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The Nubians of Kenya: citizenship in the gaps and margins
chapterposted on 2016-09-15, 00:00 authored by Sam Balaton-ChrimesSam Balaton-Chrimes
This chapter explores the history of Nubian citizenship struggles in Kenya. Today's Kenyan Nubians are a marginalized minority, discriminated against in access to national identity cards, unrecognized (at least until 2009, and then only ambiguously) as a tribe of Kenya, and landless. Their story is one of displacement and uneasy settlement, of shifting and divided loyalties, and of sometimes-conflicting strategies aimed at constructing themselves as citizens. Perhaps the only consistency in the Nubians' story is their status as in-between or outside the categories that dictate, in formal and informal terms, belonging in the communities in which they found themselves. The various and often paradoxical ways in which the Nubians have successfully or unsuccessfully negotiated their status—as askaris, detribalized natives, and ultimately ethnic strangers—are emblematic of ways in which political membership has historically been negotiated in dialogue with, rather than purely determined by, colonial (and postcolonial) legal and political status. This case draws attention to the ways in which categories through which colonial authorities sought to govern the colonized were unable to absolutely capture the lived realities of identity, difference, mobility, settlement, rights claiming, and belonging. The chapter argues that Nubians actively contributed, albeit within significant constraints, to the construction of citizenship as a (limited) form of political membership and a license to make meaningful use of (some) rights and resources.