Urban-A (Norway)


Throughout Nairobi’s history, urban poor communities have been targeted by containment measures—for racial reasons, out of public health concerns, for economic purposes, or for political gains. This project compares current containment measures to combat Covid-19 with this history. It looks at poor residents’ responses to containment both historical and current, and how containment measures are affecting poor peoples’ abilities to partake in city making— their ability to shape their own neighbourhoods and communities in political, social, economic, or spatial ways. These communities’ participation in city making have been intrinsic to the development of Nairobi, and we argue that their continued participation in urban developments is crucial to a sustainable future Nairobi. For this purpose it is important that we understand the ramifications of current Covid-19 related curbing measures on these communities. We therefore ask the following: What are the effects of Covid-19 related containment measures on peoples’ abilities to partake in city making in poor communities and neighbourhoods, and how does this compare to the city’s history of containment and distrust? These, and related questions, provide for an historical analysis of containment and city making efforts in urban poor neighbourhoods and allow us to create possible future scenarios that highlight the implications of current Covid-19 related restrictions on city making from below. Based on this, strategies can be suggested for how to handle containment measures, while allowing us to investigate the usefulness of scenario planning for crises in cities where lack of data and statistics make quantitative projections difficult.

Principal Investigators

Anders Ese

Head of Research and Development, Urban-A

Anders Ese grew up in Kenya and Zambia. He holds a PhD on mapping, data collection, and analysis of the complex urban settings of Nairobi, Kenya. Ese specialises in urban development in the overlap between the fields of urbanism, social sciences, and historical research especially pertaining to East and Southern Africa, and has worked extensively on issues related to urbanisation, poverty, identities, and sustainability in the region through academic and consultancy work. He has established and run interdisciplinary practices in both Tanzania and Norway. His recent book The City Makers of Nairobi (Routledge, 2020) explores African urban identities in Nairobi during the colonial period, arguing that the city’s cosmopolitan African population had a far greater impact on urban developments than what is popularly believed.

Romola Sanyal

Associate Professor of Urban Geography, London School of Economics and Political Science

Romola Sanyal is associate professor of urban geography at the London School of Economics. She has a PhD in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. Romola’s research focuses on forced migration and urbanisation. In one strand of her research, she looks at how refugees and other forced migrants become “city makers” through building and inhabiting urban spaces. In this work, she has studied Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and Partition refugee colonies in Calcutta. A second strand of this work looks at the geopolitics of humanitarian knowledge production, particularly on urban refugees. Titled Urban Humanitarianism, this work looks at how humanitarian organizations come to learn from and intervene in urban areas through various experiments and what politics are involved in building and sharing that knowledge. Her work has been published in a number of journals including Urban Studies, IJURR, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, and Political Geography. She is coeditor of Urbanizing Citizenship: Contested Spaces in Indian Cities (with Dr. Renu Desai, Sage India, 2011) and Displacement: Global Conversations on Refuge (with Dr. Silvia Pasquetti, Manchester University Press, 2020).

Joseph Mukeku

Community Design Architect & Affordable Housing Specialist, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology

Mukeku is a community design architect and holds a PhD on community driven planning and regulations in Kibera, Nairobi. Mukeku has worked extensively on slum upgrading projects in Nairobi and is continuously engaging with affordable housing solutions, incremental housing and infrastructure upgrading targeting the urban poor. Mukeku’s focus is on participatory, community-driven, scalable projects. An important component of his work is the mediation and liaison between different stakeholders, including local and central government, private sector, local organisations, and the local community, in order to anchor the process and further push changes on the ground.

Benjamin Sidori

Research Assistant, Urban-A

Benjamin Sidori Ombiri has worked on community development areas ranging from research, documentation, and communication on human rights, youth and women participation in governance and development, and building partnership for social change. Sidori has a BA in governance and development from MS Training Center for Development and Cooperation. He currently works at Youth Alive Liberia and is tasked with communications, documentation, and advocacy in areas of human rights, gender based violence, and peace building. He has experience in working with the marginalized communities, especially in informal settlements, engaging them through participatory approaches to have a clear understanding of how they can participate in governance and development. Sidori is interested in empowering women and girls to access justice. His previous engagement involved engaging men and boys in gender norms transformation and building strong coalitions to advocate for economic, social, and political justice and empowering women and girls to take leadership positions from the grassroots level to national level.