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Nairobi as Home: Anti-Urbanism and the Structuring of Time and Space of Kenya’s Capital.

Wed January 24th 2024, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Event Sponsor
Center for African Studies
Encina Commons
615 Crothers Way, Stanford, CA 94305

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For the last 120 years Nairobi has been thought of as a city of temporary migrants. Not just the colonial administrators that planned the city, but also the workers, builders, traders, entertainers, and professionals that were drawn in from other parts of the country and from across the Indian Ocean. Most were not meant to stay. They were only there to build a new modern city. Once done, they were to return to the countryside (if African) or other countries (if Asian) least they contaminate the newness and modernity of the city. Urban planning, policy, law, and administration was and is geared to maintaining this temporality – maintaining some people as temporary in order to make others permanent. I call this form of urbanism “anti-urbanism” as it takes as its organizing principle that some people – the majority of people – cannot, should not, must not, be urban in any permanent manner. Nevertheless, more and more people see Nairobi as home and have nowhere else to go.  In our obsession with the newness and modernity of Nairobi we easily forget just how long these “migrants” have been living in the city and we overlook their place-making practices as they made the city their own. Drawing from my current book manuscript this talk looks at long-term consequences of anti-urbanism and the methodologies I use to understand its effect in structuring the time and space of Nairobi.

Speaker Biography:

Bettina Ng’weno, is an Associate Professor and award-winning teacher in African American and African Studies at the University of California, Davis, where she is affiliated with the Graduate Groups in anthropology, geography and cultural studies. Trained as an anthropologist at Stanford and Johns Hopkins University and with foundation in agricultural science and management at UC Davis, her research and teaching interests include space, property, social justice, citizenship, cities, states, race and ethnicity within Latin America, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. She was previously co-director of the Mellon Research Initiative Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds at the University of California, Davis. Her books include: Turf Wars, Citizenship and Territory in the Contemporary State (Stanford) focused on Colombia; and the edited volumes Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds (Routledge) on the Indian Ocean region, and Developing Global Leaders: Insights from African Case Studies (Palgrave) focused on Africa. Working from personal, familial, ethnographic and archival history and experience, her current book (Growing Old in a New City) and creative film (Last Dance in Kaloleni) project, focused on the capital of Kenya, brings to life a Nairobi centered on the Railways, the dreams and aspirations of long-term residents, and the complicated spatial and temporal dynamics of the city.