cases of assault and rape are common, 1/5th of the population of Kibera lives with HIV and at least 50,000 children are orphaned by AIDS. Clean water is scarce and diseases caused by poor hygiene are many.  A great majority of people living in the slum lack access to healthcare.

Hygiene and Sanitation

Kibera is basically a very densely populated muddy hillside without basic amenities, through which a rank little stream trickles, so it is dirty. The slum is contaminated with human and animal waste, due to the open sewage system and the "flying toilets". Flying toilets are what people call the tattered plastic bags that the people do their business in, and then fling out of their homes at night. This is not to say that there are no public toilets in Kibera, but they oftentimes are too dangerous to use at night. Heaps of trash are set on fire, and / or being eaten by goats.


Most of Kibera looks the same: wooden shacks about 2 x 3 meters, topped with a corrugated iron roof. There are no paved streets. The Uganda Railway Line passes through the middle of the neighborhood. Kibera has a railway station, but most residents use buses and matatus to reach the city center, or walk for 2 hours.

Kibera is very accessible, due to the train line and the beltway around Nairobi city center being in such close proximity. And during the day there is so much activity it is actually well worth taking a look. There are genuine Kibera tours, run by people who will show you what living in the slums is really like (the Dutch-Kenyan organization Kibera Tours is a well-respected one - ). Don’t wear your best shoes, and leave your jewelry at home. The tour calls Kibera the friendliest slum, and the city of hope. These descriptions may be accurate, but do not stay in Kibera after dark: at night it gets truly dangerous.


About 20 to 25% of Kibera has electricity. There are blackouts every day, because being connected by only 5 official transformers, the area is severely underserved. The ratio of transformers to people is about 1 : 20,000. In the rest of the greater Nairobi area, this ratio is closer to 1 : 1,000.

UN-Habitat is in the process of providing energy to certain parts of Kibera, including connection to houses, placing security lights and street lighting, but the cost of 900 KeS per shack is unaffordable for most people. The prohibitive costs of legal electricity has given rise to an illegal architecture of live wires strung across wood and metal poles protruding from rooftops. Many of the wires are placed there by cartels or entrepeneurial locals, who steal electricity directly from The Kenya Power and Lightening Company’s transformers, others set up by people who legally buy electricity and then share, for a fee, with their neighbors.

The cartels and locals in the business of stealing power often have a KPLC connection, whether it is a paid-off electrician or being former employees. They make sure that legal connections come with loose wires before the meter, and from there they transport the power via repurposed telephone wires to their customers, who they charge flat rates between 250 and 400 KeS. The open wires are far below safety standards, often short out and cause electrical fires: paper- and wood-walled homes lined with exposed wiring are a recipe for accidents, but these are taken as acceptable risks when the situation is all one can afford.

Surprisingly, it’s not just customers who accepts the business. The KPLC’s maintenance crew understands the people in Kibera are poor and need power too. They don't see the illegal side business as particularly damaging. In recent years, KPLC has even approached the cartels as potential partners, but what they would be adding to the experience is questionable, since replacing all the illegal wiring would be cost ineffective. According to the KPLC, the amount of stolen energy is negligible - less than 1% of total energy, in a grid which has a 12% margin of inherent inefficiency. Their offer of cooperation would therefore likely only be to make it legal. Service wouldn't change.