Kibera - The Shadow City, Christian Als' photography

Christian Als Kibera - The Shadow City

Kibera is one of the most densely populated places on earth; this means that 1,500 people on average liveon the equivalent of a football pitch, or the area seen in this picture. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2007.

Despite its bad environment and health conditions, Kibera continued to grow rapidly during the 1970s. The slumstarted to boom with its population increasing from estimated 6,000 inhabitants in 1965 to 62,000 in 1980, 250,000 in 1992 and 500,000 in 1998, with an estimated growth rate of 17 per cent per year. The population in Kibera continues to growby 5 per centevery year. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2007., Christian Als

Soot, dust and other waste heavily pollute Kibera. Open sewage routes, in addition to the common use of ‘flying toilets’, also contribute to contamination of the slum with human and animal feces. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2007., Christian Als

The average person living in Kibera does not have running water or electricity. Public latrines routinely overflow, children scamper barefoot through festering heaps of waste. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2007., Christian Als

A worshipper in the Cathedral of Praise Ministry Church in Kibera. God uses ordinary men and women with boundless enthusiasm to reach out to a world filled with desolation and despair. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2008., Christian Als

Yet another child becomes a grim statisticin Kibera; diarrhea, typhoid and dysentery are rampant, with infant mortality rates almost four times the average for Nairobi Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2007., Christian Als

The Odongo Family eating breakfast in the house. Clockwise from left are Lavenda, Naomi, Meshak, Michelle, Augustin Odongo, Cynthia, Eunice and Clarissa. Homes in Kibera are made out of corrugated tin, mud, cardboard and plastic and consist of one room that serves as a kitchen, living room and bedroom. Most homes are about 3 metres by 3 metres with an average of five people living in them. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2008., Christian Als

Augustin and Clarissa in bed with two-year old Michelle in-between. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2008., Christian Als

Kibera residents come from all the major ethnic backgrounds with some areas being specifically dominated by one tribe. This multi-ethnic culture, coupled with the tribalism of Kenyan politics, has led Kibera to be the site of ethnic conflicts throughout its near 100-year history, most recently in 2008. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2008. , Christian Als

Women and girls risk rape if they step outside their mud brick homes after dark. Kibera is composed of twelve main villages all plaguedby the same problems of poverty, poor sanitation and environmental health. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, 2007., Christian Als

Artist's Statement

I undertook the Kibera project because I wanted to document and visualize the word ‘urbanization’. I could have done it many places on earth, as this kind of human growth takes place in too many corners of the earth. 

On my way to another assignment I flew over Kibera, and it was a scene I’ll never forget – I went straight back to Nairobi and started planning. I started to visit Africa’s largest slum in 2007, and just kept coming back for the next three years. Actually I dream of going back, it is not a closed process to me. The slum grows by the day, and I have a feeling that I have to go back and see the latest changes. Every time I visit, I am amazed by the place. So absolutely sad in many ways, so full of problems and harsh living conditions, but at the same time overloaded with stunning beauty and courage in all its inhabitants. It might well be a shadow city, but light shines on the least expected places once in a while. Kibera is a place that stays with you.

About the photographer


1974, near Copenhagen, Denmark



Based in

Copenhagen, Denmark

About Christian Als

Christian Als is a Danish photographer who is concerned with global social, political and economic issues. Als’ interest in photography developed in the late 1990s after extensive travels in the Third World. Seeking to document his experiences and surroundings, he enrolled at The Danish School of Journalism from which he graduated in 2006. Als has had a successful career as a photojournalist, working in many countries on both photographic and humanitarian projects, including Gaza, Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, Tibet, Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Lebanon, Syria, Latvia and India.

Als has won numerous awards, including an Honorable Mention in UNICEF Photo of the Year 2009 and second place in the News Picture Story – Newspaper category of the 67th Pictures of the Year International (POYi) award. He was a jury member for the China International Press Photo Contest. His work has been featured in many international publications such as TIME, The New Yorker, The Sunday Times Magazine, GEO, Stern, Der Spiegel, The Wall StreetJournal and L’espresso.