Posted in Poetry

A song for Kibera

By Noel Ihebuzor

From their anthills and lairs, nests, cages and hovels
They crawl out of their holes, their dark damp cramped cages
At the first suggestion of light
on a new day
on empty bellies and in unwashed bodies,
on cracked tired broken shoes
they stream forth like angry ants in search of little change and
praying for the big change
In this existence denied of meaning, devalued and wasting

As they scurry to places to sell their hands and feet
They leave behind temporarily a jungle maze
full of the living and the heaving
most empty denied living hollowed souls
sucked into the hole of hell by want and still in want

Late in the evening, they crawl back insatiate to their dark damp cramped holes
To rest fatigued souls and aching soles
Every day repeats this same ritual of pain with no gain
This same cycle and the circle remain unbroken, imprisoning,
crushing and slowly closing in

A vegetating existence has slowly cooked and numbed the soul
Emptying it of meaning and thinning it as the soles of the tired shoes they wear
As poverty flourishes and hope declines, tired souls and worn out soles

Men and women, teens and adults, drifters and hopefuls
They trooped here from now dimly remembered villages,
Their minds and feet seduced by the lure of glory
The haste for gain
Now their souls sad and weary weighed down and confused
Reduced by pain, held by down as if by weights of lead and waste

The rains of regret have erased all,
washed away all rainbows from these emptying spirits
regret rears strong, sears and cuts deep like a shearer’s knife
the mud filled streams of poverty wash down and away
clearing and carrying away the struggling and clambering feet and limbs and lives
the slopes are steep and slippery and false
on this faulted journey to the portals of plenty and affluence
the streams become torrents, and the torrents rage and
drag down and away

the storms of ruin gather and billow
dirt, dust, rust and rot mingle
dearth and the death of living
the dance of the death in place of life
like the stagger of the club footed , ungainly, clumsy, ugly and pitiful

help comes on millipede feet, fortune just as fast and hope dies just as slow
poverty walks and stalks in tatters and foul rags
time is also a millipede, hope a stunting dwarf
despair blooms and flourishes widely like wild untamed poisonous mushrooms
announces her presence loudly in the echoing rumbles of empty stomachs
fading hopes, festering wastes, dirty deaths, dirt and garbage

priests and pastors, imams, preachers and prophets
conduct their rich rituals as they dispatch the departed
and console the living with tall tales

Life in the crowded spaces of the living is full of rage, red in the tooth,
Raw, rough, tough
Human waste runs open, in open drains, scattered
Pipes and pumps yawn empty, cheap card board and brown zinc habitations
Sprawl and lean dangerously before habitants who have since stopped to care

The smell of alcohol mixes with the stench of poverty,
mixes with the smell
Of airless spaces with exposed excreta, vomit and waste
In noisy cheap bars, cheap perfumes on easy prostitutes
male and female
Hang heavy suffocating with the damp clammy odour of fear that sits heavily on this place of violence that violates
Scantily clad child mothers parade their wares unheeding before
Progressively inebriated future clients, with dimming eyes and failing judgments
As the venom of booze slowly creeps all over, dulling senses and stirring lust
The flesh trade is fast and flourishes, a lot more than flesh is sold in those short exchanges
Poorly clad children issues of many a trade sit around abandoned,
Strong glue has fried their brains and slowly freezes their lungs
They observe, hear, see, soak in and absorb all the rituals of pain, shame, want, cruelty and neglect

The streams of life that waters the living flow away and distant
rough and raging torrents of mud dredges rush openly and scar this place of want
rich in misery, eroding living and corroding the soul

And the place goes on
one big dance of opposites
full but empty
alive but dying
urban yet a jungle
more animals and less human
all ready to pounce

They trooped here in droves in search of hope
hopelessness and dope now bind many
in their rage the gun and knife now become a few
and for many the rope calls and ultimately unbinds……

let the sky open like my eyes and see
may the sky unblock her ears to the cries of pain and shame
heaven, reach out and wipe away their sighs, their pain
as they hover stunned by the lies of smooth tongues
sky loosen their bonds
bind those who tie up others with their inaction and truthful lies
heaven, unbind these bound tongues, bind those of the binders and wasters

heaven, open a window for these trapped souls
so that sun may shine
sky, open your sides and send showers of calm, of hope
of renewal, to reborn, recreate
let your waters of life wash away the gloom and doom, loosen their grips and unbind
the victims, wash away greed, remove need
let the seeds of hope flourish, hope and possibilities as twins and triplets
let new habitations spring up, homes for humans and hearths for hearts
women and children will be fine
and songs and dances may explode in every throat richly
and tired feet may again dance in nimble and rediscovered elegance of souls filled and fired by fine wine

**** I visited Kibera, Nairobi for the first time in 2004 and returned there on a number of occasions. The intense poverty there never ceased to shock me…and this song of despair and hope, written in 2004 was one of my responses to the strong emotions Kibera stirred up in me.


Development and policy analyst with a strong interest in the arts and inclusive social change. Dabbles occasionally into poetry and literary criticism!

25 thoughts on “A song for Kibera

  1. Noel, this, again is angry and beautiful. I love your prayer in the last two stanzas, because that is how I read it, is as a prayer. I hope it will be answered. It this is what we can do with our voices, it is we should be doing with them. Thank you for using yours for this. Again, I am going to ask if I can FB this…


  2. Gladly, Susan, please put on FB! Incidentally, in 2009, I was privileged to watch the film, “the constant gardener” and was amazed the images of Kibera captured in that film coincided with those in this song. Again in the same year, I chanced on a copy of novel by Rev Father Uwem – “say you are one of them” which is a very sharp criticism of some of the sad realities of african contemporary existence and the barbarities of conflict – and again the story on Kibera read like this song but in prose form.


    1. No way, Noel–I just watched that very film for the first time not 2 days ago on Showtime and loved it…I am wanting to record it in full on DVR–I missed the first 20 minutes or so of it. Story sucked me right in.


  3. This is extremely moving. What I appreciate most about this poem is how layered it is and how you bring the reader right there with you so that the details are felt, heard, smelled. Thank you for sharing this.


  4. Thanks, Jeremy. Kibera is a multi-layered problem – the child of poverty, greed, indifference and failed urbanization. Most tourists to Nairobi hardly ever get to see it – yet it is just there by Wilson Airport, close by the famous Carnivores club and surrounded by opulence!


  5. When I was in Nairobi last year, I wanted to visit a handicraft factory (that made ornaments of animal bones) in Kibera, but I couldn’t because of the security situation in Nairobi last October. I love this poem, it speaks without euphemisms, better than an entire article on Kibera would. It’s great Noel, that you actually digress with so many others and assert that the greed and apathy here and the indifference of the ruling junta, is something to be ashamed of, and that people here need hope and help. ‘Poorly clad children, issues of many a trade…….’ very scathing and true.


  6. wow this is epic…and harrowing as well…capturing the trials, the poverty, the hope yet torn from the fingers….this is wonderfully penned as well getting us right into it…and you def plucked the heart strings as well…a small stanza right in the middle encapsulated it well for me…

    And the place goes on
    one big dance of opposites
    full but empty
    alive but dying
    urban yet a jungle
    more animals and less human
    all ready to pounce


  7. This strikes a cord with me; I have a poem, written in 2003, I called Stones, in which I tried to express my sorrow and flustration at the conditons in the world that create poverty and homelessness. Your poem does it exceptional well. Thank you, for reading my poem “In the Beginning”. I will visit, again.


  8. This peom is overdescriptive and that goes on to make the length of the poem obvious. Instead of the length to be engaging it is windy and , it distracts the poem/reader from the poverty of Kibera.

    The closing stanzas tries to compensate by taking us back to the streets of Kibera in a prayer of hope for the future.


  9. Thanks, Inyene ika mi, Nsisong! Yes, I agree it is long. Kabolobari had also made similar observations – and i plead guilty as charged. Perhaps I allowed myself to be carried away by the misery I saw there and could not therefore resist the emotional need as some form of Carthasis to inflict the sense of pain, waste and human misery I felt at the different levels of this urban aberration – drugs, alcohol, crime, dirt, poverty, prostitution, poor sanitation, hopes betrayed – etc on my reader. But you make a good point.on the length! Thanks for dropping by and commnting.


  10. Those of us who have never seen such need to be hit on the head and in the solar plexus with the descriptions in this piece. The writing is strong enough to carry us beautifully to the end of the poem.


  11. I finally got to read this after several days of leaving it opened on my computer. I share the sentiment expressed above on the lenght of the poem but I wouldnt throw the baby out with the bath water. Maybe, maybe it’s a verse or two too long but we shouldnt sacrifice the vividness that comes with lenghty expressions, as seen here, for the beauty that comes with brevity, especially in poetry. A long poem, but not too long.

    help comes on millipede feet, fortune just as fast and hope dies just as slow…… aptly worrying a description that it suspends whatever process of sympathy build-up in the mind of the reader up to that line and triggers a feeling of hopelessness for doom-laden Kibera.

    A scary piece, delievered with the expertise of an ingeniously creative eye-witness.


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