AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

Respectable 'illegality': Gangs, masculinities and belonging in a Nairobi ghetto

by N. van Stapele

Institution: Universiteit van Amsterdam
Year: 2015
Record ID: 1252242
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/11245/1.470597


This book is about gangs in Nairobi’s ghettos, in particular why young men feel they have to become a member of a gang, how gang membership becomes crucial in their struggle for survival and why it is so difficult for them to leave a gang, even though many are trying to. My aim is to move away from the current association of gangs in Kenya with violence and ethnic politics – that is gang members as ‘thugs for hire’. One of my main discoveries was that work is at least as important to grasp processes of gang formation, especially if one wants to understand the gangs from the young men’s own perspective. I thus hope to contribute to debates on gangs in Kenya, and worldwide, on African masculinities, and on articulations of ethnic and local belonging. By looking at what pushed young men to join and leave gangs, how this was tied to struggles over positions of manhood, and why and how gangs took part in junctures violence, this book goes beyond existing stereotypes. Gangs are vital to many young men from the ghetto, because they offer work and, as such, a chance to realise respectable masculinities in an environment that is increasingly dominated by women. In this sense, gangs can even be instrumental in realising community development. However, there are enormous barriers in the ghetto environment to achieving masculinities and development. This explains why the gangs under consideration here are so fluid in their existence and why membership is always wrought with ambiguities.