For years now, I’ve been thinking about a long-term solution for Kibera. Even though the residents certainly appreciate all the assistance given them by different organizations, it is like applying a band aid to a wound that needs surgery, if it is to heal. Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya and one of the largest in the world. It is the result of decades of people migrating from rural to urban areas in search of inexistent jobs, coupled with second and third generation slum dwellers trapped in cycles of poverty.
Recently, a friend and I talked about the creation of self-sustaining communities as a means to solving cycles of poverty. Her family is making plans to move back to Kenya soon. Instead of settling in an urban area, they plan to settle in a rural area and work with the locals there to create a self-sustaining community, so that there is no longer any need for migration to the already existing larger urban areas.
In Kenya, and in most African countries perhaps, the government has centralized most of the significant economic, industrial and social activities and institutions in a few urban areas. Development has been concentrated in these few cities, while rural areas languish from the lack of even the most basic infrastructure, like clean water, electricity and good roads.
Decentralization and the development of self-sustaining communities in rural areas can solve the problem of slums by creating jobs which establish the economic, social and industrial activities necessary to sustain that community. My friend and I noted that we have seen this accomplished time and time again when new communities spring up in the U.S. A good example of this is the city of McKinney in Texas.
Over the past few years, McKinney has grown in leaps and bounds. I watched buildings and roads literally spring up and expand before my eyes. It went from having just a few out-of-the-way stores to being a thriving community that now has several entertainment centers, excellent infrastructure and a wide range of businesses. McKinney is now successfully marketed as one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., attracting local migrants from as far away as California. Residents of McKinney no longer need to travel the 30 or so miles to Dallas downtown for anything, except maybe to attend a performance of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra or something similar.
While it’s certainly more difficult to create such a self-sustaining community in a country like Kenya, in part due to little or no cooperation from the government, it is still possible. Kenyans have a long history of communities pulling together to make something happen for themselves that the government cannot or will not assist with. What do you think can be done to resettle slum dwellers and to ensure there are no more slums in Africa?