The Right to Exist on a Map: The Example of Kibera

MapKibera in wired uk magazine_edited

Until some years ago, Kibera in Nairobi (Kenya) was nearly absent from the worlds online maps and atlases. No one exactly knew how vast the place really is, how its spacial structure is set up or how many people it could possibly accommodate. Some of these knowledge gaps do still persist, some got – at least partly – solved: thanks to Map Kibera, a citizen mapping and citizen media project that is based on the Ushahidi platform.

Kibera, the second largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa, was a blank spot — one that had been photographed and filmed thousands of times but that no one had ever attempted to document properly.Sande Wycliffe

It was in the year 2009 when some young Kiberans started the project with an inital mapping phase in order to create an open source digital map of their own community. “Subsequent mapping focused on specific thematic areas that were considered to be of primary importance: health, security, education, and water and sanitation. New rounds of mapping added details such as operating hours and services provided by private clinics”. In the meanwhile the citizen project has matured into a complete interactive community information project.

The benefits of the project might actually be seen as manyfold. First of all, the activities that revolve around this community media activity involve skill training (i.e. using computers, video editing, citizen journalism) for those left behind by the digital divide. Additionally, according to Sande Wyclif, “several Map Kibera volunteers now have new social skills and greater comfort in public speaking and encountering strangers. This is both within Kibera, where they have had to reply to general inquiries about the activity, and in greater Nairobi, where they have been invited to participate in functions such as meetings and conferences about technology”. Secondly, Map Kibera is an outstanding opportunity to get important accurate data of the dwelling that is mainly useful for the community itself, but might as well be of interest to certain other groups such as researchers, policy makers, and so forth. Last but not least, “the project has been widely embraced as the realization of something previously missing, yet clearly fundamental: the right to exist on a map.”

Map Kibera – Making the Invisible Visible (Project Website)
“Mapping Kibera” by Sande Wycliffe (Blogentry on the Voice of Kibera-Blog)

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