Note: I was barely able to snap any photos in this area. My Kenyan friends were reluctant for me to even so much as bring along any camera device. I brought my old camera and didn’t take many photos.
“There’s no mercy in Dandora.”
The garbage from the city of Nairobi is dumped into a mountain of decaying waste and sewage that sprawls some 5 km and is controlled by Nairobi’s most notorious clan of thugs.
Desperate people, kid’s included, risk their lives rummaging through this butchered heap of unwanted material. There’s no rubbish separation when it comes to Dandora, bloody medical debris mixes with other waste, creating a hazardous area where poison is visible to the eye.
There’s an unmistakable stench like a fog of death blanketing the air when arriving to the Nairobi dump site. Nairobi River, runs along the side of the dump carrying with it the venom from rotting garbage as well as frightening run-off liquid.
The gangsters who control the dump hibernate, hiding in the heaps of garbage by day and counting their treasures. When night falls, the thugs come out of their hiding, back to their homes and families or else out to cause trouble.
Why are thugs fighting over Dandora dump? Everyday maybe 1000 trucks dump their waste in Dandora, each paying a fee of 500 KSH ($6.15) and maybe a few bribes to go with it. This is BIG business.
“Dandora dump is their office.”
Dandora is an area of Nairobi that everyone hears about, yet few foreigners have ever ventured towards. When people are gunned down in bloody wars, Dandora is likely to be featured, but possibly ignored as another story from Dandora.
We drove to Dandora, (an adventure in itself) stopping by Dandora police station, adjacent to the dump. The police station consisted of a few mud huts covered in mabati (rolled metal roofing), including the infamous jail cell where Mungiki thugs have been detained.
Birds were circling high above the garbage, looking for dead things to scavenge.
“Guys don’t even want to escape from the mud hut jail cell, if they do, they know that the next time they are so much as seen in the area, they’ll be ruthlessly gunned down, no mercy.” As unsafe as it is, neighbors in the area know each other as a community. If you commit a crime, you better get out, or escape to the dump.
“Dudes in Dandora don’t forget.”
We stepped into the crime office and waited for the officer to finish talking with a few women explaining a complicated criminal situation. We proceeded to ask the officer if we could enter the dump, “Ehhhh, do NOT enter that place without protection, it is a very dangerous place, you will be robbed.”
He contacted a cop. A cop arrived, a lanky man in a baseball cap, showing little expression other than mean looking eyes. He was hesitating as we waited, he expressed that he would not enter the dump without a small army, fully loaded.
I began to suspect, maybe we had made a terrible decision coming to Dandora and trying to catch a glimpse of the Nairobi dump.
The head policeman explained that a few days previous, a crew of young gangsters, teenagers, had overtaken the dump, pushing the older thugs out and taking control. The Dandora police unit somewhat knew the former gangsters, knowing they wouldn’t mess with them if they entered the dump with loaded weapons. This new clan however, was not so predictable, hungry for violence and dangerous.
“You don’t know, there could easily be groups of gangs roaming in the dump that just decide to take you out. There are thugs that run the dump operation, as well as thugs who just chill in the day, seeking refuge from justice.”
After a few hours of waiting, hearing many more vicious stories of violence around the area, as well as the cops demanding a large sum of money for their effort, we decided to get out without entering the dump.
Amidst the uncertainty and harsh conditions of Dandora, there is hope and aspiration. Dandora Youth Football Club and Academy aims to empower youth using constructive sports and activities to build each other up positively. The football organization now accommodates and trains over 750 youth in the area who are en-route to brighter futures.
Other youth in Dandora take to hip-hop music for their source of inspiration. A number of Kenyan musicians have risen from Dandora, providing positive influences to the many in the area who look up to them.
Dandora is not a great place, nor is it a nice place to visit, but it is a real part of Nairobi, Kenya. Though the dump site is basically feared and taken off the radar, hope in Dandora remains high and improvements are increasing.
- Migration Mark
Check out this list of 101 Things to do in Nairobi!