Property, Patrimony and Territory: Autochthony and the Politics of Immigrant Place-Making in Peri-Urban Kisumu, Kenya

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Emmanuel MIDHEME , Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning, University of Leuven, Heverlee, Belgium
The rapid urbanization currently underway in cities of the global South is unfolding under conditions of limited capacity of the state and conventional market mechanisms to avail buildable land at a pace commensurate with population growth rates. In the Kenyan city of Kisumu, there has been a steady conversion of peri-urban agricultural areas into urban land, as residents seek alternative ways of meeting the rising demand for urban housing. These migratory flows and settlements have over time spawned unique spatial structures and power geometries on the urban fringe, as immigrants from the inner city and beyond buy land and settle among the indigenous population. This paper adopts class and autochthonous framings to unravel the socio-spatial transformations underway in peri-urban Kisumu. Using in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and ethnographic fieldwork, the paper analyzes the socio-spatial and political ramifications of land-buying and settlement on Kisian, an indigenous peasant community on the western outskirts of Kisumu. The paper reveals that immigrant-host relations in Kisian are characterized by uneasy co-existence, featuring class divide and social cleavages. The host community views the ‘immigrant invasion’ as an affront on their indigenous property rights, patrimony and territory—a development they blame for dwindling local fortunes and precarity of livelihoods, as traditional modes of subsistence are disrupted by the new socio-spatial order. Immigrant households have on the other hand devised elaborate socio-spatial strategies aimed at cementing their insertion into the emergent social and built environment. The paper analyzes these adaptive and defensive practices of immigrant households and situates their place-making practices in the broader urban morphogenesis over time. The study addresses vital questions of social inequality and structural power relations embedded in the production of urban space, together with the internal contradictions that typify the urban development process within rapidly transforming cities of the global South.