An anthropological analysis of livelihoods and justice among internally displaced people in Nairobi, Kenya.

Start date: 31 January, 2011 End date: 12 July, 2011 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A10493 Countries: Kenya Institutions: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Grant recipient: Jessica Larsen Total grant: 11,000 DKK



After Kenya's general elections in December 2007, extensive political violence resulted in 1,133 deaths and 600,000 internally displaced people (IDPs). The period has been dubbed 'post-election violence' (PEV), and to this day it is debated in the media and among politicians and donors.
To bring justice to Kenyans – especially to the victims of PEV – a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was established in 2008, and in 2010 the International Criminal Court (ICC) began investigations into PEV. While the TJRC promotes reconciliation, the ICC operates with retribution. Thus
justice is sought in Kenya by diverse institutional means.
In this context – that is, a post-conflict society involved with institutional initiatives of transitional justice – the thesis explores how justice is defined and valued on the ground by its recipients, the PEV victims. Five months of ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in the Nairobi-slum of Mathare Valley among IDPs from PEV.
When asking the IDPs in the Mathare slum about how justice could be done to them, a common reply was: “I just want my business back”, which was lost during PEV. Institutional justice thus seemed of little immediate concern. As urban slum-dwellers, the IDPs' primary preoccupation was rather securing a subsistence. I
therefore turned to their livelihood strategies to understand how these might explain the IDPs' perceptions of justice.
In studying the PEV IDPs' livelihood strategies, I focused on three prevalent tendencies: firstly, their engagement in local rotating and savings associations, called chamas; secondly, their practice of informal hand-outs among friends; thirdly, their strategic framing of themselves as destitute to access NGO funding.
My main findings were as follows. Firstly the IDPs relied heavily on social relations in securing a subsistence. They sought to maintain these relations through the chamas and hand-outs. Secondly, in emphasizing destitution for funding, the idea of poverty was revealed to hold ambiguous merits. On the one hand, as mentioned, it was used as a livelihood strategy to access funding. On the other hand, poverty was regarded as possessing immoral qualities and was seen as an embarrassment. This valuation of poverty as both a vice and a virtue led me to argue that the PEV IDPs were preoccupied with morality, engaging in valuations of right and wrong and what defines 'a good life'; in further analyzing interviews, I found that PEV IDPs – by using the discourse of poverty – were projecting the image of themselves as hard-working and dignified poor – that is, displaying their struggle to better their circumstances.
On the basis of the above, I concluded that PEV IDPs might not be preoccupied with institutional initiatives of justice, but locally they were concerned with creating for themselves 'a good life', understood as both material satisfaction as well as existential-personal acknowledgement – for their struggle in the light of both
PEV and poverty. Creating 'a good life' for victims of PEV is arguably also the aim of the institutional initiatives of transitional justice – only on a national scale and by means with little immediate relevance to IDPs in the slum. This, I believe, is an important point to stress to actors and pomoters of transitional justice.
As such, the thesis is a comment on how anthropological analysis is a balancing act between ethnography and theory, between emic understandings and etic concepts. In Mathare, the IDPs' perceptions of justice was something to be explained and qualified, rather than assumed.