Waithood is a period that many young people find themselves in. The wait for steady incomes, home ownership and marriage has increased over the years. Young people drawn from diverse social classes find themselves waiting longer for the above phases. How exactly do those born and bred in a lower income community wait well?
Abu is a resident of the infamous Kibera (Kibra) and he lives in the Kianda Village that sits on gently sloping land characterised by mud, wooden and concrete structures with corrugated galvanised roofing sheets. It is a vibrant space with loud pubs, small restaurants and a significant number of roadside traders. When I conducted my PhD fieldwork research between 2013-2014, the average rent was about KSH1,150 (GB£9.21, $11.21) per month per room based on the location of the structure. Rooms located in the lower part of the village cost less than those that overlook the main road whilst commercial premises are rented out at higher rates. Current figures are now around Ksh 3500 (GB£28, $34.11) for a basic room in same village. There are contradictory population figures of Kibera but the last national census reports that Kianda has the second highest population density of 29,356 people. The young people from the village reported it was a close knit community. In my time there, it was very easy for me to sit freely and chat with them. There was a vibe of ambition and a hope for a better future in their animated discussions.
I met Abu through a contact of a contact. In sociology terms, he is a weak social tie that facilitated my fieldwork and eased my time in Kibera greatly. This is because he barely knew me, yet he gracioulsy offered to help me meet other young people and visit diverse villages. My PhD was based on participant observation so if I had not managed to access people’s lives it would have been very difficult to follow through on my research methodology. It was through him and through his village mate Clarine that I was finally able to meet potential interviewees and contacts. Through them, I learnt about the power of weak social ties. This power is something I will reflect upon extensively in a future blog post.
Abu is twenty six years of age and he is married to Winnie Osano Oluoch. They are parents to four month old son Brayden Oluoch. Abu has lived in Kibera for slightly over twenty years and throughout that period he has volunteered and worked in community based organisations such as Umande Trust and Kidiot. He is very passionate about youth empowerment, especially of young women. He would like to eradicate prosititution and ensure girls and young women are given chances for educational and career progress. Abu and most of his friends are fascinating because they don’t revel in self pity or victimology. They make do with what they have but they are certainly hungry for so much more. Another thing I found fascinating and discussed at length in my PhD thesis, was their relationships (or lack of relationships) with those drawn from middle to upper income suburbs. Before my PhD I did not think that Kenya was a class divided nation. I was certain it was more ethnically divided rather than economically divided. Some young Kiberans even had relatives who were relatively wealthy but they were very socially isolated from them. At that point is when I became aware that it would probably be a good time to study the evolving nature of social ties in Kenya. The stereotypical image of Africans is that they are very close knit, cohesive and family oriented but is this really true? That question is best answered after deeper research.
Back to Waithood. So how does someone who has to wake up everyday in the context of a slum find motivation to pursue their life purpose?
Aside from attachment to religion, social relationships with fellow community members mean a lot for the young people of Kibera. Abu and many of his friends were very actively involved in community youth groups, I managed to sit in for a few of them and it was very inspirational to see young people come together and support each other. The relationships were not without challenges. Particularly when community groups grew to NGO status. It was very common for a group that started with noble development motives to be encumbered with corruption and exploitation. For example, if a young person connected with donors to spearhead a cause, it was common for it to start with great momentum and provide opportunities to many people. Then somewhere in the midst of this pursuit, greed would interfere and the person with the donor connection would swindle his/ her fellow community members. Despite the great challenge of greed and temptation to exploit fellow community members, it is still fair to conclude that young Kiberans really value relationships and connections with each other.
Without persistence, life in Kibera can be unbearable. Abu reported he has tried his hand at almost all types of small scale business ventures to survive. He once asked me a compelling question, “What did we do to deserve where we were born?” These are difficult questions that even the greatest thinkers have no answer for. Even as he asks compelling questions, he continues to foster a can-do attitude. In the many youth and community groups he has been a part of, he has managed to attract some funding for activities such as waste water treatment and bio gas generation. After years of group engagement, he has decided to pursue the one goal that he believes can change his community forever. He has joined politics and is contesting for the MCA Saran’gombe ward. A move that he says has tested him more than slum life. He is adamant that the only survival tactic he can offer to the young people of Kenya is that persistence is the greatest quality that one needs to endure and conquer waithood.
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