Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

Hope in hell

Hope in hell


The finest view of what Kenya’s corrupt political leaders have done to this beautiful nation may be observed from the summit of Africa’s largest rubbish dump, Nairobi’s Dandora dumpsite. A horde of children and women are sifting through the stinking trash, recovering scrap metal to be sold at twopence a kilo. They each make 30p a day. A squealing fat pig with a plastic bag stuck on its head runs in circles among the destitute.

Dandora’s garbage spontaneously combusts each day after sunrise, igniting a square-mile fire that throws a column of poisonous smoke across central Nairobi. Slum residents die young. The state hospital has a ward for respiratory illnesses nicknamed the ‘Dandora ward’. Houses, schools, even the local MP’s office, surround the dump. Plastic bags have been nicknamed Kenya’s national flower. Thousands of them drift across a nearby playground where school kids play ring-a-roses. In the slums, where there is no sanitation, residents crap into their plastic bags and chuck the loads into the streets. These are called ‘flying toilets’.

In downtown Nairobi last week, I saw members of President Mwai Kibaki’s government sign ‘performance contracts’ promising ‘better delivery of services’ to Kenya’s citizens. After the ceremony, the traffic jam of ministerial limousines — part of the £7 million fleet of Mercs and BMWs purchased by Kenya’s leaders in the past three years of democracy — took a full hour to clear.

The only thing delivered to Dandora dump area is more rubbish. Apart from a couple of churches, there’s nobody to help residents. The United Nations and the UK charities you give to are nowhere to be seen. The black middle classes are far away in their suburbs. ‘And why would we go to the slums?’ a well-off black Kenyan reasoned with me recently.

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