Slum Tourism: Let’s Face It



Kibera – the largest slum in Nairobi and at the same time the biggest urban slum in the whole East Africa. Nearly 200.000 people living in an absolute poverty, forced to survive for less than $1 per day. It’s sad and unbelievable that so many people live in such conditions, sick and helpless. It’s also sad and unbelievable that still lots of tourists consider those places to be local attractions, attend organized tours and take pictures. All for fun.

Together with Paul, a Couchsurfer I met in Nairobi, we were driving up the hill towards the Giraffe Center. A sky was clear, and every detail of the city was perfectly visible. That was when, right in front of my eyes, Kibera popped up. Right in the city, thousands of metal and mud quasi-houses inhabited by the poorest people of Nairobi.

The whole modern slam tourism – AKA poorism or poverty tourism – started in early 80s, in Apartheid South Africa. Nowadays, seeking a “real life,” every year, millions of curious tourists pay a visit to the poorest parts of the world – including Kibera. They are willing to spend money to see an extreme poverty which, for some reason, attracts them. What they’re looking for is a perfect shot of a child at the garbage spot, or a stranded, starving dog. Once they get it, they’re satisfied. Few hours of touring and hundreds of photos later, they come back to their luxurious hotels and upload everything on Facebook to “impress” their friends. But there’s nothing to impress. Intruding and inhumanity, this is what slum tourism really is.

Sadly, also big players like Tripadvisor, give people a chance to rate and recommend slum tours on their websites. Besides Kibera Tour in Nairobi, you can also find a Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro and some less significant. It only shows this horrible touristic attraction is accepted worldwide.

I opened Google and made a simple research looking for a slum tour in Nairobi. Surprisingly, on a first page, almost every tour company offers this “unique experience”. One is even calling it “the friendliest slum tour in the world”. WTF?! What does this even mean?

I decided to check the prices of such friendly tour, and for Ksh 2,500 I can basically have a 3-hour guided walk in Kibera. Literally, it means, I can pay 20 EUR to have a live sample of how poverty in the worst edition looks like, sneak peek into somebody’s life and see children running around in torn, dirty clothes. I don’t even know how to comment on it, but one thing is sure. Such tours are offered only because people buy them. No demand, no supply. Do we really need a cold shower to realize it’s a human ZOO we pay for and stop looking for an entertainment like this?

Slum tourism is still a little tabu, just like a sex tourism and many other popular, but commonly avoided topics. People do this, but are afraid to name it. A place where people’s privacy and intimacy is sold for the sake of entertainment – what kind of world is this? It’s like a poor version of Big Brother.

Go, have a city tour, or a safari. Watch some wildlife and talk to people on the streets, but don’t support some dickhead making easy money on somebody’s misfortune.

Is slum tourism really a social enlightenment, as some may say, or is it just another creation of Western world craving for easy money?

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