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Violence and Urban Order in Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria

Abstract

This article examines the interaction between politics and informal institutions of order in two of Africa’s most violent and crime-ridden cities, Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria. In both cities, governments have failed to provide basic public services and security to citizens, especially to those who reside in informal settlements or slums. A variety of informal institutions, including ethnic militia and block-level vigilante groups, fulfill security and enforcement roles in these relatively ungoverned urban spaces. This article examines the differences in the character and organization of these “specialists in violence,” and it argues that these differences are often integrally linked to the political strategies and aims of elites. The article makes two primary contributions to existing understandings of informal order in violent cities in the developing world. First, I find that organizations seemingly organically linked to local communities, such as ethnic militia, are strongly influenced by national-level political struggles. Violent organizations can gain a foothold and degree of legitimacy by appealing to traditional loyalties, including ethnicity, but organizations with these advantages are also attractive targets for cooptation by political actors. Secondly, both direct state repression and electoral use of militia lead to more predatory forms of interaction between these groups and local communities.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In both countries, the term “vigilante” is sometimes used to refer to militia members, but it is important to keep these terms analytically distinct.

  2. 2.

    Human Rights Watch (2003) contains the most detailed account of various OPC-initiated battles for the control of Lagos markets in 1999–2002. These incidents prompted the federal government’s banning of the organization in 2000.

  3. 3.

    Round 4 Afrobarometer (May 2008), Nigeria. Data can be downloaded from http://www.afrobarometer.org.

  4. 4.

    In this paper, the term slum is used to refer to urban communities that are characterized by poor sanitation, inadequate infrastructure, underprovision of state services (schools, police outposts, etc.), crowding and illegal subdivision of property, and high rates of poverty.

  5. 5.

    Do these differences in urban geography matter for the dynamics of urban violence and order? Because slums are less clearly demarcated in Lagos, it might be marginally harder to organize the kind of targeted, large-scale state repression pursued by the Kenyan state. On the other hand, abuse and extortion by police forces remain endemic in Lagos, despite the slightly greater economic diversity of slum neighborhoods. Yet, it seems unlikely that more demarcated slums would have large effects on vigilante or militia organization.

  6. 6.

    For more on the violence associated with the 1992 and subsequent elections, see Republic of Kenya (1999) and KHRC (1998).

  7. 7.

    Interview with Oleng Sana, July 18, 2006; focus groups, Mukuru, May 30, 2008; Kisumu (III), June 6, 2008.

  8. 8.

    Focus group, Huruma (I), June 3, 2008.

  9. 9.

    Field notes, Mathare Valley, June 2008; field notes and conversations with survey enumerators, Kayole, July 2010.

  10. 10.

    For the statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, see “UN condemns executions carried out by Kenyan police,” The Guardian, February 25, 2009.

  11. 11.

    For a discussion of Mungiki’s organizational structure prior to repression, see Landinfo (2010). The major shift seems to have been in the direction of an increasingly cellular structure—with smaller platoons—at the local level.

  12. 12.

    My material in this section is based to a great extent on an interview with one such “rotated” Mungiki member. Interview with M., Kayole (Nairobi), April 16, 2009. Readers should take this evidence as tentative, though it is consistent with other material collected during fieldwork.

  13. 13.

    It is unclear whether this is a reference to the Mungiki Defence Council, an allegedly armed wing of the movement, which is occasionally mentioned in press accounts.

  14. 14.

    Kibera is a predominantly Luo slum with no known Mungiki presence. There are two villages within Kibera that are predominantly Kikuyu, and these villages were targeted for attacks and property destruction.

  15. 15.

    Indeed, in July 2010, Mungiki attempted to “tax” this researcher’s survey enumerators at the entrance to Kayole, within full sight of the main road, and local residents reported that police did not enter the slum due to Mungiki presence.

  16. 16.

    Workshop, “Improving Revenue Generation through Taxation in Nigeria.” Convened by the author, CLEEN, and the Nigerian Governors Forum. Abuja, Nigeria. October 9, 2012.

  17. 17.

    The Nairobi slums selected were Dandora, Githurai, Kangemi, Kawangware, Kayole, and Kibera. For more details on the organization of the survey, see LeBas (2010).

  18. 18.

    The 5 slums included in the analysis (N = 480) are Agege, Ajegunle, Isale Eko, Makoko, and Mushin.

  19. 19.

    For a crucial question regarding the acceptability of violence, I use round 3.5 of the Afrobarometer, as the question does not appear on round 4 of the survey. Round 3.5 was conducted in January of 2007, prior to the 2007 federal and state elections.

  20. 20.

    In terms of the national political environment, riots broke out in the central Nigerian city of Jos in November 2008. The riots resulted in several hundred deaths and up to 10,000 displaced, and they may have activated religious and ethnic divisions across the country.

  21. 21.

    For example, food insecurity in the Lagos slum sample is roughly equivalent to that in the Afrobarometer’s overall Lagos sample.

  22. 22.

    There is not a comparable question in the Afrobarometer round 4, which instead simply asks how often respondents feared crime in their homes. In Nairobi, 44.3 % of respondents said that they had felt this fear several times, many times, or always. In the slum sample, in a roughly comparable question, about 27 % reported that they felt either “very unsafe” or “somewhat unsafe” when sleeping at night.

  23. 23.

    Focus group discussions, Makoko, July 22, 2010; Badia (Apapa), July 21, 2010. Field notes, July 2010. This level of associational life—and, especially, party activity—seems constant across Lagos State. Focus group, Ikorodu, July 14, 2010.

  24. 24.

    Because this question was not asked in round 4 of the Afrobarometer, I have had to use data from the round 3.5 survey in Nigeria, which was completed in January 2007. It seems unlikely that differences could be due to the lag between these surveys.

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks Eduardo Moncada, participants at the 2011 conference “Violent Cities” at Brown University, the journal editors, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. The Nairobi and Lagos survey data mentioned in this paper were funded by grants from the John Fell Fund, the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, and the Department for International Development (DFID, UK).

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Correspondence to Adrienne LeBas.

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LeBas, A. Violence and Urban Order in Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria. St Comp Int Dev 48, 240–262 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-013-9134-y

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Keywords

  • Violence
  • Urban governance
  • Ethnicity
  • Policing
  • State capacity
  • Militia