DIVIDED CITY

  • Rasna Warah

Abstract

This report looks at how slum dwellers in Nairobi obtain information and what mechanisms exist in slums to ensure access to media and information in the absence of information and communication technologies (ICTs). It argues that the new “informational paradigm” presents new and exciting development challenges that, if not confronted head-on, can lead to increasing poverty and social
exclusion in countries that have been unable to make full use of the opportunities offered by ICTs. In the context of the growing urbanization of poverty and Africa’s digital exclusion, the report describes the various political, financial and infrastructure barriers that countries such as Kenya have to overcome to democratise access to media and ICTs. The report then presents the findings of research conducted by the author to determine Nairobi slum dwellers’ access to media and ICTs. One of the most significant findings is that social networks are among the most important sources of information among the urban poor in Nairobi. This suggests that “social capital” is an asset that the poor rely on to survive in the hostile and degrading environment of slums, and often a determinant of how well slum dwellers fare economically in the city. The report also found that while the impact of the Internet is minimal in slums, the use of mobile phones has grown, particularly among people working in the informal sector. This has had a positive impact on the livelihoods of the urban poor. However, the author makes a case for making other ICTs, particularly the Internet, more accessible to the urban poor: not doing so will further marginalize them and lead to Castells’s “dark urban age”.

Author Biography

Rasna Warah
Writer and journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. From 1994-2002, she edited UN-HABITAT's Habitat Debate magazine, devoted to housing and urban development issues. Currently part of the editorial team responsible for UN-HABITAT's forthcoming State of the World's Cities Report 2006. This article is based on her Masters thesis, "Divided City: Information Poverty in Nairobi's Slums" (June 2004).
Published
2005-05-01
Section
Articles