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The History Behind Nairobi’s Informal Settlements

Mathare is approximately 6km north-east of Nairobi’s central business district. The name “Mathare” comes from the Kikuyu (the largest ethnic group in Kenya) word for Dracena trees. The settlement has a long history. The first residents arrived in the 1920’s. It was known as a historical centre for opposition to the colonial government with residents participating in the Mau Mau anti-colonial movement. Kibera’s history is intricately tied to the Nubian community, originally from Sudan, who were brought into Kenya by the British colonial government to serve in the East African Rifles, a regiment of the British colonial armed forces. They settled in what is Kibera today in the early 1900’s. Mukuru is a particularly hazardous settlement to live in. It has an oil pipeline, high voltage electricity transmission lines and the highly polluted Nairobi River running through it. The settlement has 21 villages, or neighbourhoods. The origins of the names of Mukuru’s villages are diverse. One is named Sinai after a mountain in Israel because it’s on relatively high ground. Another is called “Moto Moto” (meaning fire or hot in Kiswahili), because of the settlement’s fire hazards.