Article from ROAPE Volume 8 Number 20
Tale of two slums: electoral politics in Mathare & Dagoretti

The Tale of Two Slums: Electoral Politics in Mathare and Dagoretti
Vol.8 No.20 (Spring 1981), pp74-88
The papers on the peasantry concentrate on the modalities of capitalist penetration in the countryside and its social consequences there. Just as important is the historical manner in which capitalist agriculture raises the organic composition of capital thus facilitating the release of labour into industrial production. The fate of uprooted peasantries flocking into cities and their eventual transformation into a working class is one which merits some attention. This paper deals with electoral politics in two of Nairobi's poorest and most populous constituencies - Mathare and Dagoretti. Each one of them has a population in the region of 100,000 people, meaning that 20-25% of the city population is to be found here. The core areas of these two constituencies are Mathare Valley and Eastern Dagoretti. Both areas have a long tradition of uncontrolled and unplanned housing which is a permanent irritant to the planners in the Nairobi City Council and their external financiers. The populist view of these areas, and particularly of Mathare, is one of a festering sore of extreme poverty, dehumanisation, official neglect and exploitation of tenants by wealthy landlords living outside the area. The height of absurdity is attained when international capital is blamed for being directly responsible for slums. The situation, of course, is more complicated than that, and we shall try to show that this populist and often misinformed view mystifies the situation a good deal.