Kenyan Residents To Foreign Visitors: ‘We Are Not Wildlife’

“What would happen to an African like me in Europe or America, touring and taking photos of their poor citizens?” questioned a Kenyan resident.


Poverty-stricken places are often favorite go-to places for photographers from developed countries.. They don’t capture people deprived of food and water, living in unhygienic conditions, dying of malnutrition to ridicule them. If anything, mostly the photographers want these pictures to reach a wider scale so that people living in these underdeveloped areas get more coverage.

Sometimes they even get aid and help because of the coverage.

However, people living in Kibera – the largest slum of Kenya — feel the area has become a favorite among tourists. But these tourists are of no help for the people living in the overcrowded slum, who don’t even have the money to afford the basic needs of life.

The residents believe tourists only visit Kibera to see how the people living in these slums survive.

 Thirty-four-year-old Sylestine Awino used to make a living by selling fresh food in Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city. Over there, she happily interacted with tourists who came to the city and enjoyed the beaches of the Indian Ocean.

But then she moved to Kibera, in search of better opportunities.

However, all she discovered was that the people who enjoyed the beaches of Mombasa had now transformed Kibera in a tourist destination – not because of any enjoyable spots, but because of its poverty.

"This was strange. I used to see families from Europe and the United States flying to Mombasa to enjoy our oceans and beaches," said Awino, who is now a housewife.

Over the past ten years, companies have started offering tour guides to foreigners just to show them how people live in the Kenyan slums under dire conditions.

"Seeing the same tourists maneuvering this dusty neighborhood to see how we survive was shocking," she added.

She recalled how she felt really uncomfortable when a group of tourists approached her to take a picture. "I felt like an object," she said. "I wanted to yell at them, but I was afraid of the tour guides accompanying them"

Other residents also think that this photography business of their misery was morally wrong.

"Kibera is not a national park and we are not wildlife," said Musa Hussein who was born and raised in the slum. "The only reason why these tours exist is because [a] few people are making money out of it," added the 67-year-old.

He is clearly tired of the guided tours.

On the other hand, tour companies say they give their best to get more and more tourists to make money. They generally earn around $4 for every tour.

"This is my side hustle because it generates some extra cash for my survival," said Frederick Otieno, the cofounder of Kibera Tours. "I used my earnings to start a business of hawking boiled eggs."

"We support local initiatives like children's homes and women's groups hence I do not see a problem with ethical issues," explained one of the tourists who visits the slum often.

Nevertheless, Awino is adamant that this practice is unreasonable for people like her who live in wretched conditions and still somehow survive.

"What would happen to an African like me in Europe or America, touring and taking photos of their poor citizens?" she questioned.

The total number of people living in Kibera is quoted anywhere between 170,000 and 1.2 million. However, the accurate number remains unknown. Almost 61 percent of Kenyans are living in slums; this figure is likely going to get worse as Kenyan cities add 500,000 people every year.

Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters

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