Course:GEOG352/2020/Slum Tourism in Nairobi, Kenya

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Nairobi General Information
• Population: 4,734,881 (2020 estimate)[1]

• Area: 696 km²

• Population Density: 4,850 residents per km²

• Official Languages: Swahili and English

• Currency: Kenyan Shilling (KES)

Kibera Slum
• Population: 900,000 (2011 estimate)[2]

• Area: 2.5 km2 (2011 estimate)[2]


The tourism industry is becoming more prevalent in the Global South, where alternative forms of tourism have penetrated the mass tourism market in favour for more authentic and sustainable experiences. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is at the forefront of this movement and we will use it as a case study to explore the historical, socio-cultural, and economic impacts of alternative tourism practices, with specific analysis on slum tourism.

Alternative Tourism is an umbrella term that encompasses immersive local experiences against traditional mass tourism, which seeks to forfeit authentic one-on-one contact in exchange for alienation and homogenization[3]. Assumptions of alternative tourism practices define it as clear-conscious decision that mitigate the effects of traditional tourism without severing the economic benefits that tourism creates. However, there has been criticism against these alternative forms, which include slum tourism, eco-tourism, and game tourism, for being disguised as class prejudice[3] and promoting a form of neocolonialism. This is a new phenomenon within the context of the geographical global south that has significant research gaps on its effects and ethical intent. The analysis in this wiki applies the problematic binaries between the Global North and Global South, and formal and informal work to identify key constituents of the practice of slum tourism.

Nairobi, Kenya, is heavily-researched within the Global South urban context from proponents of economic and social theory. The capital city houses one of the largest slums in the world and is the only city with a national park situated in its borders[4], making it an important case study on tourism development. In the Kibera slum neighbourhood, residents are exposed to slum tours that effectively commodify their livelihoods, and often at their expense. Slum Tourism in Nairobi, Kenya provides an in-depth analysis of the conditions of slum dwellers, and the neocolonial impacts of this alternative tourism practice.


We explore the issue related to slum tourism that reinforce the imbalance of power, ideas, and information through single directional flows from the Global North to the South. The issue of slum tourism has attracted a large array of academic and journalistic debate. Some argue the positive outcomes of slum tourism such as financial aid from profit generated by tours, and interactions between tourists and residents can correct and improve negative assumptions conveyed by the media. On the other hand, there are many who question the ethics of the voyeuristic nature of these tours[5]. A common example brought up to support this perspective is the invasion of privacy of the slum dwellers. Although some travel companies have started implementing strict no-camera policies, the complete privacy of residents are yet to be protected[6]. In order to gain better understanding of this multifaceted issue, it is important to explore this matter alongside class concepts[7].

Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya

An important class concept that relates to slum tourism in Nairobi is making sure Global North theories are not applied to the geographical global south. Theories and ways of understanding must be place-based. This idea is especially relevant to Kibera in what "Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie refers to… as the ‘single story of Africa,’[8] a reductive narrative so powerfully engrained in the minds of global audiences that most cannot conceive stories that better reflect the multi-dimensionality of lived experience throughout the continent”[9]. This “single story” can be seen as a Global North urban theory that defines the Global South. Similarly founded in colonial beliefs, the “single story of Africa” that global north tourists bring with them, is usually exemplified in the narratives they tell after returning to their comfortable Western homes.

Slum in Victorian Era London, 1868

Slum tourism is specifically relevant in Nairobi because of their unique position as a global city. Large cities have been recognized to often have strong international connections to other global cities, as opposed to cities that may be within the country or region; this reflects a broader global phenomenon that Ananya Roy terms, “spatially distant neighbours, spatially proximate strangers”[10]. Nairobi is a city that falls under this categorization, because it has a strong international NGO presence and is regularly a filming location for “Hollywood films and documentaries”[11]. Nairobi as a global city has local implications for the community of Kibera, which has recently become “a hotspot for what is popularly known as 'slum tourism'"[11].

Slum tourism is a global phenomenon in scope, existing in cities across the world from Mumbai to Rio de Janeiro. The concept dates back to “Slumming” in Victorian Era London, a popular pastime for wealthy London residents to spend their weekends viewing the poor slums of town[12]. Steinbrink shows a chronological overview of how the popular “places” of slum tourism have transformed from three major eras, beginning in London’s East End in the nineteenth century, to immigrant culture tourism (“Chinatowns” or “Little Italies” for example) in North America during the twentieth century. This overview brings us to the present early twenty-first century slum tourism located in the townships, favelas, and slums of the geographical global south and east.  Furthermore, the scope of slum tourism, especially in the geographical global south and east, has been recently expanding. This in part is due to the “number of slum dwellers worldwide approaching 1 billion” and a corresponding increase in global awareness of these slums through books, television shows, and movies[9].

Although the historic origins of slum and alternative tourism can be traced across the globe, it is important to explore Kibera specifically in terms of slum tourism. While the background of slum tourism is necessary to understand its current manifestations, it is equally as important to look at Nairobi’s unique cultural and societal position as a global city.

Case Study of Slum Tourism in Nairobi


Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya is one of the largest slums in the world. The majority of residents in Kibera are casual labourers and make their ends meet through drama, sports or small businesses in the community[13]. Residents endure water and sanitation issues and despite the many physical and financial investments made, there have yet to be any significant improvements[13]. The main issue is that there is not enough income generation for these residents, and some scholars correctly note that the problem surrounding poor waste management and sanitation need to be clearly addressed to ensure improvement in their living environment[13]. Some have suggested that a Pro-Poor approach to slum tourism could potentially assist in improving the economic well-being through “unlocking opportunities for the poor for economic gain, livelihood benefits, or participation in decision-making”[14]. Many in Kenya debate over whether this approach removes the onus from the government, and also question whether this approach turns poverty into entertainment[15]. Victoria Safari Tours are one of the main companies responsible for tourism in Kibera and their approach is one of Pro-poor tourism in hopes to raise awareness in the short-term and eradicate slums in the long term[13]. Magio & Kieti’s [15] study shows that many of the residents in Kibera believe that slum tourism could be beneficial but its current form is hardly benefiting those within the community, but rather benefitting the companies running the tours and those in positions of power. The residents in this study also voiced feelings of embarrassment during the tours, as well as the lack of access to the tourists, which also affects their ability to gain economically from these processes[15]. It can be argued that slum tourism in Kibera does not meet sustainable criteria as it fails to have its intended impact on the lives of the residents[15].


There is no single solution that can effectively solve the issues surrounding slum tourism; the ideology is inherently problematic when discussing urbanization in the Global South. Significant research has been proposed however, to mitigate the effects or provide alternative practices for slum tourism. It is imperative to understand the importance of tourism in the Kenyan economy, which accounts for 8.8% of the country’s gross domestic product[16]. Stricter policies cannot just be implemented, nor can the slum tourism’s framework be negated, but rather these must be transformed into a beneficial dualistic relationship between slum dwellers and tourism actors.

Jill Biden visits an Agricultural Facility in Nairobi, 2011

With the study performed by Magio & Kieti[15], they interviewed Kibera slum dwellers citing mostly opposition towards the practice, yet awaiting the opportunity to better their livelihoods through income generation and promotion. The study suggested involving residents in a “bottom-up participatory style” of slum tourism programs to encourage mutual benefit and employment in the growing sector. Presently, tourism is dominated by the Kenyan government with foreign investment and consultation, hence the critique of the neo-colonial role. The problematic ‘peripheral’ representation of Kenya, predominantly from Western theories, offers the role of tourism as the both the problem and solution[17]; the solution being to represent the sector with resident participation, and not dismissing the construct of poverty as a commodity to be explored. While this may represent a challenge, there are more practical solutions that can be explored. For instance, certain slum tour companies have already banned the use of cameras to protect the privacies of the slum residents.  As well, to support income generation, a strict portion of the proceeds from slum tourism could be brought directly into the neighbourhood that is being commodified. The future of slum tourism, among other alternative tourism practices, must holistically recognize a humane approach to a sustainable experience which presents an opportunity for mutual benefit and understanding.

With the perception of slum residents, often from a Western lens, a recent visit from Jill Biden to refugee camps in Kenya illustrated a stark relationship between two worlds. Rather than assuming a philanthropic visit from the Global North media, a 'parade of SUVs’ from a security team reported from local Kenyan media outlets illustrated the danger of one perspective[9]. We must pay more attention to Global South media when looking at viable solutions for slum tourism.


The Direct Effects of Slum Tourism on Residents of Kibera

Although the tourism industry contributes to 8.8% of Kenya's gross domestic product[16], direct economic stimulation to communities in the slum through slum tours are unfortunately negligible[18]. Many travel companies claim the visitors will support several groups in Kibera by participating in their tours[19][20]:

  • Kigulu Orphanage (provides education and food for individuals affected by HIV/AIDS)
  • Kibera Community Youth Program (runs projects to help reduce charcoal costs for homeowners by teaching skills to operate solar lamps)
  • Jitolee Women's Group (designs bags and jewelry along with supporting single-mother members)
Solar Installation trainees from the Kibera Community Youth Program with Mama Sara Obama

Despite these claims, residents of Kibera argue that they are not the real beneficiaries of these tours. Instead, the majority of the profit is received by the tour operators, which include foreign-owned companies.[6]

On the other hand, there are also positive outcomes directly generated by slum tourism. Donations of food, clothing, and school supplies will immediately provide necessary items to families in need. In addition, purchasing products and services such as locally-made ornaments and traditional clothing[21] sold by residents of Kibera will also be a direct profit for them[19]. Companies such as Victoria Safaris and Kibera Tours hire and recruit their tour drivers, guides, and security guards from local areas[22]. Specifically looking at Kibera Tours, they have 15 youth employees working in shifts as tour guides who earn $4 USD ($421.98 Kenyan Shillings) for every tour[21]. Since most residents of Kibera earn 100 Kenyan Shillings or less per day and the unemployment rate is 50%[23], the increased employment opportunities by operating slum tours is another direct positive impact. Developing slum tourism can also help shift the focus from environmental and wild-life based tourism, which will benefit the Nairobi community by preserving its local nature[22].

The Indirect Effects of Global North Narratives on Residents of Kibera

While there are a multitude of effects felt directly by the residents in Kibera, one of the largest indirect effects come from what the tourists write, say, and spread worldwide through their Global North narratives. Unlike the historical origins of “slumming” in Victorian-era London and intra-global north slum tourism across Europe and North America, the majority of tourists that Kibera receives today travel from the geographical global north to south[24]. While acknowledging that there is diversity amongst tourists, this research is based off of the majority of narratives emerging from Kibera’s slum tourists which perpetuates the “single story of Africa.” Although indirect, the effect of slum tourists reproducing the “single story of Africa” once returned to their respective homes, still makes its way back to Kibera, and does not accurately reflect how residents themselves see Kibera[9].

Global North narratives often recreate the "single story of Africa," instead of day to day life as told by residents

With the “single story of Africa” dominating a global north perspective, NGOs “[attracting] international attention to the community, [often through] perpetuating a discourse that further marginalizes Kibera and its residents,” and tourists producing Global North narratives, Kiberan residents have spoken up and opposed how their home is being portrayed[9]. A Kibera resident recounted “a full life in Kibera, where he was born, raised, got married, and became a father[9]. He added, “I love Kibera very much, because Kibera is like my home,” and another said “Yes, I am very happy living in Kibera ... I really love that place, it is a very good place”[9]. While acknowledging the struggles of other Kibera residents, these testimonies speak to the need for a more nuanced perception of slums, driven from the residents themselves, acting as a specific example of why it is necessary for Global South theories to be place based.

Lessons Learned

This wiki has allowed for a better understanding of the dynamics surrounding slum tourism. The Global North style of tourism cannot be applied in every context, there is a need to adjust or restructure this model in order to benefit the specific local population[10]. Since slum tourism arguably deals with the lives of those living in the slums, it should be restructured to be less demeaning and include local communities in other ways other than being the subject of those visiting. Local communities can benefit from slum tourism if it improves their environment and living standards as well as their ability to produce an income. The poor do not have the option to leave their slums and live as the rich do which brings up the clear power imbalance that exists in slum touring[15]. This power imbalance drives slum dwellers to look for a way to participate in local tourism in a way that does not degrade them, nor make them feel commodified[15]. Another lesson is that slum tourism should be a means to an end because the end goal should ultimately be to improve the livelihood of dwellers. If slum tours are necessary in the short term they should raise awareness and empower the dwellers and in the long run they should no longer be necessary. The wiki provides an analysis of slum tourism within Nairobi, Kenya, and should be used to further assess the problematic notions of Global North theories for a representation of urbanization in the Global South.


  1. "Nairobi Population". World Population Review. 17 February 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mutisya, Emmanuel; Yarime, Masaru (2011). "Understanding the Grassroots Dynamics of Slums in Nairobi: The Dilemma of Kibera Informal Settlements" (PDF). International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, & Applied Sciences & Technologies. 2 (6): 201.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Butler, Richard, W. (1990). "Alternative tourism: Pious hope or Trojan horse?". Journal of travel research. 28 (3): 40–45 – via Sage journals.
  4. "Nairobi National Park". Kenyan Wildlife Service. 2019.
  5. Kieti, Damiannah (January 2013). "The ethical and local resident perspectives of slum tourism in Kenya". Advances in Hospitality and Tourism Research. 1 (1): 37–57 – via ResearchGate.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Frenzel, Fabian; Koens, Ko; Steinbrink, Malte; Rogerson, Christian (2015). "Slum Tourism: State of the Art". Tourism Review International. 18: 237–252 – via ingenta connect.
  7. O'Brien, Peter (2011). "Business, Management and Poverty Reduction: A Role for Slum Tourism?". Journal of Business Diversity. 11 (1): 33–46.
  8. Adichie, C (2009). "The danger of a single story." Oxford, UK: TEDGlobal 2009
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Ekdale, Brian; Tuwei, David (March 2016). "Ironic Encounters: Posthumanitarian Storytelling in Slum Tourist Media". Communication, Culture, & Critique. 9: 49–67 – via Wiley Online Library.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Roy, Ananya (2009). "The 21st Century Metropolis New Geographies of Theory". Regional Studies. 43 (6): 819–830.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Wilson, Ashley, E. (October 2018). "'Don't say "research"': reducing bidirectional risk in Kibera slum". Contemporary Social Science: Identity, Agency and Fieldwork Methodologies in Risky Environments. 13: 337–353 – via Routledge.
  12. Steinbrink, Malte (20 February 2012). "We did the Slum!' - Urban Poverty Tourism in Historical Perspective". An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment. 14 (2): 213–234 – via Taylor & Francis Online.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Chege, Peninah; Mwisukha, Andanje (April 2013). "Benefits of Slum Tourism in Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya" (PDF). International Journal of Arts and Commerce. 2 (4): 94–102.
  14. Chege, Peninah; Mwisukha, Andanje (April 2013). "Benefits of Slum Tourism in Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya" (PDF). International Journal of Arts and Commerce. 2 (4): 95.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 M. Kieti, Damiannah; O. Magio, Kennedy (2013). "The Ethical and Local Resident Perspectives of Slum Tourism in Kenya". Advances in Hospitality and Tourism Research. 1 (1): 37–57.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Kenya Travel & Tourism exceeding global and regional levels in 2018". World Travel & Tourism Council. 2018.
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  18. Shepard, Wade (July 16, 2016). "Slum Tourism: How It Began, The Impact It Has, And Why It Became So Popular". Forbes.
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  20. Kibera Tours. "Kibera slum tours". Kibera Tours.
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  22. 22.0 22.1 "Benefits of Slum Tourism in Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya". International Journal of Arts and Commerce. 2 (4): 94–102 – via Kenyatta University Institutional Repository.
  23. Kibera UK. "Kibera Facts & Information".
  24. Elvfersson, Emma (July 2017). "Violence in the city that belongs to no one: urban distinctiveness and interconnected insecurities in Nairobi (Kenya)". Conflict, Security, and Development. 19 – via Routledge.

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