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BECOMING ‘COSMO’: DISPLACEMENT, DEVELOPMENT AND DISGUISE IN ONGATA RONGAI

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2015

Abstract

Ongata Rongai, a rapidly growing, ethnically heterogeneous community on Nairobi's urban periphery, has remained remarkably convivial in a country so frequently defined by conflicts over land and belonging. Bolstered by a distinct set of political logics and social practices, many of the site's multi-ethnic residents overtly reject the validity of ethnic violence and politics with reference to an explicitly articulated universalist inclusivity rarely seen in Kenya. Locally described as ‘being cosmo’, this distinct political rhetoric and emerging subjectivity has its roots in the mixed ethnic origins of its leaders, the history of land acquisition, and xenophobic persecution and displacements elsewhere in the country. More specifically, the evolution of this conviviality in the shadow of conflict has been driven by the interests of ‘half-caste’ political elites and increasingly established Kikuyu landowners. Together they draw on and reinforce a foundation myth of fair land transfers to promote peace and their own economic and electoral ambitions. The result is a vernacular and spatialized cosmopolitanism that fosters localized ethnic blindness. Its success depends on demonizing discourses of indigeneity while embracing ideas of ethnic homelands beyond the city. By acting as a foil to a growing literature on the ethnicization of land and space in Africa, this article demonstrates the need to understand spatially constructed subjectivities as responses to supra-local social and political practice.

Résumé

Ongata Rongai, une communauté ethniquement hétérogène qui connait une croissance rapide à la périphérie urbaine de Nairobi, est restée remarquablement conviviale dans un pays si fréquemment défini par des conflits liés à la terre et à l'appartenance. Soutenus par un ensemble distinct de logiques politiques et de pratiques sociales, un grand nombre des résidents appartenant à des groupes ethniques multiples rejettent ouvertement violence et politique ethniques et promeuvent au contraire des pratiques inclusives larges rarement observées au Kenya. « Etre cosmo » comme elle est décrite localement, est une subjectivité politique distincte qui trouve ses origines dans les origines pluriethniques de ses dirigeants, dans l'histoire de l'acquisition des terres, et dans les persécutions xénophobes et les déplacements ailleurs dans le pays. De manière plus spécifique, l’évolution de cette convivialité au milieu des conflits a été dessinés par les intérêts d’élites politiques « métisses » et des propriétaires kikuyu bien établis. Ensemble, ils utilisent et renforcent un mythe fondateur d'un transfert équitable de terres pour promouvoir la paix et leurs propres ambitions économiques et électorales. Il en résulte un cosmopolitisme vernaculaire et spatialisé qui dépasse les affiliations ethniques localisées endiabolisant les discours d'indigénéité tout en tolérant les affiliations ethniques en dehors de la ville. En tant que contre point à une littérature croissante consacrée à l‘ethnicisation en Afrique, cet article démontre la nécessité de comprendre les subjectivités spatialement construites comme des réactions à une pratique sociale et politique plus large.

Type
The politics of exclusion and inclusion in Africa
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 2015 

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BECOMING ‘COSMO’: DISPLACEMENT, DEVELOPMENT AND DISGUISE IN ONGATA RONGAI
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