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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: April 2017

Part II - Racialized and Divided Space


Although cosmopolitan and modern districts abound in Africa's cities, traveling around the urban environment reveals that that there is not a single, unified, and complete structure but a collection of distinct neighborhoods separated by class, race, and ethnicity. Racially and ethnically segregated urban spaces became commonplace in African cities during the colonial era. Those with greater numbers of European settlers, in particular, experienced the problems associated with segregation to a higher degree. The essays in this section look at racialized spaces in Nairobi from the establishment of the city to the present, as well as problems of racial class and identity in South Africa during the middle decades of the twentieth century.

In the first two essays, Kefa Otiso and Godwin Murunga suggest that the rural-urban divide began to grow very early in the colonial era when Europeans sought to control the development of urban space by instituting strict policies of segregation and encouraging the development of separate spheres based on racial stereotypes of traditional and modern. European administrators, railroad workers, and settlers promoted urban spaces as modern constructs and suggested that Africans belonged in “traditional” rural areas. Otiso points out that this presentation of the city as a modern and, thus, European space by the colonial elite and the settlers led to a feeling of alienation for Africans in Nairobi that continues to have an impact on urban society. Today, income has replaced race in determining urban stratification, but the reality differs little for those disenfranchised. There continues to be, Otiso argues, a high degree of postcolonial apathy that results in continued underdevelopment in the urban areas. Segregationist policies and racial stereotyping were also influenced by the growing power of the railway administration, as well as the negative stereotypes that South African settlers brought into Nairobi during the first decade of the twentieth century. These new groups employed racial stereotypes to restrict the movement of Africans and define the nature of urban development. Murungu argues that spatial segregation in Nairobi was determined, in part, by European stereotypes of Africans and Indians as unclean and more prone to diseases, particularly after the outbreak of plague in the early 1900s.