The second seminar in the annual ACC NOTRUC Seminar Series is presented by Wangui Kimari on ‘Nai-Rob-Me’ ‘Nai-Beg-Me’ ‘Nai-Shanty’: Historicizing Space-Subjectivity Connections in Nairobi from its Ruins at 15:o0 in Studio 1, Environmental and Geographical Sciences Building, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town.
What can personal histories from poor urban settlements in Nairobi tell us about the history and future of this city? How do these entangled life stories belie vogue narratives of phenomena such as rural-urban migration, urban-development and postcoloniality, while also shedding light on the durability of empire? Through an ethnographic and archival exploration of the poor urban settlement of Mathare, located close to central Nairobi, I argue that urban planning emerges from within an assemblage of imperial political, social, economic and ecological ideas and practices, to produce what I term ecologies of exclusion. In essence, these planning interventions, materializing from within epistemologies of empire, co-constitutively manifest as neglect and force in Nairobi’s margins to create and sustain inequality in certain neighbourhoods—its ruins.
In addition, I show how, both now and in the past, this mode of urban governance conjures up and sustains negative stereotypical subjectivities about certain populations in order to legitimize inequalities within its formal spatial management practices. Furthermore, contemporary colonial modes of urban planning require a constant and ever more forceful militarization of poor urban spaces. Notwithstanding this now naturalized violent space-subjectivity enterprise, those who have long been categorized as the “robbers,” “beggars” and “shanty dwellers” of Nairobi engage with and emerge from these ruins of empire through unexpected ethical and political projects. And, from within their urban struggles, they render alternative subjectivities of self and space that articulate more grounded narrations of the history and possible futures of this city.
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Wangui Kimari completed a PhD in Anthropology at York University, Toronto in 2017. Her research draws attention to the historical connections between formal urban spatial management and police violence in the city. She is a FURS writing-up grant recipient and, together with Peris Jones, received an Antipode Scholar- Activist Project Award in 2016. Wangui is also the participatory action research coordinator for Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), a grassroots organization that documents and advocates against human rights violations in Mathare – Nairobi’s second largest poor urban settlement.