Rendering difference visible: The Kenyan state and its Somali citizens

Published: 11/Sep/2012
Source: African Affairs

Emma Lochery, “Rendering difference visible: The Kenyan state and its Somali citizens”, African Affairs, Vol.111, No.445, 2012, pp.615–639.


This article examines the history of Somalis in Kenya. It argues that the precarious citizenship status of Kenyan Somalis is rooted in the institutionalization of state power in Kenya and the ways in which social relations have mediated that power. It focuses on a screening exercise organized by the Kenyan government in 1989 to differentiate citizens from non-citizens. Somalis deemed non-citizens were detained and deported while those declared citizens were granted pink ‘certificates of verification’. The exercise was framed as a response to disorder and insecurity in northern Kenya – problems blamed on the increased presence of ‘aliens’ from Somalia. The 1989 screening is a useful lens for understanding how the institutions of the Kenyan state have  negotiated and produced citizenship. First, the screening shows how citizenship is an arena for both inter- and intra-ethnic competition; the way specific social relations are embedded within the structures of the state affects the distribution of rights and resources among different groups of citizens. Second, the organization of the screening reveals that public debates about citizenship in Kenya have not just been about drawing lines between insiders and outsiders, but about which insiders belong to which territorial spaces.

Link to African Affairs website.

Themes: Apatridie, Discrimination, Cartes d’identité et passeports, Pièces d'identité, Ethnique/Raciale/Religieuse
Regions: Kenya, Afrique de l'Est
Year: 2012