I received my PhD in anthropology from York University (Toronto) in 2017, and I am currently a Junior Research Fellow at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA), at the University of Cape Town.Since 2007, I have been thinking about how to make Nairobi, my hometown, a more just city, and have been fortunate to dwell and think with lots of committed grassroots activists, towards contributing to this inch by inch. My ongoing research focus emerges from this preoccupation, and is, broadly, the historicization of urban planning from areas intentionally confined to the margins, our habitual ‘slums.’ This interest intersects with studies of empire and space, youth movements, ecology, state violence and the politics of infrastructure.
My paper, ‘The story of a pump: life, death and afterlives within an urban planning of “divide and rule” in Nairobi, Kenya’ is shaped by the vernacular narrations of spatial dynamics that I encounter in Mathare, the poor urban settlement where I continue to do fieldwork. I use the everyday struggles of a basic water pump -- the bids to purchase it and use it in a space of intentional dehydration -- to reveal the coloniality of urban governance in Nairobi, and, related, how the police are de facto urban infrastructure and managers since they are used to enforce colonial logics inthe city during both the colonial and postcolonial period. Through following eventsoriented around the pump, which I witness through approaches in urban political ecology, assemblage theory and the black radical tradition, I make three main arguments.
First that urban planning in Nairobi is an imperial assemblage mediated through particular structural dynamics that haveprovenance in a colonial political economy. My second main contention is that this leads to a spatial governance of neglectand militarization in poor urban spaces in the city. Notwithstanding the endurance ofa planning of neglect and force for many city dwellers, my third argument is that residents seek to deterritorialize these normalized formal spatial practices through material and ideological engagements that identify and resist a colonial planning of divide and rule.
I am immensely grateful that this paper has received this recognition, and, above all, continue to be grateful to the many Nairobi dwellers who scaffold life and resistance with an infrastructure of stories; asantenisana for taking the time to share these with me.