Kibera is one of Africa’s largest informal urban settlements, with a population of close to 200,000 people. Yet until six years ago, this huge sprawl, a mere five kilometres from Nairobi’s city centre, was a blank spot on the map.
In the spring of 2009, the digital mapping expert Mikel Maron was attending a software event in Nairobi, when he decided to train a group of volunteers in Kibera to map their own community. This is how Map Kibera was born. Working with co-founder Erica Hagen, Maron and the volunteers used the OpenStreetMap tool to create a digital map of Kibera that became the basis for future efforts. The first of these, issue-based mapping, added details in the areas of security, water, sanitation, health, and education. The next layer was citizen journalism, through blogs and also through Voice of Kibera, a Ushahidi-based platform. The third level was advocacy – taking the findings of Map Kibera to the community, developing action plans with them, and then working with local government to bring about real changes that the community felt were necessary. In Kibera itself, the initiatives are at an advanced stage, and the mapping tools have been applied in other informal settlements in Nairobi as well.