Mapping Community Land in Tana River

We are currently in Tana River supporting the work of Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) and their partners Namati and Oxfam in using mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools in their efforts to help communities protect their customary and indigenous land.

We are building on the work that these organizations have already completed in Tana River, namely, laying the ground work, capacity building, boundary harmonization between communities, and sketch mapping.

Training session with Kenya Land Alliance, Namati and Oxfam in Malindi
Training session with Kenya Land Alliance, Namati and Oxfam in Malindi

Concern, as put forth by Namati and partners, is that sketch mapping, as conducted in the past exercises, does not create sufficiently strong evidence for use in negotiations and legal proceedings by the government officials dealing with land-rights. One of the important lessons learnt by Namati in their previous projects was that a low-cost, yet more accurate solution, to capturing geographic data is required. The mapping should be accurate enough to satisfy legal requirements as posed by individual countries.

Sketch map
Sketch map

We were hired to do just that: develop a scalable and replicable community mapping model for capturing community land. We started our training by conducting a three day workshop in Malindi where we covered topics such as:

  • What is community land and how can we use mapping tools to capture it?
  • How to plan a mapping project?
  • Practical exercises in GPS data collection and basic GIS training.
  • How to turn a sketch map into a geo-referenced map?
  • Basic data management.

After the training we left for Tana River where we conducted hands on field work. This is the first post describing the training and subsequent mapping of community land in Tana River written during field work. More will follow.

Training session
Training session
Hands on training using satellite imagery
Hands on training using satellite imagery
Training in GPS data collection
Training in GPS data collection

#HarlemFirst Community Mapping Workshop

In late January, I was invited by Leetha Filderman of PopTech and Cheryl Heller of the School of Visual Arts, MFA Design for Social Innovation (DSI) program, to run a masterclass on community mapping for Harlem First initiative. The initiative is a collaboration between DSI, PopTech, Arnhold Institute for Global Health, and Strive, and its aim is to

“bring together designers, community leaders, data scientists and health care professionals to conceive a new future of wellness care.”

The initiative is a mixed method approach consisting of student-designed maps of selected Harlem neighborhoods, an interactive project room to share ideas, and a symposium on state of health care in Harlem and broader USA.

My role was to run two workshops on community mapping, one at the School of Visual Arts and one in Harlem. The first workshop was with the students from the Design for Social Innovation master program, at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It covered topics of network mapping, spatial interpretation of issues such as security, access to healthy food and health services, gentrification, gender equality, and also, participatory map drawing. The class was designed to prompt students into thinking spatially about social problems, specifically, in this instance, public health.

Worskhop at the School of Visual Arts, New York
Worskhop at the School of Visual Arts, New York

The second workshop, held in East Harlem at the Strive offices, was with community members and community health workers from Harlem. At the beginning of the workshop I presented community mapping done by Spatial Collective in Kenya and talked about governance, service delivery and community data. The rest of the workshop consisted of hands on network mapping and participatory map drawing/urban planning exercises. By juxtaposing actors and issues, the network map gave us an insight into the potential gaps between health issues, as identified by the community members, and health services provided by health workers and other institutions. Participatory map drawing defined some of the spatial locations within Harlem that were important to the participants, as well as spatial relations between issues ranging from community’s perceptions of their neighborhoods, gentrification, security, and potential solutions to health problems of Harlem.

2016-01-27 03.38.06 2_
Workshop in East Harlem at Strive office, New York

The main purpose of these workshops was to introduce the methodologies that were developed through the years in the informal settlements in Kenya and test their applicability in an area such as Harlem. In my opinion, the methods are easily transferable between places due to the universality of the problems at hand – in this case the health of a marginalized community. I’m excited to see where we can go from here.

Here’s more pictures from the workshop (all of the pictures were taken by Aubrey Hays of the DSI):

Network map of issues and service providers
Network map of issues and service providers in public health in Harlem, New York
Workshop in East Harlem
Workshop in East Harlem
Workshop in East Harlem
Workshop in East Harlem

PopTech Talk

I was recently honored by being selected as a 2015 PopTech Social-Innovation Fellow. I had the pleasure to participate in a week long training program with eight other amazing fellows, organized on the beautiful island of North Haven, in Maine. The training program was led by a variety of astonishing faculty and it consisted of issues as diverse as communication, branding, business, organizational development, and networking. Our gathering culminated at an annual three day PopTech conference, held in Camden, Maine, where each of the fellows gave a talk about their respected work. My talk was titled “Development is Personal” and it focused on the importance of community and small data for development and how community knowledge can be utilized in development initiatives. You can find my talk below.

Documenting potential impact of development projects on communities in Lamu County

The “World is coming,” said the deputy secretary of Kililana Farmers Association during our LAPSSET conflict risk mapping exercise in old Lamu Town on Kenya’s coast. The secretary was referring to the massive infrastructural development project which will traverse most of northern Kenya. It is called the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor. The aim of the corridor is to incorporate the north of Kenya – which is synonymous with the lack of development – into the country’s national economy and to deepen East African economic integration.

Spatial Collective is working with the Danish Demining Group to map potential conflict and public security risks stemming from the construction of the LAPSSET corridor, with specific focus on Lamu County, and particularly on Lamu Port. Lamu Port is one of the components of the LAPSSET corridor. The port will be built in Manda Bay, close to old Lamu Town, and will consist of an oil refinery, transport system, resort cities, airport, coal plant, the port itself and other infrastructure. Due to the development of the port, the population of Lamu County is predicted to swell five to ten times its current size, according to some estimation. This is what the secretary of Kililana Farmers Association meant when he said that “The world is coming.” The construction of the port is bound to have major impact on a relatively unspoiled environment of Lamu County, and on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site – Lamu Old Town.

Lamu Old Town

Spatial Collective was asked to produce a set of visualizations to depict how the development of Lamu Port will impact the population and the environment. A number of stakeholders and groups have concerns that, if not handled properly, the project will lead to conflict among already marginalized communities in the area, or between the communities and the authorities. The ultimate aim of our work is to create and inform multi-stakeholder dialogue and to strengthen efforts to prevent, mitigate, and manage conflict and public security risks associated with the LAPSSET corridor.

As one can imagine, this is by no means a small task. To explore the interactions between the proposed development project and its impact on the livelihoods of communities, we had to start almost from scratch. First, we identified and geographically located all of the communities living in Lamu County. Second, we visualized their livelihoods, migratory patterns, and inspected their relationships to natural resources and heritage sites. And, third, we collected information on how their lives will be affected by the construction of the port.

To draft maps of communities in areas that lie in the periphery of the country’s development initiatives, we had to first determine what data were already available. Working with a DDG consultant, we plunged immediately into a lengthy search for secondary datasets, only to discover a lack of relevant geographic data. It is important to note that the type of data that we required was somewhat different from the datasets which can be found in the government departments and on open data portals. We were interested in more than just knowing spatial locations of amenities or understanding county wide indicators. Our aim was to depict the often-invisible societal relationships and community specific patterns, such as, migratory movement patterns of pastoralists, main market sites, transport routes, fishing routes, relationship to natural resource, and personal opinions. The data that were available often didn’t fit our needs. Another problem we faced was that many of the datasets that do exist, especially government data, are sometimes hard to acquire, old, and inaccurate. For example, even something as straight forward as the locations of the settlements in the county were hard to come by, and the data that were available were not particularly accurate. Many villages featured in the Shapefiles – available for free online and on old topographic maps – were already deserted, and locations of some of them were highly inaccurate.

All of this called for considerable improvisation. The challenge was made greater by significant political challenges. The majority of the county was still under curfew due to recent security concerns. This meant that any in-depth on-the-ground data collection was pretty much out of the question.

To complete this project – which is still ongoing at the time of this writing – we used a series of methodologies. The central piece of our methodological approach was participatory mapping, supported by focus group discussions, interviews, and a mobile household survey. Each of these deserves a blog post on its own but, for now, we want to talk about the initial steps we undertook in order to prepare a series of base maps which were later used as base layers in the interviews with stakeholders.

Ngala during a meeting

We designed a plan that would help us generate as much relevant information as possible prior going to the field. First, we gather-up what we could, including Shapefiles, old topographic maps, surveys, publications, and other studies. Second, we crosschecked various geographic datasets – Shapefiles, old topographic maps and satellite imagery – to determine the relative locational accuracy of some of these datasets. Third, we read through hundreds of pages of reports, publications and studies, in order to extract any geographic reference concerning Lamu County and its inhabitants. Fourth, we then digitized all of the geographic references that we could pinpoint with certainty. Locations which we couldn’t identify we stored in a list for further inspection through consultations with stakeholders on Lamu. Finally, these initial steps helped us to prepare a series of drafted maps which we then used as a base layer for further on-site data collection through interviews, focus group discussions, and participatory mapping. We used these final, more qualitative methods to add additional data to the maps in order to produce the final products: a series of maps depicting communities in Lamu County, their livelihoods, resources, land use, migratory paths and transport routes, as well as their opinions, impressions, and assessments of the potential benefits and hazards surrounding the port.

Our experience in working on this project was significant in showing us that no matter how remote an area is, with little imagination and problem-solving skills, there’s always a way to acquire geographic data. By using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods we were able to produce a comprehensive geographic dataset about the communities of Lamu County. We are currently in the process of finalizing the maps so more about this project is coming up in the future blog posts.

Bellow are some of the screenshots of initial visualizations.

Land Use
Land Use


Geography of Service Delivery

Nairobi’s population has increased more than tenfold in the last 50 years.[1] This rapid urbanization brought with it a two-tier development process where some areas are rapidly modernizing while others lag behind. The provision of basic services often follows the split. Different geographic areas of Nairobi enjoy different levels of development and access to public services. Delivery of clean water and sanitation, waste management, access to electricity, emergency services, and law enforcement, to name a few, vary throughout the city. Some areas enjoy uninterrupted coverage while other have scarce or no coverage at all. The difference in quantity and quality of service delivery can be, among other things, attributed to the difference in the income levels of the residents, their ability or willingness to pay for services, and the government’s commitment to serve some and underserve other areas.

Anyone familiar with Nairobi can attest that there are significant differences between areas such as Kileleshwa, Westlands and Kilimani on one side and Eastleigh, Mathare or Kibera on the other. The former areas enjoy almost full coverage of public services while the latter have few services. Areas that are denied access to basic public services – intentionally or unintentionally – face unequal economic opportunities, and, subsequently, economic exclusion. Some scholars argue, that “market- and non-market-related forms of discrimination directly affect poverty but also exacerbate it indirectly by reducing economic growth.”[2] Further, income inequality can have significant impact on economic growth of the countries.[3] Unequal access to services fuels the inequalities within the city, empowering some, and preventing others to escape the perpetuating cycle of poverty.

We are specifically interested in how are services distributed in informal settlements. Does provision of public services vary within an individual informal settlement? Using Spatial Collective’s household survey and GPS data we tried to answer this question by looking at geographic distribution of waste management and ICT services within a single locality – informal settlement of Mathare.

We find that there are significant disparities in waste collection and ICT coverage even within an individual informal settlement. For example, in areas of Mathare that are relatively prosperous, residents enjoy mostly reliable trash collection, while other economically challenged areas have no trash collection at all. More specifically, most people who live in high-rise and brick buildings, which are associated with higher quality housing, pay for trash collection, while most people who live in tin-shack and mud-hut structures don’t. The type of housing can be thought of as a proxy for the family’s income because higher quality housing also means higher rents and improved access to – mostly payable – services.

The map below displays the distribution of people who either pay or don’t pay for trash collection. Green color of the rectangular parallelepiped (let’s call it cubicle) represents a household that pays for trash collection while the red color represents a household that doesn’t. At the same time, the size of the cubicle represents either more (larger cubicle) or less permanent (smaller cubicle) buildings. We can see that majority of people who live in more permanent buildings pay for trash collection while majority of people who live in less permanent don’t (Maps at the end of the blog post depict access to services for more and less permanent buildings separately).

Household that pay and don’t pay for trash removal

Next, let’s consider what at first seems like a totally unrelated variable: levels of access to ICTs in Mathare, more specifically, Internet and smart-phone penetrations.

In 2014, the International Telecommunication Union issued a report stating that by the end of the year there will be almost as many mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions as people in the world. At the same time there will be almost 3 billion Internet users with mobile-broadband subscriptions reaching 2.3 billion globally. This increase in growth is mostly due to growth in the developing world.[4] Safaricom, Kenya’s leading mobile operator, reports that 67 percent of mobile phones sold in 2014 were smart-phones. Our survey shows the smart-phone penetration in Mahtare close to 40%. Additionally, there are nearly 3 billion Internet users around the World (40% penetration rate).[5] According to some estimation, Internet access in Kenya is 37% and according to our survey, 38% of the people surveyed in Mathare had access to the Internet.

However, despite these relatively high numbers, our research reveals that there are significant disparities in Internet access and smart-phone ownership between the areas of higher and lower quality housing in Mathare. This of course parallels our findings concerning waste management.  As we can see on the map below, 52% of the households associated with higher income of residents (more permanent housing) had access to the Internet and 51% owned a smart-phone. At the same time only 33% of the households associated with lower incomes of residents (less permanent housing) had access to the Internet and only 32% owned a smart-phone. The data points to the correlation between the type of housing (level of income) and accessibility of ICTs. Interestingly, the data also points to the correlation between smart-phone ownership and Internet access (this is a topic for a different blog).

House type and smart-phone and Internet access

How can we interpret these numbers? The differences seem to depict the disparity in terms of access to services between different income areas of the slum and the city. Households with greater income have greater access to services as compared to households with lower income. Some might say that from an economic perspective, this phenomenon points to the basic free market ideology where people who pay for services receive them while people who don’t pay for services (mostly because they can’t) don’t. Others might argue that this is a failure of governance capacity by the state, that when the government fails to provide even the most basic services, the ill-equipped informal sector takes over and creates a sort of informal free market with disastrous results for some people. Whatever the case the poorest and the most marginalized seem to be on the losing end.

Why do we think this is important in the first place? We believe that this is important because when we consider development policies which target marginalized communities we have to take into account their social and economic differences. Failure to do so can amplify those differences. Our research underscores the necessity of sound social research in slum communities. Too often an outsiders come into these marginalized communities and start implementing programs that fail to differentiate resident’s status and means. Poorly prepared development initiatives can lead to an increase in inequality and greater disparity between people. For example, the fact that people in certain areas cannot afford to pay for trash removal means that we need to show a certain level of pragmatism when it comes to solving the problems of waste management in those areas. Policies which cut across populations of different economic or social backgrounds might result in excluding some and empowering others, increasing disparities between people. Additionally, if we consider access to ICTs, the fact that not all of the people have equal access to information can mean different levels of public participation, meaning, thatthe potential effects of ICT enabled collective action must recognize that while mobile phones are common, smart phones are less so (though rapidly rising). Acknowledging that these differences exist and identifying the underlying causes should help inform our future policy decisions in order to create a more inclusive society.

The maps below show households who pay for trash removal for more and less permanent buildings separately. We can see that majority of people in more permanent buildings pay for trash removal while most people in less permanent buildings don’t.

More permanent buildings that pay (green) and don’t pay (red) for trash removal
Less permanent buildings that pay (green) and don’t pay (red) for trash removal

[1] See: Economic Growth In African Cities Like Lagos, Nairobi And Addis Ababa Paints The Urban Poor Into A Desperate Corner, Available at

[2] See: Economic Exclusion and Poverty Linkages: A Reflection on Concept, Consequences, and Remedies, in an Asian Context, Available at

[3] See: Inequality ‘significantly’ curbs economic growth – OECD, Available at

[4]See: ITU releases 2014 ICT figures, Available at

[5] See: Internet live stats, Internet users, Available at

Rethinking waste management in Nairobi’s informal settlements

Community-based organizations are in the forefront of dealing with waste management in Nairobi’s informal settlements, however, their interventions often fall short of becoming sustainable and profitable on the long run. Research shows that there is ample opportunity in alternative material recovery, recycling, and sorting of trash in the informal settlements, as well as, in establishing long term partnerships between community-based groups and the city council.

Meeting of groups dealing with waste management in Mathare

Nairobi is experiencing rapid urbanization which brings with it several challenges. Insufficient and poor infrastructure, environmental degradation, overburdened public services, lack of security and corruption are only some of the problems that citizens face every day. Various self-help groups have responded to the lack of public services, including waste management. These groups fill the gap left by the absence of the state or other private institutions. Their work has profound impact on the lives of the citizens, however, due to the age-old practices, and complicated, in some cases non-existing, relationship with the city council, they often fall short of developing their full potential.

Waste is largely an urban problem which carries with it global consequences. It is a by-product of civilization and consumer-based lifestyles, linked to progress, urbanization, and economic development.[1] Managing solid waste well is one of the key challenges of the cities and governments. Failing to manage waste properly has direct impact on public health, length of life, and the environment.[2] It is widely accepted that removal and management of waste together with human excreta are two of the most vital environmental services provided by the city.[3]

Additionally, waste is closely tied to income, therefore, distribution of waste is not equal in all parts of the world. There are significant geographical disparities in production, composition, and management of waste in the world, and even within cities.[4] Generation of waste as well as successful management of waste involves an interaction of social, economic, governance, environmental, cultural, and technological processes.[5]

According to the UN-Habitat’s report, Nairobi generates 876.000 tonnes of waste per year (or 219 kg per capita per year). The city reports 60-70% collection coverage rates – 100% in the downtown business district – with 54% of waste generated being collected.[6]According to the study conducted by the UN-Habitat, the main driver for solid waste management in Nairobi is public health.[7] Waste collection in Nairobi is conducted mostly by the private sector, which consists of companies, micro and small enterprises, and community based organizations. Despite these efforts, the city continues to struggle to resolve its waste disposal problems.

Informal settlements often bear the brunt of the missing services. Among other things, they lack proper waste management systems leaving people to literally live on, and sometimes off, waste. Waste is often dumped in the informal communities where it accumulates through time and represents a major health hazard to the inhabitants. Government interventions are often missing or are inadequate to solve the problem of waste in informal settlements.

In the absence of government intervention, various self-help groups have formed and responded to the missing provision of public services in Nairobi. The emergence of community-based organizations engaged in waste management within Nairobi’s informal settlements is a case in point. These groups are filling the gap left by the absence of state or private firms. They organize their members to collect trash from the households, sort-out valuable materials and sell them to middlemen and industries, and sometimes coordinate community clean-ups.

One such groups is Juja Road Self-Help Group – one of many dozens dealing with waste management in Mathare. The “business model” of the Group is relatively simple: it collects, sorts, and then disposes of garbage from households; something that – despite the lack of protective gear and any advanced technology – it does relatively well. The group generates modest revenue through trash collection, as well as basic re-selling of mainly plastics and metals. However, faced with the lack of equipment, funding, and sometimes lack of respect from both the city council and the residents, the members struggle to make ends meet. This forces them to expand to the neighboring communities, as Juja Group did when it started operating in Eastleigh. But expansion is no solution on its own.

Their work, and work of other similar groups, has a profound impact on the lives of the settlement’s inhabitants, however, they often fall short of developing their full potential, as their interventions struggle to become truly sustainable and thus fully effective and profitable on the long run. The challenge is significant, since these groups are trying to address what in effect is a large-scale governance failure with limited skills and resources. In a simplistic way, we could think of the problem as dichotomous in nature. On the one hand, the groups, while they possess the man-power, do not have the necessary skill, knowledge, or resources to scale up and expand their activities on their own. On the other hand, the groups lack support from the authorities that could provide the necessary resources. The groups themselves are unlikely to be able to sustain their work over a longer period without a change in their strategy and external support.

Let us first consider what the existing waste management groups could do on their own to improve their performance. It turns out: a lot. Research that we – Spatial Collective – conducted in Mathare shows that there are ample opportunities in alternative material recovery, recycling, and sorting of trash within the informal settlements. There is much more that the groups could do with the trash they collect. Our research shows that the majority of groups engaged in waste management sort and re-sell only plastics and metals. In detail, 98% of the groups sort and re-sell plastics and 77% metals. Competition is thus fierce, the informal market saturated and – not unexpectedly – the revenue generated from re-selling plastics and metals is very limited. But there remain untapped potentials in expanding material recovery and recycling services. Household data shows that apart from plastics (60%) and metals (surprisingly only 1%), the households also discard organic material (98%), paper (87%), polythene (87%), and sanitary towels (33%). By focusing on the recycling and re-selling of materials beyond plastics and metals, the informal waste management groups would not only reduce the amount of residual waste in the communities, but also secure additional revenue.

Juxtaposition of the materials recovered by groups and materials discarded by inhabitants

However, these groups will most likely not succeed on their own and only by improving their waste management practices. A positive relationship with the public authorities is of fundamental importance, on at least three fronts. First, at the most basic level, the city council and the informal groups have to find common ground. While the opponents of informal groups might in theory be right that waste management should be undertaken by public authorities, they fail to recognize that in practice it is precisely because of the failure of these same public authorities that the informal groups have emerged. As long as no credible public alternative is put in place, Juja Road Self-Help Group’s and similar initiatives’ efforts in Nairobi’s informal settlements will remain essential. Second, the allegations that some groups use intimidation and force to enforce the primate over the delivery of public services needs to be addressed. Public goods should not be turned into club goods only enjoyed by some. Finally the informal waste management initiatives do not possess even the basic capabilities to properly dispose of residual trash or to transport it to Nairobi’s main landfill Dandora. Waving this concern away will not solve the problem, dialogue will. In fact, during our interviews many city administrators expressed the willingness to collaborate, yet on the premise that informal groups accept and uphold certain standards – mainly getting themselves officially registered with the city council, and entering in contractual agreements with the city.

A certain level of pragmatism and optimism is needed. Informal governance initiatives within Nairobi’s informal settlements will unquestionably remain key for the provision of certain vital – often life-sustaining – services for the foreseeable future. They will continue to serve their communities in the areas of public health, education, water delivery, security, and many others. We believe that this will remain the case also for waste removal. Yet, there is no reason why improvements should not be sought. On the one hand, the informal groups should seize opportunities in recovery and recycling of alternative materials, thus increasing their revenue and ensuring greater sustainability. On the other hand, the city authorities should do more to support some of their activities and enter a constructive partnership to address governance failures. It is important to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, the goal of both sides is to improve the lives of communities in some of the poorest and most destitute parts of Nairobi. Solving the problem of waste and other public services is a matter of urgency and will serve as an indication whether Kenya can ensure long-term sustainability of its economic model.


[1]What A Waste, A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, Urban Development Series Knowledge Papers, The World Bank (2012): 3

[2] Solid Waste Management in the Worlds Cities, Waste and Sanitation in the Worlds Cities, United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-HABITAT) (2010)


[4]See: What A Waste, A Global Review of Solid Waste Management

[5]The International POPs Elimination Project : A Study on Waste Incineration Activities in Nairobi that Release Dioxin and Furan into the Environment, Kenya, Nairobi (2005)

[6] Solid Waste Management in the Worlds Cities, Waste and Sanitation in the Worlds Cities, United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-HABITAT) (2010): 72

[7]Ibid., 72




Mathare Demographic

This post was cross-posted from Spatial Collective’s blog.

Informal settlements are often missing from geographic and statistical representation of their countries, and Nairobi’s informal settlements are no exception.

With so few household surveys, high-quality data with specific focus on informal settlements are very hard to come by.  For this reason, little information is available on the quality and quantity of public and private institutions, public services, or on the wants and needs of the people living in informal settlements.

In November 2013, Spatial Collective conducted a household survey in four of the six wards in Mathare.  This was a first-step in the launching of the Mtaa Safi (Clean Neighborhood)campaign.

As already noted in previous blog posts, the purpose of the survey was to create a basic demographic profile of Mathare and, in greater detail, look into how people use information and communication technologies (ICTs) and acquire deeper understanding of the habits and behavior concerning solid waste management.

This blog post will focus on demographic characteristics of Mathare that emerged from our sample (N=980) and take a closer look at how they compare to other countrywide statistics.



The ratio of respondents in our survey is equally divided between male (49.7 percent) and female (50.3 percent).

This mirrors the nationwide gender distribution for Kenya, which, according to the United Nations Population Division, is equally divided, with 49.8 percent male and 50.1 percent female.[1]



The United Nations Population Division reports that Kenya’s population grew twofold since 1990, from 23 million to an estimated 45.5 million in 2014.[2] Further, in 2009, Kenya Population and Housing Census reports that 78.3 percent of people in the country were below 35 years old (35 years is the threshold between the youth and adulthood in Kenya).[3]

Again, our survey results reveal a similar pattern in Mathare. Approximately 41 percent of the people in the sample are below 25 years old. Additionally, 38 percent are younger than 35 years of age. In other words, the majority of the people in the sample (almost 80 percent) are younger than 35 years old.

Our results also illustrate what is often referred to as Africa’s youth bulge. In Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, significant percentages of the population are young. The youth bulge exists because the country reduced infant mortality rate but still has high fertility rate which results in the fact that a large share of the population is comprised of children and young adults.[4] The youth population (15–24 year as measured by the World Bank) is growing faster in Africa than in any other region of the world.  According to World Bank statistics, 200 million people in Africa are between 15 and 24 years of age. This means that 20 percent of the population, 40 percent of the workforce, and 60 percent of the unemployed on the continent are youth.[5]



Education provides many benefits to improving lives of the people, especially for the poor and the marginalized. Some of these benefits can be found in reducing poverty and improving livelihoodshealth and general wellbeing, as well as in promoting democracy.

Primary school enrollment levels have grown significantly since Kenya introduced free primary education in 2003.

According the World Bank data, in 2009, Kenya had 81.8 percent net enrolment in primary schools[6] and 50 percent net secondary school enrolment[7] (net enrolment is the ratio of children of the official primary/secondary school age who are enrolled in primary/secondary school to the total population of the official primary/secondary school age).

Approximately 3/4 of the people in our survey – 71 percent – have either primary or secondary school education. Less than 17 percent of the interviewees have either college degree or university degree, and only 4 people out of the sample of 980 (or less than 1 percent) have advanced post-undergraduate degree.

The fact that very few people continue schooling past secondary school can be attributed to the poor economic situation of residents in the slums as well as to the poor quality of educational facilities in the slums.

According to research conducted in Nairobi’s slums, education costs amount to up to 10% of the total household expenditures. Child education expenditure can amount almost as high as that of food or rent. Because people aren’t able to afford to send children to school, many children from the slums do not benefit from free primary education.[8]

Girls tend to attend school in higher rates than boys until up to the secondary school but fall behind after the secondary school. According to the survey, there are more males from Mathare in colleges and universities.



Africa and many parts of the developing world are experiencing significant unemployment problem. Unemployment is remarkably high among the youth; and especially high among women. Youth employment is oftentimes several times lower than that of adults; female employment is even worse.

According to previous studies, the informal sector in Nairobi employs up to two-thirds of the city’s labor force.[9] Our survey shows that almost half or 45 percent of the people interviewed are reportedly self-employed, and 32 percent are unemployed.

It seems that unemployment decreases with age, mostly due to self-employment in the informal sector.

Gender wise, more men are employed and more women unemployed; self-employment is equal between both genders.


Transient nature of the settlement

It is widely believed that populations in the slums are transient. Many people living in the slums believe that their stay is only temporary, lasting only until they find somewhere more appropriate to live.

Our data shows that more than half of the people interviewed (54 percent) have lived in Mathare for ten or less years. This number points to a modestly transient nature of the informal settlement.

Academics contend that the reasons for the lack of basic services, lack of investment, and lack of interest by the state can be attributed to the transient nature of the settlements which may lead tenants to not voice demands for improved services.[10]



Many of the people in Kenya’s informal settlements live in houses made out of tin and wood and mud. According to UN-Habitat, Nairobi’s slums have some of the most deprived conditions in the world (UN-Habitat 2006).

Mathare is an area where both more permanent dwellings, such as high-rise buildings (usually between three and eight floors), and more temporary dwellings, such as mud-huts and tin-shacks, intertwine. Two-thirds of the people interviewed in our survey live in tin-shacks or mud-huts while approximately one third live in semi-permanent, permanent or high-rise buildings.

The map below shows the types of households divided into more permanent structures (high-rise, semi-permanent and permanent) and more temporary structures (mud huts and iron sheet buildings).

These high-rise and permanent buildings differ from tin-shacks in that they are usually units with multiple apartments; however, the apartment size is similar to that of tin-shacks (approximately 9 square meters). High-rise buildings have better access to services, such as electricity, water and sewerage, however, the provision of these services is still very infrequent.

The survey further shows that the average household size in Mathare is around 3.5 people per household.


This concludes our demographic analysis of Mathare. As we can see, the information gathered compares relatively well to other studies conducted in Kenya and in other comparable informal settlements in the country. We can conclude that our sample is representative.


[1] See: World population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, Available at

[2] See: World population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, Available at:

[3] See: Kenya Population Situation Analysis, Available at:

[4] See: World Bank Blog: Youth Bulge: A Demographic Divident or a Demographic Bomb in Developing Countries? Available at:

[5] Foresight Africa, Top Priorities for the Continent in 2012, Available at:

[6] See: World Bank Open Data, Available at:

[7] See: World Bank Open Data, Available at:

[8] Amendah D. Djesika et al, “Coping Strategies Among Urban Poor: Evidence from Nairobi Kenya,” Available at:

[9] See: UN-Habitat, Nairobi Urban Sector Profile, Available at:

[10] See: Socio-Economic Aspects of Improved Sanitation in Slums: A Review, Available at:

Waste Management Stakeholder Survey

This post was cross-posted from Spatial Collective’s blog.

In March and April 2014, following the household survey, Spatial Collective continued their research into informal waste management activities and other community-led hazard mitigation practices in Mathare. The focus of the research was on various groups and individuals dealing with environmental and waste management in the four wards in Mathare: Mlango Kubwa, Hospital, Mabatini, and Ngei.

Following months of field work and community meetings, forty three groups and individuals were identified dealing with waste management in these four wards. These included youth groups, self-help groups, and individual garbage pickers, sorters and recyclers. Their activities range from household garbage collection, sorting, recycling and reusing of waste, to community cleanups and other community hazard mitigation activities.

Stakeholder forum

The survey was designed to show who the main actors in waste management in Mathare were, what were their modes of operation, and how they interacted with each other and with the city council. In detail, we looked at the groups’ official statuses, their memberships and their activities. We were specifically interested to see whether groups use ICTs for the purpose of coordinating their activities and communicating between group members and to the city council. We further examined how the groups conduct financial transactions between their members and with their customers. Our research also encompassed a more qualitative assessment of the groups’ experiences with the city council and other government officials that are responsible for environmental and waste management in Nairobi. We concluded the survey with collecting groups’ opinions on how to improve waste management in the slums.

Similarly to the household survey conducted months before, we recorded the answers using android phones and GPS units. Locations of each of the group and locations of dump sites, sorting, recycling and selling sites and locations of other relevant stakeholders and facilities were collected. The survey data and the GPS points were then sent to the designated database where they were analyzed.

Data collection


Household Survey

This post was cross-posted from Spatial Collective‘s blog.

In November 2013 Spatial Collective conducted a household survey of 1000 randomly-selected households in Mathare. The focus of the research was to explore the existing and available information systems in Mathare, mainly to gather information on availability, accessibility, and use of mobile telephony and the Internet, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of waste management activities in the area. We were interested to see whether some sort of technological (ICT) solution could be possible to raise awareness and address the issue of waste management in Mathare and broader in Nairobi.

Conducting an Interview

During the initial planning phase, Spatial Collective organized a series of consultative meetings and interviews with the selected citizens and opinion leaders. Through careful considerations of local realities we then designed a public opinion survey targeting 1000 households in Mahtare (completing 980 interviews). The first section of the survey focused on the basic demographic information of the interviewees, such as, age and gender, education, number of people in the households, their employment and location of residence within the slum together with the number of years spent living in Mathare. The second section of the survey consisted of ICT-related questions including information on ownership, accessibility and use of mobile phones, computers, and the Internet. The third and final section of the survey contained questions about people’s perceptions and habits concerning waste handling and waste management.

The survey was conducted in four of the six wards in Mathare: Hospital, Mabatini, Ngei, and Mlango Kubwa. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, there are approximately 123,345 people living in these six wards. The wards were selected because of their representativeness of the broader Mathare constituency in the greater Eastlands area of Nairobi.

Prior to starting the survey we were faced with a challenge of how to randomly select 1000 households in an area which does not have street addresses. Professor Steven Livingston from the School of Media and Public Affairs proposed that we superimpose a grid layer, or a fishnet, on top of the satellite imagery of Mathare and then randomly select 1000 of these grid points. These points would then act as randomly selected households. Following Steven’s advice, we created a grid layer where each cell of the fishnet was 9 square meters (or 3×3 meters) large. This is consistent with the size of an average room in both the high-rise and the tin-shack or mud-houses in Mathare. Once the grid was superimposed over the satellite imagery we used a random selection function in Quantum GIS in order to randomly assigning 1000 grid cell locations. Selected grid cell locations were then transformed into coordinates with latitude and longitude information, uploaded into GPS units, and used to navigate to the randomly selected households.

The interviews were conducted by our field team. If the person at a particular location did not want to participate in the survey or if the location of a randomly selected point represented anything else but the household, the surveyor simply moved to the nearest household and conducted the interview there. The surveyors used the android phones to record the interviews using Open Data Kit software. Finally, the location of each completed interview was recorded with the GPS unit and the survey immediately sent into the database through the mobile-Internet connection. In total, 980 interviews were completed, meaning that approximately 0.8% of the population in the area was surveyed.

Locations of the Interviews


Mtaa Safi (Clean Neighborhood)

Spatial Collective in its aim to understand various ways groups organize themselves for the purpose of providing public goods in informal settlements initiated Mtaa Safi (Clean Neighborhood) campaign.

It’s widely known that in informal settlements, lack of basic services and missing state institutions sometimes create a governance vacuum that is often filled by the informal sector. According to some estimations, informal sector in Nairobi employs two thirds of the city’s labor force as cleaners, sellers, teachers, security guards, waste collectors, etc.[1] This is a complicated system through which many of the services are provided. In our focus to understand the complexity of informal waste management in Eastlands, Spatial Collective initiated Mtaa Safi (Clean Neighborhood) campaign.

Mtaa Safi is first and foremost an environmental campaign. Its aim is to address the issues of waste management and at the same time raise awareness, capacity, and legitimacy of various initiatives dealing with environmental issues in informal settlements. Specifically, our aims is to build a network of community environmentalists and provide them with a platform to exchange information about best practices; further, we seek to improve environmental management through innovative use of available technology; and finally, we strive to legitimize the contribution of these groups towards the more sustainable development of Nairobi. In recent months Spatial Collective conducted a public opinion survey; organized a series of stakeholder meetings and target group interviews; collected information on hundreds of environmentally relevant locations; and set up a social media campaign in order to support and promote our on-the-ground activities. Our final goal is to build an open and widely accessible environmentally oriented communication channel for the purpose of providing relevant and timely information to the communities concerning environmental issues, and at the same time, allow citizens to participate and contribute their ideas and views on how to build a more sustainable and cleaner environment for the future generations.

Join the conversation herehere, or here.

[1] Nairobi Urban Sector Profi le, 2005, page 14,