Dandora Dangerous – Nairobi’s Dump Site

By Mark Wiens 38 Comments

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.

dandora-garbage-truck

“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.

Dandora Nairobi Kenya

dandora-houses

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.”

dandora-crime-office

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!



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  • silver darling

    6 years ago

    really good and interesting article . and i’m sure reported as you found it. @Mayasa seems to have a point tho’, just sounds like the cops are establishing relations with the new crime controllers. i guess the best way to get inside is to pay the gangsters for a tour (and respectfully ask for pics with your disposable camera).

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks for reading this article Silver. Yah, it’s a tough area of Nairobi, but hopefully things will begin to improve in Dandora.

      • Loise K

        2 years ago

        Reading this five years later and sadly nothing has changed so far…….its a constant battle.Well five years ago the dumbsite didn’t block the road,its a horrible and disturbing site.Over the years its has grown and grown……..I live around and its just sad as hell.Trying to do some recycling just to make it better but how do you compete with 1000 trucks of garbage?It makes me upset to see humans live like animals due to health risks that we residents are facing…….i have a dream that one day Dandora in Nairobi will be like Denmark where Solid Waste Management is taken seriously.

  • Lisa

    6 years ago

    Mark, I was stunned by the overflowing garbage photo. It has to be a stunningly sad and dangerous way to live their lives having to worry about thugs and bribes.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Yes Lisa, it not a very healthy environment, nor too safe of a place. I hope that improvements are being made and security will become more serious. Thanks for reading about Dandora.

  • Roy | cruisesurfingz

    6 years ago

    Wow. I’ll be honest – I don’t want to go there!

  • Linda

    6 years ago

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention, for not shying away from writing about it, and for reminding us that life is very different for some of us. I’d read about Kibera, but not Dandora. Very sobering. By co-incidence I watched, for the first time, “The Constant Gardner” last night. It all fits. It’s heartbreaking, how disposable life can be.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      You’re welcome Linda, Kibera is the most publicized, but there are many similar slum areas in Nairobi. That’s a good movie, I remember some great shots of Nairobi!

  • mayasa

    6 years ago

    i think this is exaggerating…. i lived in dandora phase 4 for some time, then moved to k-south and a friend of mine lived in the same place for nearly 6 months n nothing happened… this is just a single story u r telling, but there are others showing dandora is not that bad…. of course its the dump side and at night its dangerous, but hey, its nairobi, u must be ignorant to go out there at night alone….and of course is the police telling u this, they want some money, why should they go into a big garbage heap if they dont have to….

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Mayasa,
      I appreciate you reading this article and writing a comment. I agree, this is a single experience, and I do know friends that have lived in and near Dandora with no problems, I also know plenty of Kenyan friends that have been robbed around this area. Do you know about the cop called “The One” ?

  • WanderingTrader

    7 years ago

    You know I love the fact that you don’t only share the good parts of Nairobi.. great story! Can’t wait to get there

  • Mark Wiens

    7 years ago

    @Jamie: Thanks so much for the comment Jamie. I think it’s pretty true that a lot of travel writing focuses on good fun and advice, news focuses on terrible things or entertainment, and there’s not too much coverage of normal lives and hardships. I’m glad you enjoyed this post, thanks!

    @Iamthewitch: Hey, really appreciate you reading this article!

    @Tijmen: Yah, sometimes I think a lot of travel blogs cover similar topics, nearly always focusing on the great positive aspects, steering clear of other evident sites. Thanks for looking at this.

    @Nancie: Yes, you are right, it’s these small things that habitually occur day after day that have so much potential for streams of large income. Even in a poor country, it’s necessary things that can generate flows of cash, and unfortunately lead to problems as well.

    @Bonnie: Yup, we thought they would do it for less money too, but then they just started hesitating and eventually demanded too much for it to be worth it for us.

  • bonnie

    7 years ago

    As I was reading your post, in the back on my mind, I keep wondering, “the cops would just take anyone to places when they drop by”, and then the money…that makes more sense…

  • Nancie

    7 years ago

    What an adventure, and probably not the kind you want to repeat in every country you visit! We never really think of garbage being big business, but I think it is in many places. If I want to get rid of something large in Korea I have to purchase a “garbage sticker” from the city office……that’s big money for the city coffers.

    Good to know you made it out okay and thanks for sharing this unique story!

  • Tijmen

    7 years ago

    Visiting that place does sound like a big adventure, and definitely a place not many tourists would ever consider visiting themselfs. You know these places exist but you rarely read about them on travel blogs.

  • iamthewitch

    7 years ago

    You’re very brave to have ventured into these dark slumps which looked dangerous and scary! It’s such a provoking entry giving us a glance of what is happening behind the dumps. Thank you!

  • jamie – cloud people adventures

    7 years ago

    like many others have said, WOW. its so easy to travel around broadcasting on your blog the wonderous places of here and there, but it takes some true, for want of a better word, balls to bring this type of thing to people’s attention. since widestream media seems to completely skirt issues such as these, its bloggers like you that are important to educate people about things they might never have otherwise even conceived as possible. a truly moving post, and while i would love to see a lot more like it, stay safe mate!

  • Mark Wiens

    7 years ago

    @Monette: Thanks for the comment!

    @Miss Footloose: Yes, you are right about that. Sometimes it’s important to let people know about the side of life that is reality for many unfortunate people, puts everything into perspective. Thanks for stopping by!

    @Laurel: It’s these forms of extracurricular activities that can really make a difference in the lives to empower the youth. Recently with the Chinese investment, there are lots of motorcycle taxis roaming around Nairobi that are employing youth who would previously get into major trouble. Now they have something to do and a source of income.

  • Laurel

    7 years ago

    So glad that you decided not to go the dump and sad to hear of a place that is so dangerous, even during the day. Glad to hear there are some youth initiative programs though. It sounds like these are making a difference.

  • Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane

    7 years ago

    Good contrast to the fancy safari packages to Kenya! In the US peopel are told they must keep their kitchen counters clean with impregnated wipes that kill 99% of all bacteria or they’re going to get sick. In the mean time people in Kenya, India, Brazil, live in and off garbage heaps. What a world!

  • monette | fliptravels

    7 years ago

    you were very brave wanting to go where not many ventured to go… but every place has a story, and those stories need to be told. 😀

  • Mark Wiens

    7 years ago

    @Dave and Deb: A dump is a place you don’t think of associating with money, but because it’s a necessity (even in a dirty dirty city) it can be huge money. It’s pretty serious when a crew of cops are even afraid to go somewhere.

    @Linguist-in-Waiting: Thanks for sharing those photos, powerful. I spent a few days with a family in the Payatas area of Manila. Yes, it’s very unfortunate how people suffer (even in indirect ways) from the waste of everyone.

    @Renee: You are right, and a place like a dump has a constant stream of business that comes everyday. I asked a Kenyan friend, he told me, the thugs will NOT give up the dump.

    @Rease: Thanks so much, and I’m glad you appreciated this real glimpse.

    @John: You are right, there are many places like this around the world that remain unnoticed. Sometimes I like to venture to the spots that are the opposite of the tourist destinations. Hehe, enjoy that lunch!

    @Priyank: No problem, thanks for sharing. I think that’s a whole other side of this scenario too, the side of money that encourages corruption. More and more foreign industrialization is coming into Kenya, so hopefully there can be change for the better.

  • Mark Wiens

    7 years ago

    @Leslie: Yah, very far off the normal Nairobi, that tourists are shown, but it’s a very real side of Nairobi too.

    @Glen: Thanks for the comment Glen!

    @Christy: I think I’ve seen a few of those trucks in Arizona as well!

    @Inka: Thanks so much. I’m a fan of telling things like they are, real places, even if it’s not a great situation. I think a lot of travel focuses only on happy travel, and steers away from the tough lives of others.

  • Priyank

    7 years ago

    Bravo Mark! Sadly, this (very nicely written) post reminds me of how unsustainable our lifestyles are… we produce heaps and heaps of garbage, pooping in one corner of our home to keep the other corner pretty. You know what’s more upsetting? A lot of this garbage comes from manufacturing products that make their way to retail stores of north america for a cheap price. And we just want cheaper and cheaper products… sorry for the rant. -Priyank

  • John in France

    7 years ago

    Great article, disgusting place! I guess these places are in every country, but we just don’t (want to) see them! I’m dreaming of a lovely lunch at a cafe on Blvd St Germain in Paris….

  • Rease

    7 years ago

    This is such a great article, I love it. What a powerful place. I like that you were honest in saying this is not a great place but it should not be ignored. I’m glad you made the safe decision about entering the volatile gangster grounds.

  • Renee

    7 years ago

    There is always some enterprise ripe for corruption and I suppose garbage is no less vulnerable to such things. Mark, you certainly bring so many interesting things to light. Keep up the fantastic work.

  • Linguist-in-Waiting

    7 years ago

    How, that’s adventurous of you to venture into that place. I suppose every country has some sort of place like that. Even the Philippines has one, and it was recently the subject of a photo blogger whose work I follow here. It’s unfortunate that there are people who make their living in the midst of these circumstances.

  • Dave and Deb

    7 years ago

    Wow, what a story. I think that you were wise to not enter the dump. If the police wouldn’t go without an army that definitely says something. It is still a very compelling story and thank you for bringing it to light. I have heard of similar dumps in other places. Dumps are big business and in developing countries big business often leads to corruption. I hope that they continue to make improvements. That is good news to hear about the football club and the Kenyan musicians. Thanks for sharing.

  • inka

    7 years ago

    I admire your courage and I like that you don’t shy away from showing the ugly side of destinations too.

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic

    7 years ago

    Wow, sounds like a scary place!

    When I first saw the picture of the truck stacked high with garbage, I was reminded of the trucks that cross the Mexican border from San Diego, piled precariously high with American “junk” to be used in Mexico. But as I read more, it definitely doesn’t sound like the same thing!

  • Glen

    7 years ago

    Wow, amazing story and pictures. It’s hard to even imagine such a place, let alone try to go there!

  • Leslie (Downtown Traveler)

    7 years ago

    Wow– What an interesting experience. This is def off the tourist trail. Growing up near the dump and living off its contents must be an extremely difficult life.