What do slum residents think about the increasing popularity of slum tourism? Jason Patinkin, on Informal City Dialogues, tries to find out first hand in Nairobi.
First he searches for a tour and finds that there are several to choose from. The advertise with promises such as “The friendliest slum in the world,” “Raw” and “eye-opening,” as well as assurances that the money spent on the tour will help the local community.
After a 4-hour walking tour in Kibera, Jason returns the next day to interview residents about their feelings towards these tours. While far from scientific or comprehensive, he reports some interesting findings:
1. Most residents don’t like having their pictures taken, even after guides explained that there was no ulterior motive behind it. The reasons they cited are (a) it was offensive, “equating people to animals;” (b) the photos might be used for profit without the locals receiving a portion; and (c) the photos might be “used to scam would-be donors into giving money to fake aid programs.” The last one was the most surprising to me.
2. Not surprisingly, the people who directly profited from the arrangement seemed happy with it. He finds that employees at the curio workshop (one of the stops on the tour) actually pay a percentage to the guides. Jason finds this to be exploitative, but the members reassure him that they are happy with the system.
3. Even those who did not directly profit had a positive image of the tours. Jason writes: “To Frederick Otieno, 28, who sells water and washes cars with a youth group, tourists mean potential donors. “When muzungu (white people) go to see animals, it is mostly the government that benefits,” he said. “We’d rather prefer that the muzungu comes to see us because they [might] come and fund a school here.” Otieno’s hope isn’t so far-fetched. In some blocks of this Kibera neighborhood, almost every other storefront is a local or foreign NGO, and volunteers and interns flock to the area every summer.”
Personally I feel way more comfortable on a photo tour of wildlife than I do people.