The City Makers of Nairobi : An African Urban History book cover
1st Edition

The City Makers of Nairobi
An African Urban History

ISBN 9780367862848
Published July 22, 2020 by Routledge
216 Pages 42 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

The City Makers of Nairobi re-examines the history of the urban development of Nairobi in the colonial period. Although Nairobi was a colonial construct with lasting negative repercussions, the African population’s impact on its history and development is often overlooked. This book shows how Africans took an active part in making use of the city and creating it, and how they were far from being subjects in the development of a European colonial city.

This re-interpretation of Nairobi’s history suggests that the post-colonial city is the result of more than unjust and segregative colonial planning. Merging historical documentation with extensive contemporary urban theory, this book provides in-depth knowledge of the key historical roles played by locals in the development of their city. It argues that the idea of agency, a popular inroad to urban development today, is not a current phenomenon but one that has always existed with its many social, spatial, and physical ramifications.

This is an ideal read for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students studying the history of urban development and theories, providing an in-depth case study for reference. The City Makers of Nairobi broaches interdisciplinary themes important to urban planners, social scientists, historians, and those working with popular settlements in cities across the world.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Winnie Mitullah

Introduction – Nairobi: A Colonial and African Urban Construct


Part I – The Muslim Impact on Nairobi 1899-1940

1. The First African Settlements in Nairobi: Transformation and Adaptation to New Realities

2. Urban Identity in the African Settlements in Nairobi

3. Legalising African Urban Space 1922-1939

4. An Urban Home: Muslim Culture and Social Practices

Some Concluding Remarks – and Some Questions

Connections to Discourse I: Urban Identities


Part II – Class Struggle and Nationalism: Modernism in Nairobi 1940-1960

5. Urban Stratification 1940-1952: Housing, Neighbourhoods, and Class

6. Urban Stratification 1940-1952: The Spatial Implications of Politics

7. War in the City: Restructuring African Urban Space in Nairobi 1952-1960

Some Concluding Remarks – and Some Questions

Connections to Discourse II: Making the City of Complexity



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Anders Ese grew up in Kenya and Zambia. He is an urbanist with a PhD on mapping, data collection, and analysis of complex urban settings in Nairobi. With a focus on interdisciplinary approaches, Anders works on issues of urbanisation, poverty, identities, and sustainability in East and Southern Africa. He is a partner in Urban-A, a company delivering analysis and strategies for inclusive cities.

Kristin Ese is an historian specialising in urban history, particularly in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, with a special interest in the importance of Swahili culture on urban development. As an historian her work focuses on how her field can inform current analysis and developments. Kristin has lived for several years in Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania. She has published a number of books and has worked as a lecturer at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).




"I commend the critical task that Ese and Ese have given themselves; that of highlighting African life by detailing housing patterns, cultural lives, and everyday practices in ways intended to decenter the colonizer. Ultimately, the authors have managed to "encourage people to reflect on the fact that this is indeed their city, and has always been so;" a supportive endorsement of Nairobi’s primary city making communities who, from 1920 to the present, continue to find the post-colonial eviction bulldozer at their door." —Wangui Kimari, Africa Is A Country