Thoughts on ‘slum tourism’ by Dipesh Pabari

Earlier this week I met Dipesh Pabari, General Manager of Rift Valley Adventures based on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and while discussing tourism and all its different faces he mentioned this blog piece which he got published in the Daily Nation. And as agreed there and then and after tracing the item it can now be republished here. Thank you Dipesh – done without having any sweets thrown at me for inducement …

Shame on the slum vulture millionaires

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In Summary

  • Slum tourism does not fall under volunteerism, responsible tourism or eco-tourism, by any measure. It has slipped through the cracks, and turned an economic state of being into a cultural norm.

Not so long ago, while driving back from one of the camps I used to manage on the south coast of Kenya, I almost ran over several young children, who were chasing a large bus billowing dust.

Actually they wanted to collect sweets being thrown out of the bus.

Infuriated, I overtook the bus, halted it, and confronted a dozen or so missionary tourists, to whom I shouted: “What the hell are you doing? They are not animals in a park!”

Their verbal retaliation was hard and strong, cursing me for standing in the way of doing God’s work. It was Sunday and they were “feeding” the poor to guarantee their ticket to heaven. One has to pick one’s battles wisely.

But an article that appeared recently in the Sunday Nation about the rise of slum tourism in Nairobi’s informal settlements has prompted me to take my head out of the sand, especially after reading ridiculous statements from people in the tourist industry: “If rhinos are being killed today just behind the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters, what tourism do we have left in this country?”

According to the writer, slum tourism is gaining par with visits to the Maasai Mara. I hope this is exaggerated but, sadly, there is no question that slum tours are on the increase, and people are willing to pay dollars to gaze at poverty in its rawest form and try to “understand” what these poor people feel.

Al Jazeera ran a feature on slum tourism interviewing people who had gone on tours through some of the world’s largest slums and many claimed it opened their eyes and made them want to help.

Many slum-dwellers claim that it has opened opportunities for them that were never there before. But at what cost to humanity? How different in principle is this to sex tourism, for example?

As if sport hunting, where killing animals for the sake of enjoyment is all right because it apparently benefits conservation was not dehumanising enough, now we have boxed poverty into the cultural paradigm.

That it has some financial benefit — and even this is questionable — to those that it is being imposed on is simply not enough of a justification.

There are numerous organisations and companies that offer people from better-off societies an opportunity to be a part of their host by giving their expertise, time or money towards improving the welfare of poor communities.

Slum tourism does not fall under volunteerism, responsible tourism or eco-tourism, by any measure. It has slipped through the cracks, and turned an economic state of being into a cultural norm.

Surely, we all have a duty first to make a moral and ethical judgment about a practice before we allow economic value to be applied to it?

No doubt the government will see the opportunity here and start charging slum entrance fees. Plus 16 per cent VAT, of course.

Mr Pabari is the general manager, Rift Valley Adventures Ltd. (dipesh)

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