Brian Ekdale

Associate Professor, Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Iowa

Blog, Kenya

Forbes Series on Entrepreneurship in Kibera

The past few months, I’ve been busy finishing my dissertation and doing little else. Now that my committee is reading the goods and deciding my fate (I defend next week), I wanted to draw attention to an interesting series of posts about Kibera on The series is a part of their Megacities blog, and the posts are authored by Chelina Odbert. Chelina runs a “public spaces” project in Kibera through an organization she co-founded, called Kounkuey Design Initiative. During my time in Kibera, I met Chelina and visited a KDI public space in Undugu grounds. It’s a really cool project. Anyway, here’s a rundown of her blog posts (in the order in which they were posted):

Complexity at Urban Edges
This post introduces the series. Take-away quote: “In my experience, Kibera is not unique; slums, like all cities, are complex organisms that operate at nested scales, from the mega-scaled urban level down to a human-scaled street or community. To try to understand them from only the 10,000 foot perspective does a disservice to the individuals that most organizations working in slums are trying to help.”

Power to the People: The Black Market for Electricity in Kibera (co-authored with Benjamin Twigg)
A profile of a young man who has a business selling pirated electricity to residents (for more, see Genesis Ngari’s post on the same topic). It shows how criminality can be a necessity when the government and private sector fail to provide important public services. Note: There is a miscalculation on the currency exchange. At current rates, 300 KSH is $3-4, not $8-9.

Location, Location, Location: How One Man’s Patio is Another Man’s Paycheck
A profile of a resident who relocated to the UN-HABITAT “slum upgrading” housing. The post focuses on how one resident converted his patio into a convenient store to meet the needs of his fellow residents, but it’s worth noting that any discussion of the KENSUP project is lined with open cans of worms.

The Road to Opportunity: A Family’s Entrepreneurial Journey to Financial Stability (co-authored with Brie Hensold)
A story about one family’s entrepreneurial journey from selling vegetables on the side of the road to owning a market kiosk to running to a busy restaurant. Toward the end, the story hints at a key challenge of the “slum upgrading” housing: Kibera residents who had thriving businesses near their original homes were put in a difficult spot when they were relocated to new homes on the other side of Kibera. The family profiled in this post now has an hour commute on foot to get to their restaurant.

Taking the High Road? Reformed Youth Turn to Entrepreneurship
I think this is the most interesting post of the series. It focuses on a group of “reformed” criminals who have launched several business ventures, including an informal toll business for passing vehicles. This story demonstrates the normalization and systematization of corruption, something I’ve written about earlier.

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