Nairobi’s Mathare Slums   1 comment


Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Nairobi’s Mathare slums, situated three miles east of the city’s central business district, are considered one of the worst in Africa. They are home to over 600,000 people occupying an area of two miles long by one mile wide. The residents struggle with limited access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

George Gawo, 28, left, stands in what once was his mother’s bedroom. On the right is Peter Gawo, 28, his brother, standing in another section of the family’s burned down three-room shanty. The Gawos attribute the destruction to political violence.

The Mathare slums are notorious for criminal activity, particularly by gang members; it’s  called the most dangerous community in Nairobi. Recently the area has been plagued by fires which have left hundreds homeless. Suspicious fires on Christmas eve, which resulted in over 300 shanties burned and three deaths, triggered what the police have termed retaliatory fires by rival gangs.

Residents expressed fears of further attacks as tension remains high in the area. “The houses were razed because of hatred among people. People on this side and people on the other side are not getting along, but I don’t know what is causing these differences. So many people have been affected,” stated a resident who identified himself as Maish. Many residents fearing for their lives refuse to speak with reporters to avoid being identified by the groups responsible for havoc in the area.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Police have ruled out any political or tribal causes for the burned shanties. However there are those in the community, such as George Gawo, 28, a Luo (Kenya’s second largest ethnic group), who disagree with the police and believe they conducted a poor investigation.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

George Gawo stands amid the ruins of shanties destroyed by a fire.

“There are local leaders who aspire for power. They influence gangs to do such things. Five years ago similar fires occurred in Mathare a few months before the elections, so that the majority tribe forced out the minority. Luos were forced to leave after their homes were torched. Kikuyus (Kenya’s largest ethnic group) were then able to vote their candidate into office,” said Gawo. In 2007 Kenya president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga, a Luo, in a highly disputed election.

With presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 4, 2013, tribal conflict and violence are a major concern. Hence, many Mathare residents are uneasy about the recent fires. Gawo along with seven siblings and their mother have taken refuge with neighbors and friends following the burning of their three-room shanty. He and three family members were home when the fires started; they quickly fled with no time to grab any possessions. “Many people were in church for overnight prayers so injuries were not many. We lost everything and had to borrow clothes from friends, said Peter Gawo, 23.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

In the weeks that have followed only a few people have started rebuilding; landlord Muthoni Kamau, 65, stood nearby supervising as three of her tenants removed debris from their shanties. She said twenty of her rented shanties were burned to the ground but was thankful that none of her tenants were injured. Kamau, a Kikuyu, would hear nothing of tribal violence being responsible for the fires. She agreed with the police assertion that the fires were the mindless act of hooligans. Despite the disagreement all agreed that violence was far to common in Mathare.

Ric Francis is an independent photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. His portfolio can be viewed at

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

One response to “Nairobi’s Mathare Slums

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Reblogged this on reflections on the everyday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: