Archive for the ‘Nairobi’ Tag

Nairobi’s Mathare Slums   1 comment

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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 www.ricfrancis.net.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums
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Mock State Burial – Kenya   Leave a comment

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Approximately 500 Kenyan activists held a mock state burial and burnt 221 caskets in front of the Parliament building on January 16. The 221 caskets represented each member of Parliament. The mock burial symbolized the public’s rejection of hefty perks that the outgoing members of Parliament were demanding as a send-off package; the 10th Parliament officially closed on Jan. 15.

Mock State Burial

The members of Parliament had awarded themselves a lucrative package including 9.5 million shillings ($108,758) each and a guarantee of a state burial, however the send-off package was rejected by Kenya president Mwai Kibaki.

Mock State Burial

The mock state burial was also meant to signify the end of one era and the birth of another, with presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 4, 2013.

Mock State Burial

Ric Francis is an independent photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. His portfolio can be viewed at http://www.ricfrancis.net.

No Photos!   3 comments

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Recently I was online viewing the portfolios of legendary photographers Roy DeCarava, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier Bresson. I marveled at their artistic and documentary oriented bodies of work. I’m an independent photojournalist, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and I appreciate the work of photographers who combine documentary with an artistic vision. Seemingly past generations of photographers could document communities, with an eye towards spontaneity and creativity, without the challenges faced by photographers today. Undoubtedly they too had to deal with the occasional citizen who would just as well have tarred and feathered a photographer than be photographed.

Today, disturbingly, such an attitude is embraced by far too many. It’s not so much that photographers are viewed as annoying, there’s a widespread opinion of photographers as security threats. The public, and law enforcement officials, have become increasingly suspicious of our actions. While paranoia rules so too does misunderstanding. No person taking photographs with criminal intent would blatantly lay on their stomach or stand on a bench (photographers are always searching for a good angle) on a public street and spend hours exposing themselves for all to see. A would-be bad guy surveying a building, to commit an act of terrorism, would discreetly do so using a cellphone camera.

No Photos!

Digital camera technology has ushered in an era in which there is an ease to taking quick point and shoot photographs, and many people do so. However for any photographer who works in a documentary style these can be difficult times. Going out to photograph unposed and candid moments invites not just suspicion, but confrontation or even assault.   Recently after spending two weeks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I decided to return to Nairobi via bus (1081 miles); I even hitchhiked on the back of Kenyan military  vehicle. I made three overnight stays in small towns along the way so it took three days to arrive in Nairobi. No Photos!From the start it was apparent that taking photographs was an invitation for trouble: at an outdoor bus station I was surrounded and confronted by approximately thirteen Ethiopian men (they appeared to be private citizens), who took issue with me photographing the early morning activity of buses and people coming and going. One man shouted in English, “no photos!” The situation felt unnecessarily tense and unsafe but eventually, with assistance from an English and Amharic speaking bystander, I got them to calm down and go away. This set the tone for the entire trip. Consequently, I had to take photographs zone focusing (estimating the distance from my subjects) while shooting from my hip or discreetly from bus windows. Periodically I would ask permission to take photographs but more often than not was refused or money was demanded. Upon my return to Nairobi I exchanged emails with my ex-wife about the experience, and she reminded me about the long history of foreigners painting unfavorable portrayals of Africans. Indeed, peoples of Third World countries are sensitive to outsiders not only telling their stories – from a Western perspective – but profiting as well. Undoubtedly they’re also worried about strangers committing acts of terrorism. All of which I can understand but it was a frustrating and unnecessarily confrontational experience just the same.

No Photos!

It would be easy to dismiss the problems I experienced as symbolic of living in a region where the rights of photojournalist have not long been respected. However photojournalist in the United States, and elsewhere in the Western world, experience similar problems. Security issues have dramatically altered the manner in which people perceive threats. Such is the nature of the world in which we live. It’s a world in which concerns about safety increasingly clash with basic freedoms. “Those who would sacrifice freedom for safety deserve neither,” stated Benjamin Franklin. His words are as apt today as they were during the American revolutionary war.

No Photos!

During my ordeal at the Ethiopian bus station I was told that someone in the crowd suggested I could be a spy. The accuser lacked commonsense. It goes without saying that there are militant groups and unstable individuals who aim to inflict harm upon others. Nevertheless, democratic societies cannot permit themselves to become open-aired prisons in which self-appointed guardians, or law enforcement officials, can prohibit the right of individuals to take photographs, on a public street, be it in Ethiopia, Kenya or the U.S.   The body of work created by photographers of yesteryear provided an important historical, cultural and artistic archive of our collective past. Unhampered access to public places, foreign or otherwise, must remain so for the benefit of future generations.

No Photos!

No Photos!

 

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