African liveability

Dandora: Beyond a Dumpsite


I first heard about the fantastic work done in Dandora, an area widely known as Nairobi’s dumpsite, when I shared a panel with Robinson Esialimba, co-founder and board chair of the Dandora Transformation League last year. While our discussion took place over Skype – I was in Cape Town, Robinson was in Harare – I was impressed by what Robinson and his team were accomplishing, so when the opportunity arose for me to find out more about the renewal of Dandora for myself, I jumped at the chance.

Located in the eastern part of Nairobi, the suburb was built in 1977 with assistance from the World Bank. The result was a well-planned scheme that included amenities such as public parks and effective drainage systems. But forty years later, Dandora is no longer the paragon of planning it once was.

This is because Dandora is also home to Nairobi’s main dumping site and the city’s main sewage treatment works, the Dandora Oxygenation Ponds. The sewage works release processed water into the Nairobi River, while the dumping site was declared a health hazard in 2001. All kinds of waste, including agricultural, hospital and even chemical waste continues to be discharged there, and would remain unprocessed but for the activities of Dandora’s waste pickers who search daily for what can be reused or sold for recycling.

A low-income area, Dandora is characterised by high crime and considered a no-go area by many of Nairobi’s better off citizens. But for the many in their ivory towers and flashy motor cars lamenting the social and environmental problems posed by Dandora, there are a handful of locals trying to change the area from the inside out.

 Three young men

The predominant housing form in Dandora is the apartment block. Some of these blocks are grouped together to form a court, with public space in the middle forming a courtyard. As is often the case in such instances, these public spaces can become neglected, especially when there are no measures in place or people responsible for the general upkeep of such spaces. In the absence of such measures in 2013, young residents of Mustard Seeds Court, Charles Gachanga, Samuel Ikambi, Abubakar Mope and a few others, decided to make their courtyard clean, safe and green – a model court.

Mustard Seeds Organisation was born from this successful endeavour, which was also able to provide a small income for some unemployed youth cleaning the court. By January 2014, the organisation received funding from Awesome Foundation, while Robinson, the Dean of Awesome Foundation, partnered with Mustard Seeds to look how model courts could be replicated throughout Dandora. The Changing Faces Competition was successfully launched in May that year – to challenge Dandora’s youth living in other courts to copy or improve the model court. It was from these efforts that the Dandora Transformation League was born.

Formally launched in September 2015, the Dandora Transformation League is an umbrella body that describes itself as a community-based organisation “that seeks to create a clean, green and safe Dandora” while at the same time creating employment opportunities for youth.

Now I’ve been asked to spread the word of another worthwhile initiative that seeks to transform Dandora. After all, it is by collaboration and incremental improvements that an area is turned around.

Waste to Worth

Dandora Transformation League has partnered with Making Cities Together, a grouping comprised of young Kenyan and international architects and urbanists, and in cooperation with UN-Habitat and the DOEN Foundation on a new campaign to further drive the transformation of public spaces in the area.

The UPcycle commUNITY campaign aims to transform waste into bricks for pedestrian-friendly streets. Colourful, vibrant, safe and clean public space are just part of the desired outcome. The project should “mitigate environmental and health risks of the landfill [and] larger area.” In this way, the organisers hope to “foster social cohesion and [a] sense of community ownership of the public space.” Furthermore, it is hoped that “new income-generating opportunities will emerge in Dandora, where high unemployment rates – especially among the youth – have been [a] major cause of crime.”

Visit crowdfunding site Indiegogo to support the campaign. There are great rewards to be had, including a 3-D printed ring made from upcycled waste, to more altruistic rewards such as adopting a tree, a bench or a brick (the twin brick will be sent to you).

Cape Town has a lot to learn from our counterparts in Nairobi: both on how to live more sustainably and how placemaking can occur in under-resourced neighbourhoods with community buy-in and with the help of angel investors. I am grateful for the timely reminder of this, thanks to Robinson and the dedicated people from the Dandora Transformation League.

Image courtesy the Upcycle Community Facebook page.

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