In Kibra, one latrine standing tall on a pile of rocks keeps a sea of humanity going.
“Most non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in this area build their ‘posh’ toilets and keep them under lock and key barring the public from accessing them and most definitely they use the money they milk from the global west in our name,” Mr Ken Wanjala says as he escorts me to their favourite public latrine.
Mr Wanjala, who was born and bred here, says the slum – one of the largest informal settlements in Africa that is home to about 250,000 people in an area of just 2.5 square kilometres – has been his home all his life.
“We have to take turns, especially at night, and because the latrine is located at a junction adjacent to Lang’ata, it is easily accessible for everyone, including visitors like you, because it is secure.”
A thin, rusty pipe directs untreated human waste to the Nairobi River, which meanders through the slum, and, according to residents, delivers waste from Jonathan Ng’eno estate and surrounding areas.
I look on as a wandering pig, perhaps living its best life, feasts and turns topsy-turvy inside the river of floating human waste that has turned the water body dark green as the animal waits to land in a butchery somewhere.
“Most of the other public toilets of this nature are blocked if not so dilapidated that you fear they might come down while you are relieving yourself,” a mother of two, who is waiting in line to relieve herself, tells me.
She adds that some slum residents treat public toilets as personal property and keep them under lock and key for their families and specific group of friends.
“Our children who walk around barefoot and play in water that’s mixed with faeces can fall sick, you know,” she says.
“Sometimes I think it’s just the grace of God that they don’t fall sick or maybe they have just developed some sort of immunity. And when it rains, whatever we deposit in those latrines floats around the slum. We have no choice but to live with the rotting smell.”
This explains why many residents of the slum choose ‘flying toilets’ – defecating in a polythene bag and then tossing it away, mostly at night, when no one is looking.
But the woman acknowledges that attempts have been made to get them out of this mess.
“In 2019 there was a group running around known as ‘froggers’.
They used to empty long-drop latrines using sewage trucks, popularly known as ‘honey suckers’, she says.
Smells like money
“But, unfortunately for them, our faecal waste smells like money and so they used to charge us between Sh10 and Sh15.”
Paying for a toilet when you can’t feed yourself or pay rent “is very difficult”, she added.
She says she has no idea what happened to the group as she hasn’t seen them for a while.
Mr Wycliffe Otieno, a boda boda operator in the area, says he has to return home early enough to escort his wife and two sisters to the latrine for fear that they might be raped on that very important trip to the latrine.
“I live at the heart of the slum and so every day I have to make sure I have Sh10 so that my sisters, wife and three children can go to the toilet,” Mr Otieno adds.
Last year, the national government started a Sh500 million project to improve water and sanitation in Kibra and end ‘flying toilets’.
Andrew Tuimur, the Water, Sanitation and Irrigation chief administrative secretary at the time, said the project was supposed to involve setting up water stations and ablution blocks, extending sewer lines and laying water pipes.
20 ablution blocks
Citing areas like Kibera DC, Silanga, Kianda and Soweto, Mr Tuimur told the public that the Athi Water Works Development Agency (AWWDA) had set up water stations and 20 ablution blocks in Kibera.
AWWDA, he added, had also drilled and equipped six boreholes in the area and set up elevated steel tanks, water kiosks, and water distribution pipelines capable of producing 2.5 million litres of water daily.
But residents say they have not seen any of what the government promised.
The government makes promises, but on the ground things are different, one resident says. “Our favourite latrine keeps us going.”