By Shadrack Kavilu
KIAMAIKO, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Dressed in a white apron and black gum boots, 24-year-old Osman Idris waits patiently outside a Nairobi slaughterhouse as scores of customers stream past in search of fresh meat.
A delivery man, Idris is just one of many residents of Kiamaiko, a slum 12 kms northeast of the Kenyan capital, who is making a decent living from its thriving trade in goat meat.
Unlike the majority of Kenyan slums where unemployment, insecurity and crime are rife, Kiamaiko has seen more jobs and small businesses flourish as a result of the goat market.
"Most of us here depend on these slaughterhouses for a living, it's our daily hustle," said Idris, his eyes searching for clients who might need his services.
Nearly 1 billion people live in slums where their survival often depends on the informal economy - activities such as hawking clothes, food and other goods on the street that do not fully comply with tax or labor market regulations.
The United Nations says improving transport, sanitation, hospitals and schools is imperative in slums, but authorities must also work to integrate shanty towns and their informal economies into their cities.
Success will require policies to address the problems faced by slum dwellers and their businesses including a lack of documents to prove land or property ownership which allows re-sale or loans, according to a senior official at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
"Given its size and importance, the informal economy is a fundamental element of accelerating Africa's long term vision for development," said Edlam Abera Yemeru, a UNECA specialist on urbanization policies.
RISING COST OF RENT
UNECA estimates that overall nearly 70 percent of workers in sub-Saharan Africa are engaged in the informal economy.
Increasingly, African governments are exploring new ways to slash red tape and help legalize micro-businesses to give slum dwellers a legitimate income to invest and improve their lives - while creating a new taxation stream for city administrations, experts say.
Africa's population of slum dwellers is expected to rapidly increase in the coming years with United Nations projecting that around 187 million more Africans will live in cities in the next decade, boosting both formal and informal urban economies.
In Kiamaiko residents say the goat market has transformed the sprawling slum - once notorious for guns and young, violent thugs - and even attracted investment.
"The slum used to be very risky," Idris told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"I've witnessed countless muggings here before, but since the slaughterhouses started expanding they have opened up job opportunities for youths thus helping reduce cases of crime and violence."
The growth of the goat market has led to other businesses opening their doors from car wash points to barber shops, fruit and vegetable stores to money transfer services and even recreation centers, locals say.
But not all residents are happy.
In some areas, the cost of rent has soared placing pressure on poorer families to leave their neighborhoods in search of cheaper housing further away from Nairobi's peripheral settlements and potential jobs.
"We can no longer afford to pay rent here. The rent has surged ten-fold and only those that can afford a year's rent in advance are favored by the landlords," said Macharia Karanja, a mechanic who has lived in the slum for the last 10 years.
JOBS MEAN SERVICES
Karanja says he and many other young men have become trapped in a vicious cycle of low incomes and family responsibilities at a young age.
"Most of the traders in the slaughterhouse business have bought ghetto houses and converted them into two to three storey buildings which have become unaffordable," he said.
While some residents have been forced out of Kiamaiko, others like Abdul Hassan are happy wealthier new tenants can afford services such as garbage collection and security.
"At least tenants from these high-end houses don't give us headaches like those in ghettos. They are very co-operative when it comes to paying our services," said Hassan, a member of a self-help group that collects garbage in the area.
Kiamaiko's fast-growing slum economy has also started to attract investors, residents say.
"The slum has become safer, less risky and more attractive to outside investors," said John Kibichu, a beer distributor.
"The local environment has made it possible for businesses to operate 24 hours a day and traders are all keen to grab a share of the revenue generated in this slum".
(Reporting by Shadrack Kavilu, Editing by Paola Totaro and Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)