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Sauti Ya Mtaa: Creative communication to catalyse change in Nairobi’s slums

Mtaani Initiative

“Kenyan media is heavily biased towards elites - vulnerable citizens are often the last to know about critical issues that affect them.” — Julio Otieno, Mtaani Initiative


Citizen journalists working with 111 media hub members


Stories highlighting the voices and rights of slum dwellers in Nairobi

Start date
July 2014
End date
April 2015
Period: 10 months


Slum dwellers in Nairobi live in the midst of vibrant debate, in a tech-savvy city that has embraced radio, television and the internet to support public input into political life.

But, while debate rages around them, voices from the slums rarely make it into mainstream political discussions. Formal mechanisms to report on how public services are operating in slums are not working, and even basic information on issues such as land tenure, police interventions and health outbreaks is not readily available, leading to a marginalisation of whole communities in the city.


The Mtaani Initiative project, Sauti ya Mtaa, brings together some of the most successful slum-focused communication initiatives in Nairobi. It focuses citizen journalism, art, and political activism on the task of increasing the representation of slum residents’ voices in public and political discourse.

Through the project, citizen journalists partner with digital storytellers, mappers and bloggers to produce collaborative multimedia reports that use a mix of online and offline tools, reaching out to communities whether they are online or not.

Stepping outside of traditional approaches to governance, this project hopes to show how innovation and creativity can improve access to information, and open up new avenues for citizen-driven, data-informed accountability.


Sauti Ya Mtaa, literally translated as “Voices from the Streets” is a project of local Kenyan organisation, the Mtaani Initiative.


  • Searching for data to illustrate local level issues is really challenging. “Even when we were aware of major issues, such as arson being used as a method of forced eviction, we didn’t know where to turn to get quality data to illustrate this" - Project Manager, Clarissa Maracci.
  • Don't underestimate the limitations of using open data. Information on open data portals is often out-of-date and incomplete. Where publicly accessible data does exist, it is not always specific enough for projects to use. Government portals usually present information at a national or state-level, but don’t capture community-level issues.
  • Citizen journalists cannot take the same risks as investigative journalists. Citizen journalists are not trained in how to negotiate security issues, and have no protection from an umbrella organisation like a journalists’ union. It's important to set realistic expectations about how much of a risk unpaid, unprotected citizen journalists can take on. “We had people come to us and say, “we just can’t risk our lives!” and as a project, we had no way of protecting or defending our citizen journalists.”
  • There is an underlying assumption that citizens are interested in stories on corruption. Sauti ya Mtaa found that their audiences were tired of constant stories about corruption. Projects need to be realistic about what their audience wants - it may not be in line with project objectives. “Reporting on corruption isn’t necessarily news – not when there is an embedded culture of corruption”