|By Katy Migiro1/3 |By Katy Migiro
|By Katy Migiro2/3 |By Katy Migiro
|By Katy Migiro3/3 |By Katy Migiro
By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With human waste from a burst sewer oozing down the main street of Kenya's largest slum, annoyed residents have been bombarding the Facebook page of Kibera constituency's first parliamentarian, Kenneth Okoth, with insults.
"It's just been: 'Ken Okoth is good for nothing. He's terrible. What a loser. We will never vote for him again," the bespectacled 38-year-old former teacher laughed ruefully.
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Okoth has phoned and sent photographs of the filth to Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company and Nairobi's governor, who is in charge of sewerage services, without response.
"I have no physical resources to fix it," said Okoth, who was born in Kibera and raised by a single mother of six.
"What do I do? Tell them: 'Here is the number of the governor, call him?'... It's hard," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
While opprobrium on social media hurts Okoth, whose Twitter profile includes his mobile phone number, the people of Kibera, living five kilometers (3 miles) from Nairobi city center, are used to being ignored by their government.
Kibera is one of Africa's oldest slums, dating back to the early 20th century, and a stronghold of the opposition.
Residents are squatters on public land, living in corrugated iron shacks perched next to garbage-clogged open sewers.
Without title deeds, many have been victims of forced eviction, particularly during the 1980s one-party era and later bouts of political unrest.
Successive governments have done little to invest in the illegal and unplanned settlement or bring services like piped water, clinics and schools.
After decades of neglect, the government has recently built new roads with streetlights and deployed the National Youth Service to clean up the garbage and build pit latrines.
But the money and political will required for comprehensive slum upgrading, which Okoth would like to see, is lacking.
"Coming from Kibera gives me a huge responsibility because not every person from Kibera gets a chance to go to parliament," said Okoth, who estimates the slum's population at 400,000 people, based on the fact there are 100,000 registered voters.
"Trying to improve people's lives (in Kibera) is very personal," he said, stirring sugar into a cup of black tea.
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Okoth's inspiring rags-to-riches story shows how education can transform lives, particularly for the poor.
His family were evicted from their one-room Kibera shack by government bulldozers and dogs when he was a toddler.
When he was hungry and his mother, a clerk, didn't have money, he would scrounge a plateful of food from neighbors.
"As you can see, now not having enough to eat is not a problem," he laughed, patting his rounded belly.
Kenyan parliamentarians are among the best paid globally although four in 10 people in the East African nation struggle to meet their basic needs, according to the World Bank.
Okoth shared a mattress on the floor with his siblings until he won a scholarship to Starehe Boys Centre, one of Kenya's top performing schools, and slept in a bed for the first time.
With additional scholarships, he studied up to masters level in the United States before returning home to run for member of parliament for the newly created Kibra constituency - representing Kibera - in Kenya's 2013 elections.
Kibra is the original name for Kibera, given to it by its original inhabitants, Nubian soldiers from Sudan who fought for the British colonialists and were rewarded with a 4,000 acre plot on the outskirts of Nairobi.
"Education is a game changer," Okoth said, explaining why it is has been his priority since winning power.
"For a young person in Kibra to think they can be the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, it won't happen until you send them to school."
He aims to increase Kibera's government secondary schools to five from two before Kenya's August 2017 elections.
If he wins a second term, he wants to build a Kibera arts center and invest in sports to nurture young talent, pointing to the success of former resident Victor Wanyama, a footballer with Tottenham Hotspur.
"He earns more than Barack Obama for his soccer skills," Okoth said.
"Our people are talented ... All they are asking for (is) a chance to do something that's dignified, not to be a thief, not to be a beggar, not to be poor."
(Reporting by Katy Migiro @katymigiro; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)