The fascinating history of how Nairobi’s informal settlements were named after what afflicts them-World News , Novi Reporter

The fascinating historical past of how Nairobi’s casual settlements had been named after what afflicts them-World Information , Novi Reporter

The names gave a voice to residents, representing the problems that they battle with every single day.

By Melissa Wanjiru-Mwita

In Kenya’s capital metropolis, Nairobi, it’s estimated that over 70 % of the inhabitants stay in casual settlements. Many of those have a historical past rooted in colonial insurance policies whereby the “African native” was a brief resident of the town. Africans may solely stay within the metropolis as registered labourers.

As these casual settlements grew through the years, their names – and the names of locations inside them – have grown to encapsulate their historical past.

Africans had been compelled to stay in dormitory-like working quarters. Despite these restrictions some nonetheless discovered their approach from their rural houses into the town. Nonetheless, with their illegitimate standing, they may solely assemble shanties (crudely constructed shacks) on unused land.

These shanty cities had been, on occasion, destroyed and the occupants compelled again to their rural houses. The 1922 Vagrancy Act made this potential with provisions to segregate, evict, arrest, expel and restrict the motion of the “African employees”.

When Kenya gained independence in 1963, native Africans got the best to stay anyplace within the nation, this included the city areas which had been beforehand closely restricted. Because of this, many individuals moved to the town to search for employment alternatives. Between 1963 and 1979, the inhabitants of Nairobi grew from 342,000 to 827,000 individuals.

Nairobi was ill-prepared to deal with such an enormous inflow. From newspaper archives, I noticed how a scarcity of housing led to the enlargement of casual settlements and efforts to curb them by means of demolitions – which didn’t succeed. One other technique to curb their development was by denying them primary infrastructure corresponding to water, sewerage and electrical energy connection. Regardless of this, the inhabitants in these areas grew exponentially.

After which got here the names – what would these settlements, inhabited by most, if not all, of Kenya’s over 40 ethnic communities – be known as? In spite of everything, not like different “deliberate” residential areas, the residents themselves have the prerogative of naming their neighbourhoods as an alternative of the native authorities or personal builders.

I carried out a examine which investigated the naming strategy of three of Nairobi’s largest ghettos; Kibera, Mathare and Mukuru. I additionally regarded on the names of the settlement’s “villages”, roads and pathways, retailers, kiosks and different institutions. I did this utilizing Kenyan and British archives, newspaper information and focus group discussions with long-term residents.

What I discovered was a testomony to historic injustices – corresponding to land grabbing, forceful evictions and arson – and concrete inequalities, corresponding to the dearth of provision of primary infrastructure. The names gave a voice to residents, representing the problems that they battle with every single day.

What’s in a reputation?


Kibera is positioned about 6 kilometres from Nairobi’s metropolis centre. It covers an space of two.5 sq. kilometres and has a disputed inhabitants dimension starting from 200,000 to 1 million individuals. This broad disparity is due to the excessive variety of unregistered those who stay there and since many individuals always transfer out and in. Official statistics can’t seize this.

The fascinating history of how Nairobis informal settlements were named after what afflicts them

By Mélissa Wanjiru

Kibera’s historical past is intricately tied to the Nubian group, initially from Sudan, who had been introduced into Kenya by the British colonial authorities to serve within the East African Rifles, a regiment of the British colonial armed forces. They settled in what’s Kibera immediately within the early 1900’s.

The settlement’s identify was initially “Kibra” within the Nubian tongue, that means forest or jungle. After Kenya’s independence in 1963, different African communities settled there. They mispronounced the phrase and it turned “Kibera”.

Kibera is presently divided into 13 villages. Most of the village names mirror the settlements’ navy historical past. As an illustration, “Laini Saba”, initially often known as “Lain Shabaan”, refers to a rifle vary space. Kibera was additionally organised into “camps”, as occurs in navy barracks. As an illustration, the world “Kambi KAR” is known as after the Kings African Rifles (KAR) and “Kambi”, the Swahili phrase for “camp”.

Because the settlements’ inception, Kibera residents have had a tense relationship with authorities authorities, who sought to evict them. Sure names are a nod to this battle. As an illustration, “Soweto East” and “Soweto West” are named after the South African township to pay homage to the 1976 pupil uprisings towards the authorities.


Mathare is roughly 6 kilometres north-east of Nairobi’s central enterprise district. The identify “Mathare” comes from the Kikuyu (the biggest ethnic group in Kenya) phrase for Dracena timber.

The settlement has an extended historical past. The primary residents arrived within the Twenties. It was often known as a historic centre for opposition to the colonial authorities with residents taking part within the Mau Mau anti-colonial motion. This made it a relentless goal of demolition and arson assaults in the course of the emergency interval from 1952 to 1960. The primary highway chopping by means of the settlement was named “Mau Mau Highway”.

Residents of Mathare have long-struggled with evictions. This was largely as a result of some individuals in energy – from members of parliament to Chiefs – grabbed land. As an illustration, in 1999, some residents had been evicted to make approach for a mosque and had been to be resettled, however as an alternative individuals from outdoors the settlement had been introduced in to stay there. This brought about a significant battle and the world was named “Kosovo”, after the Kosovo Struggle which was occurring across the identical time.

Mathare additionally has many smaller neighbourhoods named after international locations for the actions recognized within the space. For instance, an space often known as “Nigeria” due to its unlawful companies – corresponding to drug peddling – reportedly executed by some West Africans there. There’s additionally “Kampala” due to the excessive variety of immigrants residing there from Uganda.


Mukuru is an intensive settlement positioned East of Nairobi’s metropolis centre. It borders the economic space and lots of residents work as informal labourers within the industries. At 2.7 sq. kilometres, Mukuru is the biggest (when it comes to space) of the three settlements. With an estimated inhabitants of 300,000 it comes second after Kibera. It is usually the latest settlement, having been developed within the Nineteen Eighties.

Mukuru is a very hazardous settlement to stay in. It has an oil pipeline, excessive voltage electrical energy transmission strains and the extremely polluted Nairobi River operating by means of it. The settlement has 21 villages, or neighbourhoods.

The origins of the names of Mukuru’s villages are numerous. One is known as Sinai after a mountain in Israel as a result of it’s on comparatively excessive floor. One other known as “Moto Moto” (that means fireplace or sizzling in Kiswahili), due to the settlement’s fireplace hazards. In reality, one of many worst fireplace tragedies in Kenya within the latest previous was the 2011 Sinai fireplace attributable to a gasoline spillage. It led to the demise of 120 individuals and 100 extra had been injured.

Different village names embrace Jamaica, Kingstone, Kosovo, Diamond and Mombasa. These names make reference to the life-style of residents in addition to the residing situations. Jamaica and Kingstone level to the Rastafarian life-style adopted by some younger individuals, Kosovo (like in Mathare) factors to the conflicts with the native authorities and Mombasa which appears to hold two meanings — one is of an space that floods exhibiting the delicate ecological situation of the village, and the opposite one connotes a spot the place individuals prefer to get pleasure from themselves similar to ‘Mombasa Raha’ particularly whereas consuming low cost liqour.

A glimpse

My work reveals the unbelievable array of names inside Nairobi’s casual settlements, and affords a glimpse into the lived realities of those who inhabit them.

The names mirror the challenges confronted by the residents and, as such, slum upgrading proponents ought to make an effort to grasp the names inside casual settlements as a step in drawback identification. Understanding these bottom-up naming processes offers a extra nuanced and intimate understanding of our poor city communities.The fascinating history of how Nairobis informal settlements were named after what afflicts them

Melissa Wanjiru-Mwita, Lecturer, Technical College of Kenya

This text is republished from The Dialog underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.

#fascinating #historical past #Nairobis #casual #settlements #named #afflicts #themWorld #Information #Novi Reporter

Leave a Comment