‘They are like crocodiles under water’: rumour in a slum upgrading project in Nairobi, Kenya

Rooftops of Kibera in nairobi

This article intends to build a bridge between the anthropological study of rumour and development studies. By analyzing the case study of an upgrading project in Mahali, an (anonymized) informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, the importance of rumour for development in practice is revealed. That importance is two-fold: first of all, it is a tool to fulfil personal interests in the interfactional negotiation over project resources, e.g. land, and the related power struggles. Second, it is a tool of sense-making and expression of agency in the uncertain context of a development project. Current literature notably describes development as a process of assemblage rife with gaps and with a tendency to exclude (local/supralocal) political–economic processes from its plans. In such a context, limited access to reliable information pushes people towards the alternative source of information that is rumour.

The article looks into the factors contributing to rumour, specifically residents’ experience of past events, interfactional conflicts over power and contextual uncertainty. It also discusses the combined effects of rumour on the slum upgrading intervention. Rumour has a definite effect on power struggles between factions as well as the livelihoods of other, less powerful, residents (for instance through displacement). It decreases the trust residents have in a development project as well as their willingness to invest time and effort in that project. Instead, it instigates conflict and occasionally even violence. However, rumour may also be considered a form of agency of weaker groups faced with a development intervention they do not agree with.

Source: Journal of Eastern African Studies via Taylor and Francis Online

Photo Credit: Ninara

Details

Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Journal of Eastern African Studies (Taylor and Francis Group)
Year 2015
Author(s) Sophie De Feyter
Other Numbers Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 289-306.
DOI 10.1080/17531055.2015.1017334
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