Well, this is pretty cool. Our very own Kennedy Odede ’12, “executive director of Shining Hope for Communities, a social services organization,” wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about “slum tourism” in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya. He attacks “slum tourism,” suggesting, essentially that it treats the poorest people like zoo animals–subjects for outsiders to visit and admire, but not to care about:

Slum tourism has its advocates, who say it promotes social awareness. And it’s good money, which helps the local economy.

But it’s not worth it. Slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from. People think they’ve really “seen” something — and then go back to their lives and leave me, my family and my community right where we were before.

Odede ends his critique by calling the reader to action. Slum tours don’t help the residents of the slums themselves, he argues, in fact they are actually counter-productive to the message “tourists” should get from the slums–that these are not places one can leave and forget (or simply “bear witness” to).

But it’s just as likely that a tour will come to nothing. After all, looking at conditions like those in Kibera is overwhelming, and I imagine many visitors think that merely bearing witness to such poverty is enough.

Nor do the visitors really interact with us. Aside from the occasional comment, there is no dialogue established, no conversation begun. Slum tourism is a one-way street: They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.

Slums will not go away because a few dozen Americans or Europeans spent a morning walking around them. There are solutions to our problems — but they won’t come about through tours.

I encourage everyone to read the article–it’s powerfully written and a testament to Kennedy’s passion. He’s an example that we, as Wesleyan students (and people, really) should follow and be proud of.

About Gabe Lezra

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides with the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon those with great vengeance and with furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know that my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee. Ezekiel 25-17.
  • Josh Zeitlin

    While slum tourism is unpleasant, I would bet that most of the people in Kibera would prefer to have the money that it brings to feed their families than take a principled stand against their exploitation. The author’s former schoolmate, who founded a tourism company, seems to agree with me. It’s great that Kennedy has a bright future ahead of him and better still that he gives back to his community but it seems perverse to try to deprive that community of what might become a vital source of income.

  • David

    Who’s advocating taking a principled stand against exploitation? The article seems to be directed at Western consumers who seem to believe that tourism actually makes a positive difference.

  • So

    People look in the zoo.

    But most animals have more dignity than the old man that Kennedy mentioned