Eastleigh, Nairobi's Global Somali Hub
This portrait of Somali life in Nairobi counters much of the recent media hype about Eastleigh’s role as a safe haven for Al-Shabaab and focuses instead on its function as an African economic hub.
Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate has undergone profound change over the past two decades. Previously a quiet residential zone, the arrival of vast numbers of Somali refugees catalysed its transformation into ‘Little Mogadishu’, a global hub for Somali business. Dozens of malls and hotels have sprouted from its muddy streets, attracting thousands of shoppers. Nonetheless, despite boosting Kenya’s economy, the estate and its residents are held in suspicion over alleged links to Islamic terrorism, especially after the 2013 Westgate Mall attack, while local and international media have suggested with little evidence that its economic boom owes much to capital derived from Indian Ocean piracy.
In contrast to such sensationalised reporting, Little Mogadishu is based on detailed historical and ethnographic research and explores the social and historical underpinnings of this economic boom. It examines how transnational networks converged on Eastleigh in the wake of the collapse of the Somali state, attracting capital from the Somali diaspora, and bringing goods—especially clothes and electronics—from Dubai, China and elsewhere that are much in demand in East Africa. In so doing, Little Mogadishu provides a compelling case-study of the developmental impact diasporas and transnational trade can have, albeit in a country where many see this development as suspect.
‘I have no doubt that this is a book to revisit again and again. It will without a doubt become a classic in studies of the African city.’ — The Journal of African History
‘An important contribution to the scholarship on diasporas, exemplifying how an ethnography of global networks and flows can remain grounded in local context. It should be required reading for students of transnationalism in migration and refugee studies, and it is also a valuable contribution to urban anthropology in eastern African.’ — Berghahn Journals
‘More nuanced than any recent studies on Somalis in Eastleigh…very important and timely … Little Mogadishu is hopeful and humane.’ — African Studies Quarterly
‘A rich and colourful ethnography…one of the most detailed explorations of the regional impacts of Somali diasporic ties and remittances in East Africa…a path-setting contribution.’ — International Journal of African Historical Studies
‘Everything you need to know about modern Africa can be found on the crowded streets of Nairobi’s “Little Mogadishu” — the dazzling energy, the unnerving challenges. Neil Carrier has walked those streets, and his rich, nuanced book strips away the cliches and misconceptions to reveal a community in furious flux, wrestling with the dilemmas of a whole continent.’ — Andrew Harding, BBC Africa correspondent and author of The Mayor of Mogadishu
‘In this impeccably researched overview, Carrier sheds light on the buzzing economic life of an enigmatic, super-diverse, and marginalized urban neighbourhood. Eastleigh has long been represented through false contradictions (Is it fundamentally Kenyan or Somali? A home or a transit zone? Entrepreneurial success story or cover for pirates and terrorists?). Carrier’s expert demystification contributes to our grasp of refugee studies, urban anthropology, globalization, and development economics.’ — Janet McIntosh, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University and author of The Edge of Islam and Unsettled: Denial and Belonging among White Kenyans
‘Nairobi’s Somali enclave of Eastleigh is an extraordinary place — a major centre of East African trade as well as of Islamic faith, political intrigue, and refugees seeking a better future. In this wonderful book, Neil Carrier depicts Eastleigh in all its vitality and complexity. I immensely enjoyed reading it, and learned much from it.’ — Gordon Mathews, Professor of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and author of Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong
‘Carrier’s brilliantly researched and skillfully crafted book challenges the widespread negative perceptions about Somalis in Kenya. He unearths the deep historical roots of this entrepreneurial community in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighbourhood and how, against all odds, they have overcome barriers and transformed this sleepy place into a dynamic global business hub.’ — Yusuf Hassan, MP for Kamukunji Constituency (of which Eastleigh is part)
‘In this compelling and breathtakingly thorough account, Carrier documents the vast reach of Eastleigh’s “refugee economy” – throughout Kenya and across the world, from China’s sites of production and Dubai’s sites of consumption through Somali financial diaspora networks in Europe and North America. The superb review of Eastleigh’s historic dynamism takes the reader through colonialism in east Africa, Somalia’s collapse, the intersection of diasporic networks and global finance, contemporary security worries, and anticipatory views of the city of the future. A terrific read.’ — Catherine Besteman, author of Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine
‘Little Mogadishu is an exhilarating and colourful ride through the streets of Eastleigh, a compelling ethnographic account of those seeking the ‘Eastleigh dream’…Carrier reveals with extraordinary detail and care the energy, passion and commitment of those who find hope and opportunity in displacement.’ — Africa at LSE blog
Neil Carrier is Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Bristol, and author of Kenyan Khat: The Social Life of a Stimulant.