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Nairobi

Urban Tipping Points - Important New Research on Roots of Violence

Duncan Green's picture

Cities are often violent places – a social, ethnic and religious tinderbox of people piled up together with competing needs for space, housing or cash. Mostly the tension is contained, but not always - when and why does it spill over into bloody mayhem? That’s the question at the heart of a fascinating research project run by Caroline Moser, one of my development heroes, and Dennis Rodgers. The research team fed back on its findings in Geneva last week. They have a draft overview paper here and welcome any comments by the end of June (as comments on this post, or if you want to get really stuck in, emailed to urbantippingpoint@Manchester.ac.uk). Here’s a summary of the discussion in Geneva.

The Urban Tipping Point scanned the literature and identified four ‘conventional wisdoms’ on the causes, not always based on much evidence: they are poverty; ‘youth bulges’ (demographic, rather than waistlines); political exclusion and gender-based insecurity. It decided to test these with empirical research in four very dissimilar cities - Nairobi (Kenya), Dili (Timor-Leste), Santiago (Chile) and Patna (India).

What Does Innovation Look Like?

Aleem Walji's picture

Having traveled to both East Africa and India over the past several weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what ‘innovation’ means in different contexts. It’s easy to get caught in a technology-centric worldview in places like Bangalore and even Nairobi these days. But when I get past the superficial stories and dig a bit deeper, I realize that impactful innovation is less about shiny tools and technology and more about ‘listening to users’ and transforming social processes to solve problems that matter to people.

My walk through a Delhi slum comes immediately to mind. While there I visited Operation Asha, a 2011 India Development Marketplace winner that is working to arrest the spread of tuberculosis (TB). India is one of the only countries in the world where the rate of infection is growing despite the falling incidence of the disease globally. The previous day, I sat with colleagues from Microsoft Research in Bangalore who explained the simple but critical advances they had made in writing open-source software to verify the identity of patients visiting clinics, aggregating data on missed doses, and using text messages to increase compliance.

The Nairobi Mini World Cup

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Imagine you are a poor child from Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, and have a dream to become a soccer star. Some young players come close to this dream when the International School (ISK) in Nairobi hosts its annual “Nairobi Mini World Cup”.

The Mini World Cup started after ISK’s Principal of the Elementary School, Patricia Salleh Matta, introduced a Saturday sports program three years ago and opened the school not just to its own students but to many communities around the school. 

My 11-year-old son Marco and I have a passion for soccer (we call it football). In order to advance the game at ISK, where he goes, I got involved in coaching and eventually became the school’s “Soccer Commissioner.” As such, my main task is to organize soccer tournaments. The highlight of our year is the annual "Nairobi Mini World Cup," which has become a fixture for many schools and soccer clubs in the city.

How Can Development NGOs Go Urban?

Duncan Green's picture

Just spent a fascinating week in Nairobi, taking part in a review of our three-year- old urban programme there. Like many large development NGOs, Oxfam is deeply rural – goats, irrigation, drought, that kind of thing - but the world has gone urban, and so in a few countries, we are dipping our organizational toes in the water. Some impressions on the challenges of urban work:

Perhaps most striking are the multiple centres of power and association compared to the rural world. Tier upon tier of government, dense networks of clubs, traditional and tribal structures and militia, social and community organizations, churches, ‘merry-go-round’ savings and loans groups, youth groups, sports clubs, cultural groups – the list is endless. Power is dispersed and often hard to map or even detect. How to chart a way through the forest of organizations and identify potential partners and targets for influence?

Refuge in Nairobi

Asa Torkelsson's picture

Zeinab Lebon, 65, with her family

In the Nairobi slum of Kawangware, people like Said, 33, are struggling to help relatives fleeing the drought in Somalia. The full-time gardener and father of four is providing refuge to his mother, Zeinab Lebon, 65, and six other relatives. All share his family’s two bedrooms of 144 square feet each, and he now supports 12 people on one salary.

“We do not have water or toilet; I have to pay every day 1 Kenya schilling for every person for the toilet, 20 schillings for 20 liters of water,”  says Said. Yet, he now also plans to bring his mother-in-law, who is 70, from Daadab in northeastern Kenya. She lost her husband to a stray bullet as they took off for Daadab on foot from Mandera, on the Somali border.

The infinite win

Flore de Préneuf's picture

A year-long drought has transformed farmers into full-time charcoal burners in the part of Eastern Kenya I visited last week. Delayed rains have also had an impact on farmers in greener parts of the country where land degradation and over-exploited soils are dragging yields down.

But the story that emerges from this man-altered landscape is not all bleak. A range of actors, energized by the food and climate crisis, are taking measures to restore the balance between productive land use and functioning ecosystems, in ways that enhance the resilience of both. 

Kenya's parliament recently requested that farmers put 10% of their farmland under tree cover. Rwanda announced in February a program to reverse the degradation of its soil, water, land and forest resources by 2035. Development partners like the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility have invested millions of dollars in improving the management of ecosystems to protect livelihoods, biodiversity, water access, and other vital services. The World Resources Institute has painstakingly mapped over 450 million hectares of degraded forest landscapes in Africa that could be restored (See map). In fact, the urge to heal the planet's sores has given birth to a booming ecosystem of NGOs, partnerships, social enterprises and research initiatives that build on each others' successes and share a broad vision for positive change.


We know how to triple maize yields using fertilizer trees. We know how to harvest water, slow erosion and store carbon. We even know how to get more milk out of cows by feeding them leaves from trees that stock carbon, provide firewood, fix nitrogen and retain soil moisture – in a changing climate! All the while, those practices help farmers feed their families, attract wildlife, build assets and pay for school fees... 

So why is this kind of "infinite win" work not happening on a more meaningful scale? The organizers of a three-day Investment Forum on Mobilizing Private Investment in Trees and Landscape Restoration in Africa this week in Nairobi are hoping to lift the veil on some of the constraints to sustainable tree-based investment and provoke more synergies between public and private interests.