A complex death dance of politics, corruption, and urban poverty has thus taken hold.
Nairobi’s Dandora is East Africa’s largest dumpsite.
It is over 30 acres, in the heart of the slums of Korogocho, Baba Dogo, Mathare and Dandora.
Over 1,000 trucks reportedly dump garbage there every day.
One report noted that they each pay $6.15, not counting bribes. At $184,500 a month, it is one of the most lucrative gigs in town.
In addition, it has spawned a perilous recycling economy, but which nevertheless puts foods on the tables of nearly 3,000 families in the city.
It’s one reason why attempts to remove, or even improve the Dandora dumpsite have failed. It’s a suicidal political task, although the Nairobi City authorities have finally got in bulldozers to create a road in the middle of the dumpsite to help manage it.
A visit during the week to the Korogocho slum right next to the dumpsite, showed just how much of a health hazard it is. At the St Anthony’s school, the heavy and pungent smoke from the burning dumpsite enveloped the grounds where the children were playing, it was impossible to take a clear photo. A music event in the hall had to be cancelled because the smoke made it impossible.
This is the reality for thousands of poor children in the slums in the area every week.
A 2015 report in the Environmental Justice Atlas spoke of dangerously high levels of heavy metals in the surrounding environment and in the body of local residents.
Lead and cadmium levels were up to 90 times higher, compared with the action levels in the Netherlands for these heavy metals.
However, when you move around the place, the bigger meaning of Dandora begins to sink in.
Most of the garbage of Nairobi’s middle class suburbs ends there. So, in part, the suburbs are able to be cleanish, posh leafy places, because of Dandora.
You don’t have to be a Nobel prize-winning economist to see the economic factors greasing the wheel. If each truck paid, say $32 to dump garbage, instead of $6.15, many would have to pay five times more for private garbage collection since the city doesn’t do it.
The only way the figure of $6.15 can hold, then, is that the price of land around Dandora remains low. And for the price to be low, the area needs to be as polluted as it is, and the population around to be so big, that evicting them in a clean up becomes politically costly even if Kenya were a Stalinist dictatorship.
Some residents have tried to get the courts to move the dumpsite. However, the desperate condition of the urban poor, means they too have a vested interest in this state of affairs. Few people would live around Dandora unless it was so cheap, it made dollar sense to risk life for affordability.
A complex death dance of city patronage politics, corruption, and urban poverty has thus taken hold.
The health cost of it in the years to come, especially as the slums continue to swell, is almost too frightening to contemplate.
Politically, these kinds of dynamics, just as happened in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, are breaking Nairobi. It is just not possible that Dandora and places like Muthaiga, can survive side by side for much longer as different faces of the same county, ruled by the same governor.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of Africapaedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3