Brian Ekdale

Associate Professor, Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Iowa

Blog, Kenya

Same-Same in Mathare

I was doing some dissertation reading today (as I do everyday) when I came across the following passage:

The people of Mathare are neither looking for handouts nor threatening the social and political order of their society. Instead, they are seeking control over their own lives, and ways to solve the daily problems of subsistence. They reject the negative image that outsiders hold of them and will go to great lengths to alter it, given the opportunity. A better understanding of these aspirations will, I hope, result in a more reasonable and humane government orientation toward urban squatters and greater assistance in helping people to help themselves.

This made me think of the Mathare Valley blog, which was set up as an extension project by Map Kibera/Voice of Kibera/Kibera News Network into Mathare. On the site, you can find videos and stories from Mathare residents going to great lengths to alter negative images and provide fuller perspectives of life in Mathare. Some other groups I worked with during my time in Mathare who are doing similar projects are the Mwelu Foundation and the Rebel Film Board

But here’s the kicker. The passage is from Marc Howard Ross’s The political integration of urban squatters, which was published in 1973. That’s almost 40 years ago. Part of me is pleased that so little has changed; Mathare residents still aren’t looking for handouts or to overturn the social/political order. The rest of me is astounded that the negative image continues, and it is probably much worse than it ever was when Ross wrote those words.

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