“I’ll never eat the sweat of another” – heroic reproduction and “getting rich quick”: some narratives of moral life from the peri-urban milieu of Kiambu County by Pete Lockwood

seminar with peterLockwoodVenue: BIEA Video conferencing room

Date: 19th June 2018

Time: 11:00 am

Kiambu County on the northern border of Nairobi, proclaimed as “the richest county” by some of its residents, embodies many of the contradictions that have come to define Kenya in the era of liberal capitalism. An encroaching urban sprawl from northern Nairobi brings with it rising land prices and the opportunity for small-holder farmers to convert arable land into apartments to extract rent from newcomers to the metropolitan outskirts of the city. But if the urbanisation of southern Kiambu in particular has brought new opportunities for accumulation, so too has it brought a sense amongst those who reside on ancestral land of “a runaway world” – of diverting moral norms away from the mutuality of both extended and contracted modes of kinship, and towards self-interest or a money-oriented world-view. This paper looks specifically at the notions and debates about proper (and indeed moral) “value production” (Munn 1986) that circulate in peri-urban Kiambu. More often than not, these debates coalesce around what one should do with land that now has a higher intrinsic value than productive potential. Whilst moderately successful patriarchal figures from rural areas struggle to endow their children with adequate social capital (generally in the form of education) through often precarious “wage hunting” alongside maintaining their farms, they regularly refuse to even contemplate selling ancestral land, marking out those who do in order to “get rich quick” as variously immoral or foolish, often bringing curses upon themselves then falling into poverty, destitution and death through the irresponsible management of their new-found wealth. Meanwhile, more “reasonable” voices champion the selling of land as the only sensible way to advance oneself in the new Kiambu. Other, younger though successful men advise against the struggles of patriarchal life, telling their fellow youths to enjoy their money before death.

This paper sheds light on this range of voices, viewing these debates as part of a contradiction between two dominant values – on the one hand, a notion of moral productivity for long-term familial gain, and on the other a notion of the consumption, or indeed “eating” of wealth for short-term, self-oriented ends. This seminar will be of interest to anyone interested in the central Kenya region, masculinity, urbanisation and ideas of wealth under conditions of capitalism.

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