1African cities have always been privileged spaces of experimentation of urban development ideas and models. During pre-independence, these were imported from the West and applied by the colonial regimes. After, the aid development apparatus largely contributed to maintain the hegemony of ideas and practices through technical assistance and dissemination of best practices and policy guidelines. In the new millennium, a significant change is taking place in the conception, production and governance of African cities (Parnell, Pieterse, 2014). The involvement of a diversified range of actors and cultural references in the representation, mediation and management of the African city makes urban transformations more complex to decipher.
- 1 This correlation is based on discourse theory (developed out of post-structural thinkers and Foucau (...)
- 2 The inculcation is when people own certain narratives, position themselves inside them, act, think, (...)
2This paper aims to contribute unraveling African urban changes by investigating the city as a discourse formation, thus as a linguistically articulated social practice. This means to imply a dialectic relationship between language and urban transformations1 and unveil the ideologies, theories, models and practices on which discourses rely upon. The attention is not on the semiotics only, but also on the actors and their practices of production, dissemination, inculcation and enactment of texts2. This investigation contributes to understand the spatial rationalities beyond urbanism and the process of legitimisation through which specific urban projects and policies achieve the status of truth and become hegemonic. Ultimately, the exposure of the power relations has the potential to help identifying impediments to the attainment of equity goals and the adoption of innovative planning approaches for creating a different and better city.
- 3 In Cultural Political Economy (CPE) concept of ‘economic imaginary’ is a fundamental theoretical an (...)
3The concept of urban imaginary is introduced for framing the discursive practices involved in the battle among competing views of urban development being produced in Nairobi. It draws from (neo) Gramscian, Cultural Political Economy3, Critical Discourse Analysis and Urban Critical Theory approaches, which recognize the centrality of language in shaping power-knowledge relationships in the affirmation of hegemonic projects.
4An urban imaginary is a descriptive, regulatory or projecting narration (articulated through various discourses, genres and styles), which reflects a specific conception of space, urban governance, urban planning or citizenship and is conceived for representing and simplifying a complex urban reality such as a metropolis, a city, or neighborhood. The concept encapsulates four fundamental prerogatives.
5Firstly, the imaginary is a semiotic order, with epistemic, rhetorical and regulative functions (Fairclough, 2003 ; Jessop and Oosterlynck, 2008). A relation of similarity is established with the concepts of “representation of space” and “conceived space” coined by H. Lefebvre (1974) for explaining the unavoidable cultural dimension associated with the ‘production of space’. Urban imaginaries are different from the ‘actually existing’ socio-spatial urban reality - the chaotic sum of all urban activities and interventions that transform the socio-spatial structure of the city, as the city is strongly shaped by context-specificity (i.e. geographically, socially, politically, culturally) and ‘grand discourses’ adapt under local specificities.
6Secondly, the urban imaginary is a “condensation” (Harvey, 1996) or “reduction” (Jessop and Oosterlynck, 2008) of complex urban entities, where the omission or inclusion of elements is a vital operation.
7Thirdly, the imaginary is “performative, constitutive force in the material world” (ib), thus different from utopia. This prerogative is the result of a continuing interaction between the semiotic and the extra-semiotic domains, which presupposes some degree of responsiveness to real needs and instrumentalities for implementation.
8Fourthly, imaginaries incorporate power because they are systems of meaning and complex products of history, constitute culture and generate from the state, civil society and other institutions (education, religion, political parties, intellectuals, etc.) (Fairclough, 2003). On the foreground, there is Gramsci’s (2007) conceptualization of hegemony, a relationship of power waged through consent rather than force. Hegemony indicates the ability to dominate not only in political and economic terms, but also in cultural terms, through the capacity to project one’s beliefs and practices as universal and ‘common sense’. This consensual dimension is a significant factor in understanding the functioning and change of hegemonic systems, but their success depends also on the capacity to articulate convincing imaginaries with a flow of material rewards. Moreover, hegemony is not a static, rigid and invincible system of top-down domination, but it is always vulnerable to contestation and subversion (Sum, 2009).
9A problematic question is how hegemony is conquered : how master plans, policies, or projects produce hegemonic imaginaries ? Six major factors for enabling the production of hegemonic imaginaries are identified :
resonance with gran discourses and knowledge brands : the imaginary’s receptivity of urban planning ideas elaborated by wide-reaching organizations ;
social authority : political, intellectual and moral leadership of the institution producing and supporting the imaginary ;
inculcation : the imaginary’s capacity to enter the policy discourse and being perceived and expressed as people own imaginaries ;
enactment : the imaginary’s capacity to discipline space ;
linking with a hegemonic societal project (i.e. capitalism) : being consistent with it, thus absorbing segments of (new) urban classes ;
capacity for transformation : the imaginary’s ability to negotiate (and with competing imaginaries (because of counter-hegemonic forces).
10The definition of urban imaginary and the above factors have guided the analysis of the production of hegemonic urban imaginaries in Nairobi, which are explained in the following sections, however before addressing issues of space and hegemony and brief introduction on the socio-spatial and political context of Nairobi is required.
11Nairobi, with about 3.2 million inhabitants, is an important African hub for commerce, transport, tourism and humanitarian activities. The proportion of the population living in Nairobi has continued to increase from its foundation, at the end of the XIX century, with a significant intensification after independence. In the past fifty years, Nairobi’s inhabitants have tenfold, absorbing almost three quarter of the national urban population, attesting to 9,5 millions, while the total population is just over 40 millions (ib). Nairobi expanded mainly due to the gross domestic product (GDP) and population growth, which reflected a natural population increase among the urban residents, as well as rural-urban migration (Obudho, 1997).
12The Kenyan economy, since the first Kibaki government (2002-2007), has been expanding after a long recession. The violence exploded during the 2007 elections distressed the economic performance, but a positive reaction has followed after the introduction of the new Constitution in 2010 and the peaceful election of the current president Uhuru Kenyatta. Nairobi is the major contributor to Kenya’s economy and ranks 56 in the A.T. Kearney Global Cities Index 2012. One of the direct beneficiaries of the city growth and free trading environment is the real estate market. Since 2003, exclusive neighborhoods and speculative building activity targeting mainly the lower middle segment of the market have expanded.
13Kenya is a ‘neo-patrimonial’ society, in which the patrimonial behavior penetrates the legal-rational bureaucratic system, twisting its logic, functions and effects (Gifford, 2009). During the last 50 years, post-independence ambitions permeated by African socialism and modernism, coexisted with patronage practices, clientelism and governmental policies, which have not succeed in contrasting the forces that privileged the concentration of social and economic activities in the hand of a small élite. Stratification by wealth and class replaced that of race, but ethnic divisions are still considered a relevant determinant of inequality, strictly connected with patronage practices and arbitrary allocation of public goods and distribution of public spending (Kanyinga, 2006).
14There are still signs of a constrained public sphere and a culture of fear from the long period of curtailed freedom of expression ; however since Kibaki, the political and civil rights have improved and the suppression of protests and discordant ideas has diminished. The public participation and active engagement of citizens has increased, thanks also to the new constitution and new land policy, which call for citizens’ rights to good quality environment, housing and security of tenure and participation in the decision-making process. The non-state actors in Kenya comprise diverse groups of organizations, including NGOs, CBOs, self-help groups, women and youth groups, unions, cooperatives, community trusts and faith organizations.
15The historical evolution of the polarization of Kenya society is reflected in Nairobi’s socio-spatial transformations. The segregationist character of colonial urban policies left an indelible mark (Charton-Bigot and Rodriguez-Torres, 2006 ; K’akumu and Olima, 2007)
16Founded as a the transit and administration centre for the Uganda Railway in 1899, Nairobi was transformed to serve the colonial regime and the European settlers as the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate ; the ‘racial tripartition’, imprinted at the origins, was then consolidated. The European established their home on the hills (in the west and north-west quadrants of the city), the Asian settled mainly in the north and east and the African employee were confined in the ‘native areas’ in the east. From the outset, the informal settlements became part of Nairobi development. The II World War marked a major turning point. Unlikely the previous period, the Africans were better tolerated because they were necessary for consolidating the capitalistic mode of production. Barrack-like dormitories for bachelors and housing estates for families were constructed, although African remained legally second-class citizens, without right of permanent residence or freedom of movement. Segregation continued to play a highly significant role, but the socio-economic changes were already pushing racial segregation towards segregation based on social classes.
17With independence (1963) racial discriminations were abolished, however the values of freedom and democracy failed to be applied across all Kenyans. The new ruling élite occupied the ‘white’ quarters, the civil servants managed to obtain a house - partly subsidised by public resources - while the rapidly expanding lower class endured through informal strategies. The ‘survival’ type of squatting, which involved the illegal occupation of land and the self-construction of shelter had transformed : informal ownership and tenancy became lucrative at the expenses of the poorest. Until mid 1980's urban policies focused on housing, shifting from the provision of homes by the state, to ‘site-and-services’ projects and then to slum upgrading - reflecting changes in the World Bank’s discourse and projects. However, the supply represented a small percentage of the needs.
18With the first Structural Adjustment Program (1986) investments for poverty alleviation stopped, including slum upgrading and the ‘enabling approach’ - the new doctrine elaborated by World Bank and UNCHS - was introduced in the Housing National Strategy the following year. By the beginning of the new millennium the physical and social structure of the city had further deteriorated by the decline in public investment, rapid urbanization, economic recession, slum evictions, lack of access equitable land policies and the collapse of the municipal government, which impeded to give a direction to urban transformations.
- 4 The 2005 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey is the latest reliable poverty estimates by the G (...)
- 5 In terms of transport connections, environmental conditions, hygiene and sanitation, provision of b (...)
19The dichotomist interpretation of formal vs informal or rich enclaves vs slums is inappropriate to describe Nairobi ‘urbanism, although privileges are still unevenly divided4 and reflected in the city’s spatial exclusion (Anyamba, 2008 ; Charton-Bigot and Rodriguez-Torres, 2006). The slum is a world apart from the CBD and the well-off residential enclaves, but dependency, tensions and interactions exist between these two realities and informality is a logic that belongs to the process of urban transformation itself and in Nairobi clearly invests all social classes (Anyamba, 2008). The practices of placemaking of this society creatively re-making itself under profound global and local changes produce a variety of ‘segments’. They are distinctively regulated and morphologically diverse, where the urban quality5 and urban forms are tangible expressions of both social inequalities and complex cultural processes. These segments are the product of a dialectic relationship among competing needs, interests and desires, as well as practices of adaptation of modes of thinking, ideas and models coming from both distant cultures, but also from national emblems and the adjacent countryside.
20A west-east divide - based on topographic and climatic conditions - almost overlaps the poverty and income divides of the city (figure 1); whereby environmental qualities are inversely proportional to economic status, availability of finance and population density. The high-income neighborhoods are concentrated in the western and higher lands, once occupied by the Europeans and now inhabited by the national élite and expatriates. The socio-economic space of maintained roads, abundant and well-manicured green spaces, mansions in colonial style, modern residential estates, eclectic shopping malls, recreational villages and sport clubs - all rigorously gated - is capitalist and culturally western and are the expression of a “voluntary segregation” (K’akumu, and Olima, 2007). Western concepts of space and social organization are also found in the CBD, where both the colonial past and modernism have left tangible signs.
Figure 1: Poverty and income divides in Nairobi, Kenya
Source: author’s composition on the basis of Obudho and Aduwo, 1992; Oyugi and K’Akumu, 2007; Chan et al, 2008.
21The civil servants and the growing middle class inhabit medium-density and middle income neighborhoods, prevalently located in the eastern quadrant. The urban form tends to be the irreverent adaptation of different western concepts of space and architectural features. The design choices appear driven by symbolic values attributed to specific typologies (apartments), features (arches, porches) and materials (concrete, bricks, tiles), more than the adaptation to the physical context (i.e. climate) and needs. Outside the gate the infrastructure, public services and facilities provisions are not adequate, but often residents manage to organize themselves into ‘self-help networks’ that extract additional ‘taxes’ from the residents to pay services, which the local government does not provide (Charton-Bigot and Rodriguez-Torres, 2006). The expression of the Asian community is also distinguishable. Originally recruited by the British India to work on the railway, they progressively initiate commercial activities occupying Parklands and Eastleigh. While the former remains largely occupied and influenced by Indians at the upper end of the society, many plots in Eastleigh, formerly occupied by poorer Asians, have been bought by African landlords (mainly Somali).
22The low-middle income population inhabits the high-density housing estates scattered along the main transport routes. Some were built for the native workers by the colonial administration, industrial businessmen or the aid development cooperation, but now have been deeply transformed. This speculative building activity has produced a distinguished urbanity, which finds its best expression in the organization of the streets. All kinds of activities cohabit sharing a tight space, people pass and go, work, or idle ; cars, matatu, barrows and other transportation means occupy the unevenly paved surface. A mixture of different ways of life and cultures, both capitalist and survivalist in nature coexist, shaping space in diverse manners. The shortage provision of services and facilities is high.
- 6 For instance the poverty incidence across Korogocho was between 42% and 78%, in Viwandani it varied (...)
- 7 These are considerations based on the author’s analysis of informal settlements reports, formal int (...)
23Traditionally, the lowest income areas in Nairobi - except for Kibera and few settlements scattered around the city - occupy one contiguous area stretching to the east of the central business district and continue all the way to the urban fringe of the east quadrant. These “survivalist informalities” (Anyamba, 2008) generally occupy public land without legal rights, though they may hold an informal guarantee, often based on patronage relations. The owners of low-income accommodation are generally absentee landlords, who rent out their shacks (without paying taxes) creating a “tenement city” (Huchzermeyer, 2007). The urban form is the result of many years of interaction between dwellers and space, a patchwork mix of commercial enterprises and residential dwellings, pets and garbage, solidarity and insecurity. These settlements are by no means homogenous: they vary considerably in terms of physical layout and size, density of housing units, availability of basic urban services, building materials and tenure. The poverty incidence and household expenditure vary6, proving a wide heterogeneity in levels of well-being: informal settlements are not always the home of the poor, jobless or uneducated. They provide an affordable accommodation to a broad variety of individuals and families who - at least for a period of their life - spend elsewhere their income, i.e. in education, considered a key element for life improvement7.
24It is in this context of segmentation and segregation of Nairobi’s society and spatial structure that the contemporary discourse about the present and future of the city of Nairobi takes place. In the following section, in order to give account of the multifaceted discourse about the visions and predicted socio-spatial forms of Nairobi, four case studies are presented (figure 2).
Figure 2: Location of case studies, Nairobi, Kenya
Source: author’s composition on the basis of © maps.google.com
25The first case, the KENSUP (KSE) in Soweto East, is the pilot project of a slum upgrading program started in 2004, led by the Kenyan government and supported by UN-Habitat. The second, the Huruma Upgrading Initiative (HUI) in Kambimoto, is a housing project directed by a federation of slum dwellers. The third, the Spatial Conceptual Plan for the Nairobi Metropolitan Region, is the master plan for the metropolitan region of Nairobi, while the last case presented, the Tatu City, is the plan for a new town, in the out skirting of Nairobi, designed and to be implemented by a private enterprise. In spite of the profound differences in scale, typology of intervention and actors involved, all projects acquire a significant role in the contemporary discourse about the city of Nairobi. They capture and represent some of the principal classes of interests, aspirations and cultural dynamics manifested in the city.
- 8 The “recontextualization” is a process of dissemination and adaptation at a local scale of ‘grand d (...)
26The KSE is representative of the recontextualization8 of the UN-Habitat and World Bank’s ‘sustainable city without slum’ knowledge apparatus, which has dominated the mainstream discourse about the megalopolis of the global south in the first decade of the new millennium.
- 9 The Soweto East area is about 21.4 ha.
- 10 The variation in estimates appears to reflect both an intense fluctuation in the migration and a po (...)
- 11 Originally, Kibera’s land was allocated by the British colonial administration to the WWI Nubian ve (...)
27The project includes basic infrastructure, apartment blocks and some public services for the 70,000 residents of Soweto East9, located in the eastern part of Kibera slum. Kibera extends over 256 ha and with a population varying from 300,000 to 800,00010 people is the largest slum of Nairobi, located 6 km from the Commercial Business District (CBD). It is inserted between affluent neighborhoods and comprises twelve villages of different sizes and population background11.
28The upgrading foreseen four successive phases, corresponding to four zones: A, B, C and D. Each phase includes: the temporary relocation of the inhabitants in the ‘decanting site’ (a purposely made estate on the opposite end of Kibera slum); the formation of housing cooperatives (to take over the building leasehold ownership and manage the mortgages) ; the demolition of the existing shacks ; the construction of the new apartment blocks ; and their occupation by the residents (CS, 2010 ; FO 2010 and 2013).
29The construction of an access road started in 2011, while the erections of the buildings commenced in 2013, after recurring delays due to court cases (some structure owners took the government to court seeking compensation) and the re-occupation of the land by other people (ib). As for June 2014, the construction of 17 high-rise apartment blocks of phase A was almost completed (figure 3) and the residents - now at the decanting site - are expected to return in Soweto by the end of the year. The commercial spaces, nursery, youth centre, multipurpose community hall and public toilets remain to be built.
Figure 3: The Kensup, Soweto East apartment blocks under construction, Nairobi, Kenya, June 2013
Source: author’s photograph.
- 12 The Muungano, a settlement based network of slum dwellers, are present in over 300 Kenyan settlemen (...)
30The HUI is led by the federation of slum dwellers Muungano wa Wanavijiji12 and the Kenyan NGO Pamoja Trust, which provides technical assistance. This project is an emblematic example of the way African slum dwellers have reacted to forty years of urban regimes, which have misused master plans and public action for serving the interests of the more powerful groups. Accompanied by lobbying action and the production of knowledge based on local, regional and transnational grassroots experience, the HUI has contributed to introduce alternative practices in slum upgrading and emancipate the debate on the poor rights and urban planning in Kenya.
- 13 Kambimoto dates back to the colonial days, when Mathare Valley, then on the fringe of Nairobi city, (...)
31The Kambimoto village13 is situated 8 km east of Nairobi centre, within an area originally designated as a car park to serve the council housing developed in the 1970s. The land belongs to the Nairobi City Council (NCC) and the majority of the residents are tenants who pay rents to either residents or absentee ‘structure owners’.
- 14 Only the Kambimoto village has started the physical upgrading because of population’s cohesiveness (...)
- 15 The SDI aims to share strategies capable of encouraging the creation of urban poor federations worl (...)
32This small-scale housing project started in 200114, when Pamoja Trust began to support the communities with resources, trainings and help in negotiating with NCC land tenure rights. The process is based on the approach developed by the Slum/Shack Dwellers Federation (SDI)15, with whom Pamoja Trust and the Muungano have established a south-to-south collaborative relationship (Weru, 2004). It is a community-driven project from the start, which involves a daily collection of money to support a community saving scheme, the enumeration and mapping of the neighborhood, a participatory design process involving model houses making to define forms and standards and a construction phase carried out by a team of trained residents and future homeowners. So far, about 120 houses have been built (figure 4), but the agreement over tenure with the NCC has not been signed. The scheme included basic infrastructure – provided by the Italian NGO Coopi – but not community services as the area is already well served.
Figure 4: The dwelling units of the Huruma Upgrading Initiative in Kambimoto, Nairobi, Kenya, June 2013
Source: author’s photograph.
33The SCPNMR (CES, 2012) is representative of a new generation of urban plans being prepared in response to the higher profile attributed to the African urban economies in the global market by financial organizations, corporations, think tanks, consultancy reports and conferences. For nurturing the projected prosperity, national and local governments have been preparing visions and master plans accordingly to the acclaimed ‘world class city’ brand. This imperative of sustaining economic growth and a Financially oriented development give rise “to the impression that great cities are more functionally integral to the working of global capitalism than to that of their homelands” (Ong, 2011:6). The elimination of slums, the realization of beautification projects to clean up the CBDs, the deficit reduction of urban infrastructure provision only in selected areas - echoing the “splintering urbanism” described by Graham and Simon (2001) - and the creation of technological hubs, gated communities and urban forms akin to that of Dubai or Singapore are the most common features (Watson, 2013).
- 16 During the peer review process of this article, the NIUPLAN was drafted and approved on the 22nd Ju (...)
34The new vision for the Nairobi Metropolitan Region, lunched in 2010 by the former Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development (MNMD) aims to establish Nairobi as ‘a global hub’ and reclaim the city’s (colonial) image of the ‘green city in the sun’. The SCPNMR, released in 2012, should materialize this objective. An Indian engineering firm, nominated through an open urban planning competition (2009), prepared the plan. The SCPNMR, together with the NIUPLAN, the recently masterplan of Nairobi16, prepared with the help of JICA, the Japanese development agency - is the most important planning exercise conducted in Nairobi since 1973, when the Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy, the first plan after independence (1963) was drafted.
- 17 This is the new denomination of the governing entity of Nairobi following the 2012 Urban Areas and (...)
35The SCPNMR guides the development of Nairobi City County17 and 14 other local authorities for the next twenty years. The plan assumes that Kenya will experience high economic development and average population growth rate of 4.76 %, which will take the metropolitan population from 6,658,000 (2009) to 15,131,435, with Nairobi absorbing 1/3 of it. The adopted territorial strategy for managing urbanization and promote economic development is the creation of new “self-sustaining, eco-friendly and compact new towns” (CES, 2012 : 13.3) connected by a public transport network : Aerotropolis, Knowledge-cum-Health City, Cyber City (later known as Konza City), Transport New Town, Sports City and Amboseli New Town. Each city is respectively characterized by a specific leading economic sector: aviation-intensive businesses ; education, research and health activities ; information technology ; transport- logistic hub ; sport venues and facilities ; and touristic hospitality.
36The ‘world class standards’ benchmarks developed by McKinsey Global Institute legitimise the priority area of interventions (table 1), provided with efficient infrastructure, utilities and transportation for affluent residents, tourists and businessmen. Slums are be replaced by new residential units with the help of cooperatives, CBOs and NGOs, following the footsteps of the KENSUP. When resettlement is necessary slum dwellers are to relocate outside Nairobi, where land is less expensive. The Grand Coalition Government designed the vision ‘centrally’ (through a purposely made Ministry) without consulting civil society and with limited engagement of the NCC (AM, 2010 ; BJ, 2010 ; JMb, 2010 and 2013 ; PN, 2010 ; PA, 2010 ; LP, 2010).
37The Tatu new town is the materialization of two correlated emblematic trends in Africa. Firstly, it is the result of the incorporation of real estate rent into the financial circuit, which ties together urban development, market mechanisms and economic powers, creating space for the development of ‘private cities’. Secondly, it is the exemplification of the resurgence of the ‘new towns’ approach, where new physical and socio-cultural entities are created from scratch. Compared to previous experiences in Europe or US, these ‘new towns’ are not the result of a re-organization of the territory guided by a public authority, but the fragmented and often independent initiative of private enterprises, which deliberately create new enclaves away from the city, considered dirty, chaotic, unsafe and inefficient.
- 18 The Renaissance Group is the markets investment firm of the investing banking company Renaissance C (...)
38The Tatu City is a joint venture between Kenyan investors and the Moscow based Renaissance Group investment company18, launched in 2010 to build a 1,000-hectar ‘mixed-use development. Back in 2008, a group of well-off and educated Kenyan bought the land and set up the Tatu City Ltd with the intention of creating “the first truly Kenyan city” (LO, 2013). Located in the Ruiru County, 25 kilometer north of Nairobi, on the ground of a former coffee plantation, it aims to offer to (wealthy) Kenyans a secure investment and an idyllic place away from the chaos of Nairobi.
39Planned for 70,000 residents and 30,000 day visitors, the idea is to create a “live, work, play city, not a gated community, but a place able to offer safety, order, services housing to the high and middle classes above all, but also to provide affordable housing for a lower income group of people who would work in the area” (CB, 2013 ; LO, 2013). The project calls for a mixed-used environment (table 1) structured around urban nodes in order to ensure accessibility and maximum walkability through the neighborhoods.
- 19 Minority shareholders took Tatu City Ltd to court in an ownership battle; the High Court declined t (...)
40The construction was supposed to start in 2011 and completed by 2020, with the first residents and commercial tenants to take occupancy at the end of 2012. However, major court cases19 held the project and ground work started at slow pace only in 2013. The project has acquired new life in June 2014, with the sale of plots of land in the Kijani Ridge, “a premier gated community” and in the Logistic Park, “a light industrial zone” (figure 5). The original idea of initiating development with the construction of a primary urban node, thus more in line with the image of a “live, work, play city” was emblematically superseded by a gated community type of intervention.
Figure 5: Advertisement for the sale of the Kijani Ridge plots, Tatu City, Nairobi, Kenya
Source: © Tatu City, http://www.tatucity.com, 2014.
- 20 The election of Kibaki marked an important turning point in Kenya's history. For the first time the (...)
- 21 He is a prominent Kenyan political figure concerned about the oppressed and the poor.
41The new millennium in Kenya started in December 2002 with the first Kibaki government20, which the following year launched the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation centered on enhancing revenue collection, expenditure’s restructuring, strengthening of institutions and governance, rehabilitation of infrastructure and investments in the human capital of the poor. The housing sector, with Raila Odinga21 Minister of Roads, Public Works and Housing, regained an important role after twenty years of neglect, also reflecting the international planning policies on ‘third world cities’ which pushed the informal settlements to the top of the urban agenda. In the meantime, the Tanzanian professor Anna Tibaijuka became the UN-Habitat Executive Director, giving more emphasis to cooperation in Africa and strengthening the relationship between the agency and Nairobi (UN-Habitat’s headquarters). The UN and Kenya commitment towards the reduction of poverty and slum dwellers was manifested with the KENSUP, started in 2004 under the Kenyan Ministry’s coordination and UN-Habitat’s technical cooperation. The objective is the life improvement of at least 5.3 million of urban dwellers by 2020, providing security of tenure, housing enhancement, income generation and physical and social infrastructure.
- 22 The repetition by both agencies report after report of this statement, which treats urbanization as (...)
- 23 The necessity of growing attention and efforts in the sector is balanced by the reassurance that th (...)
- 24 The success of this ‘brand’ is also linked with its capacity of having multiple meanings, which off (...)
- 25 Embracing the celebrated debate on participation and empowerment, the approach is allegedly focused (...)
42The KENSUP, by reproducing the internationally acclaimed ‘sustainable city without slums’ knowledge brand of UN-Habitat and World Bank, acquires credibility. The brand is opportunely articulated in four tenets : a) the world is becoming urban ; urbanization is not only unavoidable, but also conducive to economic and social development, thus desirable22 ; b) urbanization is investing mainly the megacities of ‘developing countries’, where slums dwellers are in the increase23 ; c) sustainable development is the paradigm to be followed to enhance prosperity, livability and environmental conditions24 ; d) the participatory slum upgrading approach is the latest strategy capable of improving the future of the poor25. The program is supported by an authoritative discursive coalition formed by national bureaucratic and political authorities and international agencies holding the authority of the (economic) discipline (World Bank) and morality (UN, NGOs). The project, despite the evictions and manifestations of resistance towards the upgrading projects has been able of capturing allies (i.e. the government of Kenya) and creating a hegemonic coalition, also because is supported by material rewards (technical and financial cooperation). The cooperation helps to inculcate and enact the imaginary by entering the policy domain (on the basis of a supposed technical superiority and availability of funds for implementation) and, albeit slowly, is translated into a series of material transformations, among which is the Soweto East slum upgrading.
43The KENSUP doctrine travelled for nearly a decade almost unchallenged, until the construction of the ‘decanting site’ and the implementation of the KSE exposed problems and the alternative upgrading project of Kambimoto started to acquire recognition among civil society groups and experts. The two projects presented comparable socio-economic and physical challenges on the ground and shared, at least apparently, the same objective of improving the living conditions of slum dwellers, but they came up with two different ways of conceiving slum upgrading. Three key elements are used to compare the two approaches: land tenure regularization, participatory approach and spatial strategies.
44The regularization of tenure is one the most important and controversial requirements of slum upgrading. In Soweto, the leasehold of the property is transferred to purposely constituted housing cooperatives, which set saving schemes for the future residents and hold ownership until full repayment is made. In Kambimoto, the expectation is to obtain from the NCC a formal recognition that the land belongs to the community as a whole. In Kambimoto the process was discussed at community level, where negotiation between shack owners and shack tenants took place. On the basis of the principle of ‘one family, one house’, shack owners released to the community their multiple structures and settled for a single access without compensation. In both cases, the anticipation of homeownership is very seductive and monopolises the debate, excluding the search of more viable and creative alternatives for ensuring ‘security’ to the poor (i.e. renting or communal housing) and not only guaranteeing the transferability of property. In Soweto East, the illusion of the ownership, - achieved without specifying the associated economic sacrifices (FO, 2010 ; JMc, 2010) therefore impeding to assess the concrete feasibility - has been used to win slum dwellers’ skepticism towards the government led project. In the case of Kambimoto, the fear of eviction and the choice of a self-building process have been the main determinants (SK, 2010 ; SS, 2010).
- 26 For instance, on the 18 November 2010, this message was at the core of the discourse of the Assista (...)
45Another paramount element of slum upgrading project is the adoption of participatory approaches. The KENSUP institutionalise the community involvement creating the Soweto East committee (SEC) and the Multi-Stakeholder Support Group (MSSG). The former, composed of a cross-section of representation groups (e.g. structures owners, tenants, gender, disabled, religion etc.), is the link between the implementation unit and the community, and it should facilitate communication, cooperatives formation and resource mobilization processes. The latter is a forum for general program reviews and feedbacks and an arena for collectively discussing progresses, problems and ways forward. While there are concerns about the quantity and quality of information being discussed within the SEC and the process of the election of its representatives (JMc, 2010), the MSSG is manipulated by the program’s secretary, where the public (mainly slum dwellers and representatives of community groups) has a limited voice. The forum is instrumental in disseminating ‘sermons’, which aim at obscuring the role of the state and power relations in the process of poverty formation and informal settlements. Sentences such as “poverty does not exist, it is inside you” are delivered by important political figures in a climate of apparent cohesion created by the liturgical nature of these events26. Instead, the Kambimoto model claims a new relationship between the citizens and the state, based on the re-interpretation of democratic localism (Weru, 2004) and the upgrading is part of a broader agenda that includes involvement in the decision-making processes about the future of the city, monitoring government’s spending of public resources, fights against exclusion and creation of an institutional framework to manage, sustain and effectively deal with issues concerning human settlements. As the inhabitants engage in the process, they build a collective knowledge of the shared spaces as a necessary base for engaging in a horizontal discussion. Promoting the use of self-generated information gives greater value to the debates about the development of the settlements, but it also promotes an inclusive and ‘informed’ space for discussing city-wide issues. The activity of the Muungano is political and aims at emancipating the poor, which progressively become citizens in all respects, while the KENSUP aims at reducing the upgrading to a technical and ‘neutral’ activity, disguising the ‘governamentality’ of its procedures.
46Both settlements posed significant socio-spatial challenges (i.e. high population density, lack of basic infrastructure), which would have made in-situ upgrading very difficult ; however, this option was never considered. In the KENSUP strategy, the provision infrastructure and services only was not considered, although it has been pointed out in many slums’ assessments that the provision of water and sanitation is the most desired and urgently needed intervention. The same happed for the housing typology. The rhetoric that justifies the adoption of high-rise blocks has its roots in colonial and postcolonial discourses, based on demonization of slums and a stereotyped view of modernity, where orthogonal settings, geometrical forms and modern building materials have a mere symbolic meaning more than a functional one, which reveals the willingness of eliminating slums from the world class city only at visual level and not the disposition in addressing the socio-economic problems of slum dwellers. The Kambimoto upgrading also materializes through a demolition and reconstruction process, but in the form of small semi-detached housing units to be built through an incremental process that starts with delivering the foundation and infrastructure connections. This ensures the economies of the method, while allowing for flexible time in building the remaining floors, accordingly to the borrowing/saving capacity of the residents. The housing model is a joint effort of SDI and local architects working with the residents, which produced a unique design, which does not respect the Kenyan building code standards, but efficiently respond to the people needs and their capacity to implement it. The choice of building materials and techniques reflects people’s ability to self-produce and ensemble the elements without employing builders, but privileging the training of some Muungano members who ten pass on their skills or lend their labour for the construction of other houses.
- 27 The coalition emerged as the resolution of the 2007 disputed election.
47As the programs on housing the poor slowly progressed, the imperatives of the Government Coalition27, with Kibaki as the president (Party of National Unity) and Raila Odinga (Orange Democratic Movement) as the prime minister (a new position purposely made), competitiveness, financial soundness, government’s accountability and market deregulation became the top priorities for pushing Kenya among the middle income countries by 2030. This national economic imaginary (developed by the Kenyan National Economic and Social Council with the international business consultants McKinsey & Company) aims to transform Nairobi into a “world class African metropolis” capable of attracting trade, investment and tourism. Accordingly, the SCPNMR is permeated by the rhetoric of the ‘world class city’ brand to build upon the role of engine of economic growth assigned to cities by the neoliberal project, creating a set of technological networks, exemplary places and world-class apparatuses that guarantee the life and activities of the social groups in power. The hegemony of this brand (and of those projects embracing it) is built not only on the consensus of the élite, but also on the masses of the workers who - sharing same ideologies and values - aspire one day to acquire the same benefits. The ‘world class city’ imaginary, purely functional to the economic imaginary, is in continuity with the economic disciplinary rationality started with the first generation of Structural Adjustment Programs (late 1980s) and progressively reinforced by further reforms driven by the World Bank and the IMF. However, the model to imitate is not a western global city, but Kuala Lumpur seen as the expression of the Asian miracle. Ministerial managers and urban planners uncritically look at this city - visited since 2008 within the context of a new aid cooperation partnerships with Malaysia - as the urban model to emulate.
- 28 The International Planning Competition was launched in July 2009, but up to June 2014 the proposals (...)
48The plan seeks to deliver a unique image identity for the investors’ sake, not only in terms of architecture, but also giving to financial markets, ICT, knowledge industries and other key commercial uses competitive locations and priorities for public spending. The expedient of identifying a number of new towns - ‘world class segments’ - is instrumental to the economic imaginary because it would be impossible to achieve a diffuse ‘world class standard’. Only selected projects will find materialisation and only some designated areas will be equipped with infrastructure, facilities and services, as the realization of the plan mainly relies on private local and foreign investments. The planning rationale of the new towns, a pillar of the SCPNMR, is constructed around the ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘compact’ concepts, an important discursive component which links again to the important debate on sustainable and livable cities. Two elements seem confirming the objective of the plan of creating a network of ‘good centres’ instead of creating a ‘good city’, thus contradicting the role of urban and regional planning. Firstly, the SCPNMR does not integrate Tatu city in the spatial organization of the territory ; while the project has received full support and permits across all statutory authorities. Secondly, despite the relevance of the plan for the future of Kenya and the fact that concept was selected though the first open competition in the country, the different proposals have not been discussed or released to the public28. The latter point also confirms the reluctance to include discordant ideas in the debates about the city, despite the coming of a truly progressive Constitution.
49The SCPNMR does not have prescriptive or normative power, still it demonstrates to be an artifact able to inculcate ideas. It has influenced the settlement patterns, settlements hierarchy, land use/land cover and inputs for the design interventions of the NIUPLAN, the normative tools for planning the future of Nairobi. It remains to verify to which extent the NIUPLAN complies with the SCPNMR in term of providing a plan capable of addressing the many and multifaceted issues and interests manifested in the city and how far the NIUPLAN will be implemented.
- 29 Accordingly to World Bank (2013), the emergence of a consistent Kenyan middle class is suggested by (...)
50The Tatu City may not be integrated in the SCPNMR, but is part of the same hegemonic societal project, as it directed to satisfy the needs and preferences of the élite and of the growing middle-high class29 of educated young Kenyan professionals and entrepreneurs. The Tatu city seems surrendering to become another ‘world class segment’ created by the SCPNMR, to which is complementary, as it offers the residential and recreational places necessary for attracting the regional ‘world class’ citizens.
- 30 Traceable on online and printed house and real estate magazines, real estate advertisements, commen (...)
51The appeal of this model is the product of a discourse chain that includes policy and popular narratives. The popular narrative in support of ‘gated communities’ in Kenya30 appears to be framed around the same rationalities that make ‘gated communities’ in South Africa cities very attractive. On the one hand, the search for protection, safety and security, on the other hand the desire for social and life-style homogeneity and ‘modern’ civility and urban character. However, a deep analysis of this phenomenon in Kenya remains to be done.
52The previous section reveals that different hegemonic imaginaries coexist in shaping the future of Nairobi. While, the ‘world class city’ dominates the national and the metropolitan urban planning endeavors, the participatory slum upgrading approach is hegemonic in addressing policies for informal settlements and housing the poor. Either through the re-contextualised (and reductive) version of the ‘cities without slums’ brand, exemplified by the Kensup in Soweto East, or the more creative adaptation of the Kambimoto model, housing the poor is not comprehensively integrated in the city strategy. Nor it contemplates the provision of diffuse basic water infrastructure and sanitation, which would affectedly improve citizens’ well being.
53City planning appears to be strongly sensitive to path dependency, and highly influenced by hegemonic ‘grand discourses’ travelling across the world and representative of the neoliberal turn established in the past decades. These hinder change, suffocating counter-hegemonic discourses and thus the capacity for renewing planning. On at least two levels hegemony is maintained and democratic deficits persist:
Democratic deficits with respect to the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of public action. On the one hand the way aid agencies intervene, overlapping with the ‘public’ powers, creates an anomalous ‘agency’ of urban and territorial planning. The influence that agencies exert through material and semiotic practices opens a conflict with democracy. While national governments are, potentially, directly accountable to their citizens, aid agencies are not. On the other hand, the centralisation of authority has always characterised Kenyan society and the inclusion of citizens and communities in the process of decision-making remains a great challenge, despite the new Constitution and a more politically engaged civil society.
Democratic deficits with respect to processes of knowledge production. On the one hand, colonial and post-independence policies ‘naturalises’ specific discourses, which have been selected and retained by successive government policies. Despite the diffusion of narratives, which describe slums as places of hope and creativity, and the rise of consciousness of Kenyans towards their social and political rights, the idea that slums are miserable, dangerous and disposable places persists. On the other hand, the authority of ‘grand discourses’ praising the benefits of the free market and neoliberal urbanism - which includes the powerful ‘emancipatory’ rhetoric of affordable housing, slum upgrading and participatory planning - impedes to expand reasoning in search of alternative approaches. Moreover, material rewards, such as grants and loans, accompany these discourses, which become more likely to be adopted, at least at semiotic level. The work of the Muungano, Pamoja Trust and other community base groups, with the help of some intellectuals and activists, have started to erode the pervasiveness of these views of ideas. The role of Un-Habitat seems relevant in pushing forward the priorities of the poor ; however the ‘pragmatic’ character of UN-Habitat approaches neutralises the crucial moment of ‘meaning making’ (i.e. what is a city, a slum, upgrading) and of ‘imaginary production’, conveniently bypassing the ideological dimension. This operation transfers urban and territorial decision-making process from the political table to the technical one, where apparently neutral experts and technicians are in charge of defining the future of its inhabitants. Being without an explicit imaginary, the pragmatic approach prevents seeing the problem in political terms and to find a political solution, disempowering citizens. The ‘technical’ solutions have then the prerogative of being easily confused with ‘scientific’ ones, thus helping legitimisation. For instance, the discursive structure of the ‘city without slum brand’ has acquired the status of ‘truth’ in virtue of the expertise of its authors, which are not research institutes, but policy makers with their own specific agenda. The government strategies have inherited this reductive and instrumental way to look at the process of urbanisation, increasing the disparity between policy rhetoric and actual experience of inhabitants and thus mounting exclusion.
54Accordingly to González et al. (2010), deprivation should create the basis for the uprising of counter-hegemony and ultimately social innovation. In fact, seeds of changes are visible in Kenya and manifested through the activities of Muungano and other groups. However, there are doubts whether these activities are capable of producing institutional and structural changes and moving away from the splintering territorial ‘infrastructure’ required by the imperative of becoming a ‘world city’.
55The development of counter-hegemonic imaginaries capable of reproducing “a culture of change based on the pursuit of a new identity – thereby cutting loose from the depths of humiliation and alienation” (ib.) are required in order to originate innovative planning. Envisioning a new mode of urbanisation and alternative ways of living together requires first and foremost a ‘post-abyssal thinking’ (Santos, 2007). It implies an epistemological diversity of the world based on the ecology of knowledge, which accepts the plurality of knowledge and their respective values, independence and incompleteness and at the same time contemplate knowledge in relation to the practices and initiatives that are enabled or impeded in the real world.