Friday, November 10, 2006

Killings in Mathare

Thousands of refugees are fleeing the Mathare shantytown in Nairobi after four days of fighting between two rival gangs. The battle between the Mungiki and the Taliban has claimed eight lives so far. The Daily Nation, via has details.


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

I read George Packer's article about Lagos in the new issue of The New Yorker over the weekend. I noticed you were quoted by Packer, but then dismissed by him as being too idealistic and seeing squatters with rose colored glasses. I thought it was unfair the way he used your quote as a strawman for his argument about poverty in Lagos.

His initial (not to mention asinine) support for the War on Iraq aside, I generally think he's a intelligent writer. So I'm wondering what you might have to say about his views on Lagos. Do you think the bleak portrait he paints is accurate?

rn said...

Hey Heath:

I'll be going to Lagos early next year, on the first leg of my reporting for a new book on the global reach of the informal economy, so I'll know more then.

Like you, I have a great deal of respect for George Packer. When he argues that, in the context of
globalization, slum-dwellers are doomed to be surplus and superfluous humanity, it's hard to disagree. But only if we accept his proviso.

Because outside the context of globalization, squatters are not superfluous at all. Indeed, because of their numbers, the work they perform, and their location, they are actually at the center of things. Once they realize this, there's lots they can do.

The changes they can achieve will not be immediate. Nor will they be so dramatic that most outsiders will
notice. But they will be meaningful and, over the years, substantial.

It's not just that squatters should stay on the land they have seized (indeed, Packer may be right that some of the places they live in Lagos are simply unfit for human habitation.) But to change that squatters must organize and use their power in the political realm.

Anonymous said...

That's a good point. I guess if you define superfluous as existing outside the mainstream economy, then most people on the planet are "superfluous."

Your new book sounds interesting. Look forward to reading it whenever it comes out.