Nairobi, KENYA: Slums of Nairobi are infamously known for their high occurrences of violence, crippling poverty, high mortality rates among many other social evils in the society.
However, the sprawling slums of Kibera are receiving more foreign attention not from humanitarian donors, but a new crop of tourists tired of sleeping by the pool side and would rather see what it's like to live in slums.
This is a game changer since visitors are opting for unorthodox places to spend time with their loved ones or even some lone moments during holidays in the shanties.
Though it's not their fault, slum dwellers are still far from a sustainable future; however they have tapped into this new booming tourism business termed as “poorism”.
This comes as no surprise as Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities named unemployment as one of the challenges Nairobi faces.
“Yes, I am a slum tourism operator. For every visitor I charge sh.500 which is an equivalent of $5. Tourists who visit Kibera say that people here live like animals. They love taking pictures of the pipes that leak raw sewage and the dilapidated houses,” Violet Muge told Baraka FM.
Beatrice Mutia another tour operator in Kibera, told Baraka FM that she was at first shocked when she was asked to take foreign visitors for a walk in the shanties.
Ms. Mutia who also charges sh.500 per visitor said that tourists were often fascinated with how poor people survived.
“Some want to know how the people eat over here. They want to know how many meals they can afford in a day. Some tourists have suggested that this place should be upgraded because the living conditions here are unbearable,” Ms. Mutia notes.
They both agreed that the tourists never brought in any development projects that would save the people living in shanties from the claws of poverty.
Mixed fortunes of poverty tourism
Slum tourism which has also been referred to as poverty tourism or even “poorism” has continued to receive polarized emotions.
“There are those who feel it is important to see how individuals are coping and living in the slums. I think if it is brought in the purposes of improving livelihoods and improving opportunities of slum dwellers then I would support slum tourism,” Prof. Judy Wakhungu, Head of the Kenyan Delegation, told Baraka FM, at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador.
Prof. Wakhungu added that,” This form of tourism should open up education opportunities for those running cottage industries. Tourists can become buyers of the supplies shanty residents make.”
100 Resilient Cities during the Habitat III, told Baraka FM at the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, that slum tourism could be beneficial if it took a participatory approach.
“If this should happen then input should be obtained from the people who will say what they need and expect when they get visited,” Maxwell Young, the Global Vice President Marketing and Communication of 100 Resilient Cities, remarked.
Ironic enough, the slum tour operators however, did not seem to favour this type of tourism saying that despite the fact that taking foreigners for a walk in the settlements brought them some cash, it was not a sustainable way to earn a living.
“We are in the low season I have no clients. I receive only 80 visitors in a year just like my counterpart Ms. Mutia. If there were other alternative means of getting my daily bread I would quickly jump to that. Moreover, poverty tourism belittles the slum dwellers when foreigners visit the country just to take pictures of other people’s misery. People in Kibera are humans they should be treated with dignity,” Ms. Muge remarked.
Mr. Young said,” It is not right however when a tourist company comes in and just takes people around the informal settlements; it could be like a zoo. It could be dehumanizing. Sadly this happens all over the world. It happens in New York, Latin America and Africa. It basically happens anywhere where there is a big disparity between the rich and the poor.”
Prof. Wakhungu also expressed dismay about slum tourism in Kenya where some communities obtain a raw deal from this type of business.
“Poverty tourism has also had some negative impact in Kenya. We have had visitors who have come to observe the way people live but they have had encounters whereby slum dwellers felt cheated,” she observed.
Mr. Young added that this type of tourism slum tourism could increase the cases of sex work in an informal settlement.
Slum tourism in Brazilian Capital Rio de Janeiro
According to Mr. Young the concept of “poorism” in Rio de Janeiro started in the 1980’s.
“Often it would be done without the consent of the residents dwelling in the informal settlements. You have tour companies cruising tourists in 4×4 vehicles or motorcycles to take them to see the most heartbreaking parts of the community and no money is spent on the community,” Mr. Young stated.
This trend has however shifted after as time went by.
“Although in the recent years in Rio de Janeiro, there has been this movement to involve the people in the informal settlements in this type of tourism. It becomes more educational where people can learn about the underlying conditions that lead to informal settlements and what can be done to address some of the deficiencies,” Mr. Young said.
The New Urban Agenda
According to the United Nations UN the New Urban Agenda involves embracing urbanization at all levels of human settlements and formulation of more appropriate policies that can embrace urbanization.
It also entails participation and involvement of urban dwellers and integrating equity to the development agenda, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs which insist on leaving no one behind.
Further in May 2016 Nairobi was announced as one of the 100 resilient cities in the globe.
However poverty tourism could be an impediment to Nairobi’s newly attained status of being resilient and achieving the New Urban Agenda.
“There needs to be real partnerships between the people and operators. If income stays in the communities and a solid partnership exists then both parties will be satisfied. If this is done with the permission of community groups it could lead to people becoming more aware and this could lead to better services and planning in the long run. There can be real trouble when someone becomes wealthy making more money off the poverty of others with no benefits to those who live in informal settlements. Obviously, anything that keeps populations in poverty, negatively affects resilience of a city,” Mr. Young noted.
“City leaders should embrace the New Urban Agenda. If we get the towns and cities right we will be closer to achieving all SDGs by which we can make our cities more prosperous and resilient,” Secretary General for the UN Ban Ki Moon said, at a press briefing, during the Habitat III.
“There is a lot that needs to be done better. The city leaders are saying that they need better policies and capacity. We assure you that we will give you the best support that we can. We would like to create platforms with you and create avenues of dialogue that bring on board everybody so that we can tap into available resources. In this way we can change everybody’s attitude,” remarked Dr. Aisa Kacyira, the Assistant Secretary General, UN Habitat.
Hopefully with such engagements, emerging issues arising from “poorism” can be addressed to ensure no one is injured, socially or economically, as the world seeks to achieve the post 2015 development agenda targets.
According to the UN 54 per cent of the world’s population already lives in urban areas, with a third residing in slums and this figure is due to increase to 66 per cent by 2050, where the largest increase is projected in Africa.
“In order to eradicate poverty and have a world without slums, we now bring the New Urban Agenda. This will help to plan for urbanization as people keep migrating to towns and cities. We need to utilize this political commitment, and turn into reality a situation whereby there are no shanties,” Dr. Kacyira concluded.