Flying toilets, mobile banking and the stress-free mini hotel: Kibera in photos

Kibera is Africa’s most iconic slum, a warren of steeply sloping paths and tin shacks in the heart of Nairobi, home to anywhere between 250,000 (latest dodgy census) and a million (local estimates) people. It is a magnet for politicians (President Obama visited as a senator), celebs (Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen spent hours there the day before I went) and do-gooders like me. I was given the door by our partners there, Umande Trust, who are doing some fascinating work trying to sort out appalling sanitation ‘challenges’ (Kibera is infamous for its ‘flying toilets’) and helping small traders organize to defend themselves against arbitrary arrests, demands for bribes and the general hassle of trying to do business in Kenya. What the photos don’t capture is the buzz – Kibera is full to bursting, its informal economy full of tin shack cybercafés, car washes, hair salons and small shops. More invisibly, it’s full of organization – ‘merry-go-round’ savings and loans groups, Pentecostal churches and mosques, youth groups, formal politics, gangs. Anyway, over to the photos.

kibera streets2

the train to Kampala
the train to Kampala
community-run 'biocentre' - public toilet that produces biogas and doubles as community centre
community-run 'biocentre' - public toilet that produces biogas and doubles as community centre
transparency at the biocentre
transparency at the biocentre
Mobile banking, Kibera style
Mobile banking, Kibera style
The Oxfam guesthouse
The Oxfam guesthouse (not really)


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6 Responses to “Flying toilets, mobile banking and the stress-free mini hotel: Kibera in photos”
    • Duncan

      thanks for sorting that out Gabriel. The NGOs I was talking to said that in Kibera there was a lot of undercounting because the enumerators came during the day, when people were away from their homes, or were so concerned for their security that they filled in the forms themselves. On the other hand, anyone working or advocating for Kibera has an interest in making the number as big as possible!

  1. Joanna Watson

    A good source of collective information about Kibera is Map Kibera (, an interactive digital map, which is clear, simple and easy to use. It’s populated by the people who live there, giving it greater credibility and legitimacy than any official census data.

    Map Kibera is a valuable advocacy tool because it highlights issues like the one you mention – appalling sanitation. Armed with accurate information, community members are engaging with their local government officials, obtaining community development funding, and seeing increased provision of sanitation (and other basic services).

    Let’s hope that this, and other initiatives, lead to the infamous ‘flying toilets’ eventually becoming a thing of the past!

  2. John Magrath

    Duncan, I hope you can blog at greater length sometime about the excellent work Umande Trust is doing , with Oxfam support, given the scale of (mainly urban) sanitation challenges (2.6 billion people worldwide lacking, says UNDP). In Kibera most residents use pit latrines they have to pay to use, which are often in poor condition; and women and girls face big safety risks using them after dark. Oxfam and Umande have been pioneering a portable toilet known as a jitegemee (Swahili “to help oneself”) that has had a successful early trial in 100 households there. Because it is household-based it addreses isues of convenience, safety, cost, hygiene, privacy and dignity over 24 hours. There’s many challenges for the next stages – not least, getting an effective and large collection, disposal and conversion (e.g. to biogas)system going, or it just becomes another vessel to be emptied into the environment. But it seems to show the concept of a portable household toilet works.

  3. Chrisanta

    I would appreciate some further information about the portable toilet ‘jitegemee’. Just got back from Kenya and visited a number of other slums in Nairobi, (Mukuru, Majengo and Mathare). The ‘flying toilets’ are still rampant in these slums with huge concerns around safety, cost and hygiene as highlighted by John. Any and all information on this would be great.

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