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In ‘Good Fortune,’ Some Kenyan Communities Resist International Development

In "Good Fortune," filmmakers Landon Van Soest and Jeremy Levine explore how international efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa may be undermining the people they aim to help. This excerpt is part of The Economist Film Project series of independently produced films aired in partnership between The Economist and the NewsHour.

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    And to another in our series on the art of filmmaking, produced in collaboration with The Economist magazine.

    Tonight's featured documentary is called "Good Fortune." It was produced by New Yorkers Landon Van Soest and Jeremy Levine. They spent a year-and-a-half in Kenya recording a U.N. effort to redevelop a slum in Nairobi called Kibera.

    This excerpt focuses on the very different perspectives of Silva Adhiambo, a midwife who lives in Kibera, and Sara Candiracci, the program manager of the U.N. project.

    SARA CANDIRACCI, United Nations program manager: Kibera is very dramatic. It's kind of shocking. It's not only the images. It's everything. The health situation is very bad. The sanitation situation is very bad. There are no roads. There is nothing. It's not acceptable that Kibera exists. It's not acceptable. I mean — and I'm so happy that now this project is a successful project.

    SILVA ADHIAMBO, midwife (through translator): Since I came from home, I have seen a big difference in my income. So, I am happy to stay in Kibera. There's a lot of trash, but life is good.

    FRANCIS OMONDI, Settlement Executive Committee representative (through translator): My name is Francis Omondi. I am secretary of the Settlement Executive Committee, which is in charge of the slum upgrading. U.N. Habitat has something called millennium development goals.

    One of the goals of the millennium development is that by the year 2020, they should provide better housing for at least 100 million people living in slums like the one we live in. So the plan is to move people being evicted from here into temporary housing. Do you understand?

    SILVA ADHIAMBO (through translator): This is government land. Every time they threaten to build on it, we get worried that we will lose the only place we can afford to live.


    Kenya Slum Upgrading program is a joint program. It's a partnership with the government of Kenya. And the main purpose is to improve the livelihood of people and the situation of people and the infrastructure of slums.

    So many institutions, small organizations or big organizations, go in there and do these small projects, but, at the end, the impact is very low. I mean, you need to go there with a big project, working together with the community, to have a big impact.

    Now, the challenge is a lot of people need to be relocated. All the strategy to move people and to bring them back is still not clear. So, I prefer not to — you know, I can give you my opinion, but maybe it's better if I don't.

    You know, it's like this. When you work with people, it's not easy, never easy, you know, that the — the infrastructure is the soft work. The hard work is dealing with people, is dealing with the government, dealing with the community, dealing with the — all the institutions, all the interests. So, it's dealing with people is, like, the — the hard work.

    SILVA ADHIAMBO (through translator): Can't you see the government is lying to us? We will be evicted like dogs one day.

  • WOMAN (through translator):

    If you're wise, you should find somewhere to move to now. Don't count on being given a house and don't think you will come back here. When you leave, you are gone for good.

    SILVA ADHIAMBO (through translator): How much did you say it was?

  • MAN (through translator):

    That is 5,500.

    SILVA ADHIAMBO (through translator): And electricity?

  • MAN (through translator):

    One thousand, plus deposit for the house, 8,500, plus rent, 5,500.

    SILVA ADHIAMBO (through translator): Where I'm staying now, I pay 700 shillings. There's no way I can afford it, because it's way more than what I have been paying.

  • WOMAN (through translator):

    This house is 2,000. The prices are high because of the security here.

    SILVA ADHIAMBO (through translator): It's like Kenya belongs only to the rich. I would prefer it if those people just let us stay in the slum.


    U.N. Habitat is really supporting the deal to build Kibera low-cost housing. And we don't do anything without involving the community.

  • MAN:

    But the majority of them, maybe, doesn't know a number of things, because they are just within the slum here. So, how about if you go and tell them we want to construct houses for you, and then they say, we don't want the houses?


  • MAN:

    Would we adopt that? But they should follow what we are advising them, because we are experts in development.


    We realize this is a very contentious issue because it involves removing people from their settlements.

  • MAN:

    And that is why I insist you have educate them, to educate the residents who do not understand that whatever is being done is for the benefit of the residents of this area.

    SILVA ADHIAMBO (through translator): You know, the upgrading here in Kenya is difficult, because what they want is different than what the community wants. Now I'm seeing everybody fending for themselves, because there's nowhere they're taking us.


    Silva Adhiambo suffered a stroke after that film was made and can no longer work. Since her house has not yet been demolished, she still lives in Kibera. The project is moving forward slowly.

    You can learn about The Economist Film Project or submit your own film at film.economist.com.

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