Landscapes of Inequality in Nairobi

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Although Nairobi is one of the most dynamic business and institutional centers in sub-Saharan Africa, it is also home to more than 200 slums, where living conditions are among the harshest in the world. Many of the richest and poorest people in Africa live in this highly unequal city with an extremely high Gini income-inequality coefficient close to 0.60.

Low-income Kibera neighborhood.

High-income Westlands neighborhood.

High-income areas have excellent services and infrastructure, while low-income areas have next to none. Sanitation problems in slums like Kibera, Pumwani and Maringo are exacerbated by high population density. Slums in Nairobi are known for flying toilets — plastic bags filled with toilet waste thrown away by people with no access to latrines.

Low-income Kayole neighborhood.

High-income Milinani neighborhood.

The low-income Kayole neighborhood (pictured above) is a formal settlement, which shows that inadequate infrastructure and public space are not limited to informal settlements. As in Quito and Madrid, state investment is clearly higher in wealthier neighborhoods, even when poorer neighborhoods have much larger populations.

Credits: Images from Google Earth.

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  1. Jordi, this is an outstanding photo juxtaposition, the clearest differences that I've seen. Are they all taken from the same elevation?

    Also interesting how placing them on top of each other forms equal signs. What if you made a poster on this theme by putting the high-income neighborhood on top with a diagonal white line through them both, or something like that?

  2. Great images, but the question is: what does it all mean?

    Are governments investing more in wealthier neighborhoods because the returns to investment there are greater or because they are pandering to wealthy voters?

    Are the investments higher in wealthier neighborhoods because of institutional momentum (i.e. high investments in such neighborhoods started many years ago, this turned them into the wealthy neighborhoods that we see today, and the spending continues now purely because of momentum carrying forward from decisions made in the past)?

    Are the investments in wealthier neighborhoods producing greater social returns by attracting and retaining talented people that could otherwise just leave the country altogether or are the marginal returns on investment higher in poorer neighborhoods?

  3. Thanks Pete for your comment. The pictures are all taken from the same elevation, and they are all from the same date.
    Thanks SagitariousA for your insighful comments. Although I am not aware of the dynamics of the city's politics, It is quite common that investments flow more into wealthier aeras because politicians often feel they owe more to them than to any other area. It is also common that politicians believe that these neighbourhoods are the ones attracting foreign investments and put all efforts in creating a good business environment. This might be effective in the short term, but it is often counterproductive in the long term, apart from being undemocratic and unethical. The world's wealthiest countries in Northern Europe show that the most intelligent in the long run is to invest in reducing disparities and in ensuring equal opprtunities for all.