Annan Urges Kenya to Tackle Nairobi Slums
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan urged Kenya Monday to accelerate efforts to improve living conditions in Nairobi’s squalid slums, which experts say could pose a threat to stability and national security.
Annan chaired weeks of talks last year that gave birth to the country’s coalition government and ended post-election violence in east Africa’s biggest economy that killed at least 1,300 people and drove another 300,000 from their homes.
The capital’s fetid shantytowns became ethnic battlegrounds during the crisis, and aid workers say the slums — with their huge numbers of marginalized youths — are “ticking time bombs” ahead of the country’s next poll in 2012.
“It is slow, could be faster, but it is absolutely essential … we must work together for clean drinking water, clean sanitation,” Annan told reporters in Kibera, which is home to some 800,000 people sharing just 250 hectares (618 acres).
He said the continued resettlement of people from makeshift homes made of tin and mud bricks into apartment-style housing would improve their health and boost the economy.
“When fewer people call in sick it saves money for the government and for companies,” he said during a tour of the slum’s litter- and sewage-filled alleys. While progress had been slow, he said, it was still “very encouraging.”
Kibera is Africa’s biggest slum, but Nairobi also has several other informal settlements, in which an estimated half of the capital’s 4 million population live.
Annan was touring Kibera to inspect work carried out under a joint initiative between the government and U.N.-agency HABITAT.
Monday, President Mwai Kibaki briefed him on progress the government had made toward much-needed reforms that were agreed during last year’s talks mediated by the former U.N. chief, according to a statement from Kibaki’s office.
The government is under growing pressure from Kenyans and donors to implement the wide-ranging changes, end corruption and prosecute high-profile masterminds of the post-election chaos.