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#7: Kibera: Making the Invisible Suddenly Visible

Sabina Panth's picture


Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011

Originally published on February 3, 2011

The Map Kibera project is a pioneering enterprise that has applied a combination of modern technologies that local residents can use to uncover information about their locality and use that information for needed awareness and reform.  The project has trained the local youth of Kibera (Kenya) to use the hand-held global position system (GPS) and open source software  (OpenStreetMap) to illustrate a map of the physical landscape and resources encompassing the region and apply digital media and mobile technologies (photographs, video-clips, SMS reporting) to tell stories behind the imprinted information on the map.  The goal of the project is to reinstate the often non-transparent nature of data collection and reporting conducted by external agencies into the hands of local residents, who not only become repository of information about their communities but can also scrutinize the information “to influence democratic debate, access resources and plan development on their own" (Project Concept Paper).

According to the project wiki, Kibera, which is the  second largest slum in Africa, was invisible on the map and the Nairobi City Council had considered it a forest.  The project claims that there was no clear information on the existing services and facilities in the region and, although many donors and NGOs had poured resources in the slum, there was no clear estimation of where and how the funds were being used.  Jane Bisanju, the coordinator of the Kibera Map project believes that the local residents will now be able to use the evidence in the maps to not only pin down the working activities of these organizations, but also advocate for improved transparency and accountability of development funds coming into Kibera.  “Surprisingly, the areas where most CBO activities are taking place are the least developed” in Kibera, explains Douglas Namele, one of the catographers (Putting Kibera on the Map). 

After the mapping exercise, the project is now entering the second phase, where digital technologies and local media are mobilized to investigate pertinent information about a particular facility or resource for public dissemination and debate.  For instance, a map of health resources in the area has been supplemented with information on the number of patients a clinic serves a day, the type of services that are offered and the qualifications of the practitioners.  Similarly, consumer satisfaction with the treatment and facilities of a particular health service on a map can be made available with a video-link interview with patients and communities in the relevant locality. The project is about to introduce the SMS reporting tool for local residents to access and supply local news and address their urgent needs, and has plans to create a shared knowledge base for external organizations interested in working in Kibera.  According to the media and development expert for the project, Erica Hagen, Kibera Map is now “working with local organizations to create a seamless link from the community to government agencies and others in powerful positions to make these collective voices heard (Putting Nairobi's slum on the Map).”

While still work in progress, the Kibera Map project demonstrates the power and promise of technology in mobilizing locals to crack down on corrupt establishments and lobby for better investment of resources. To me, the tool seems particularly well-suited for mapping and exposing the overlapping of development services in a particular locality, a situation that often plagues NGO-supported initiatives.  This will help the donors supplying the funds to be aware of the overlap of their programs and assist in coordinating amongst each other to ensure that funds are distributed evenly and in essential areas.
 

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Photo Credit: Kibera Wiki

Comments

Submitted by Jamie on
Thanks for the great coverage of Map Kibera. Just one small correction, the place is Kibera, not Kiberia.

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