Associate Professor, University of Iowa

Recent Posts

New Article: Twitter Hashtags in Kenya

New Article: Twitter Hashtags in Kenya

Melissa Tully and I are excited to be included in the latest issue of Information Technologies & International Development. It is a special issue about expanding the domain of ICT4D research to consider leisure and other non-utilitarian activities. As the guest editors Payal Arora and Nimmi Rangaswamy explain in […]

A Primer on Kenyan Music Videos

A Primer on Kenyan Music Videos

I’m working on a new research project that examines music video production in Kenya. In June, I was able to spend a few weeks in Nairobi interviewing several music video directors (and a few others: assistants, musicians, DJs, etc.). I’ll write more about this project in the future, […]

New Article: Taking on the Kibera Discourse

New Article: Taking on the Kibera Discourse

Before I visited Kibera for the first time in 2009, I tried to read and watch as much as I could to better understand the community. Much of what I consumed was from international news and academic journals, which largely focused on health, crime, and housing issues in Kibera. After spending some time on the ground getting to know residents and seeing how the community worked, I came to realize that, while these issues are real and significant,  they are only part of Kibera’s story.

Like people everywhere, Kibera residents live complicated lives filled with joys, sorrow, boredom, and pain. I have a new article in Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies that is my attempt to reconcile these two different perspectives: the complexity of life experienced by residents in Kibera and the oversimplified narrative of despair circulating in the media and the public imagination.

Here is the abstract for “Slum discourse, media representations and maisha mtaani in Kibera, Kenya“:

This article examines the discourse surrounding Kibera, a highly populated low-income community in Nairobi, Kenya. Based on 11 months of fieldwork and interviews with 56 Kibera residents, this article discusses the disconnect between the lives experienced by residents and the hyperbolic and essentialised discourse that depicts Kibera as a community defined by sickness, crime and despair. While residents do not deny many of the hardships that are central to the Kibera discourse, they articulate maisha mtaani [life in the neighbourhood] as complex, diverse and contextual. Sadly, several groups that claim to serve the good of Kibera are partially responsible for perpetuating this harmful discourse. In fact, some NGOs, journalists and residents benefit from reproducing a discourse that actively marginalises Kibera and its people.

I realize that academics often exist in silos (an unfortunate reality that is encouraged by structural factors), but I have two sincere wishes for this article. First, I hope it helps people like me who want to get a better understanding of what life is like in Kibera from the perspectives of those who live there. Second, I hope it contributes to a process of changing how we talk about Kibera and how it is represented in the media.

You can find a copy of the article on my academia.edu account.

New Article: Researcher Identity in Ethnographic Study

New Article: Researcher Identity in Ethnographic Study

I recently published an article in Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture that considers the place of identity in ethnographic research. Stemming from my dissertation research on community media in Nairobi’s slums, I wanted to do some self-reflection to consider how my identity was used strategically (by […]

New Article: Participatory Culture in Kenya

New Article: Participatory Culture in Kenya

Melissa Tully and I have a new article out in Critical Studies in Media Communication about the one and only Makmende. If you’re not familiar with Makmende, you should watch this video immediately. Melissa and I were both in Kenya doing research on other topics […]

New Article: Community Journalism in Kibera

New Article: Community Journalism in Kibera

I have a new article in Journalism Practice about the difficulties of doing community journalism in places like Kibera. The article is titled “‘I Wish They Knew that We are Doing This for Them’: Participation and resistance in African community journalism” and will appear in an upcoming special issue on “Community journalism midst media revolution” edited by Sue Robinson. Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the relationship between community journalists and residents in Kibera, a sizable slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Focusing on two videojournalism initiatives, this research explores the structural and cultural features of Kibera that impacted residents’ participation and nonparticipation in these projects. Findings reveal that many residents were unfamiliar with these projects because the organizations were located in a more expensive part of Kibera and the videos were not regularly distributed locally. In addition, Kibera has a history of exploitation by media producers and nongovernmental organizations, so residents are conditioned to be wary of journalism organizations. Thus, while journalists believed they were providing a service to the community, many residents did not see the value of this work. This study reveals that journalists in contentious communities must dedicate adequate resources to building productive relationships with those who are not actively engaged in news production. Otherwise, those who do not believe that journalists are serving the best interest of the community may choose to resist this work.

Make sure you check out the full issue when it appears in print in 2014. In the meantime, you can access the individual articles online. There’s great stuff in there from Seth Lewis, Avery Holton & Mark Coddington, the amazing Katy Culver, and several others.

New Chapter: Media Authorship in Kibera

New Chapter: Media Authorship in Kibera

I’m beyond excited to have a chapter in the new volume A Companion to Media Authorship, edited by Jonathan Gray and Derek Johnson. The chapter, “Telling Whose Stories? Re-examining Author Agency in Self-Representational Media in the Slums of Nairobi,” offers an overview of the work I did for my […]

New Article: Entertainment-Education and Online Cocreation

New Article: Entertainment-Education and Online Cocreation

This is a belated notice, but Melissa Tully and I have a new article published in Television & New Media that looks at the Kenyan television show The Team and its online campaign to engage viewers in a discussion about national unity. Here’s the abstract from “The Team Online: Entertainment-Education, […]

Letters from Kibera (1950 edition)

Letters from Kibera (1950 edition)

I apologize for the year-long sabbatical from the blog. I can’t promise to be more regular, but I’ll try.

I’m back in Kenya for 5 weeks this summer, and this time I’ve gotten the chance to spend some time in the Kenya National Archives. There are some great finds in there concerning the history of Kibera and Mathare, as well as some other gems about the growth of media industries in Kenya. Anyway, I thought I’d share this one letter that really struck me today.

Around 1950, the British government was developing plans to move the Sudanese (Nubians) out of Kibera. The plan was to relocate this group to Kibiko, about 15 miles further west of town. I’ll spoil the ending right now and let you know that they weren’t successful. The Sudanese resisted and the plans became financially prohibitive.

As I was reading over the correspondence and documentation about the plans for this resettlement, I found a letter dated 25 September 1950 from a member of the Sudanese Association of East Africa, sent to the District Commissioner of Nairobi. Here it is in full (I’ve tried to match the spelling and grammar to the original):

I most humbly and respectful before emit a word I lay down my particulars as follows:- I born in Nairobi at Kibra, 30 years old, married man, with two children and very intelligent in Nairobi Town, welfare, good health, and running to town daily for work, myself I can’t living outof town Nairobi 18 miles exept if Government forcing, but I do not like.

I approaching these my petition before you for kindly consideration. I have to explain you that through in our difficulty and tired is that: daily early morning and lateness evening we are walking to Nairobi and back, for our duties as you know we are serve our life as employment in town nothing else, we are spending the whole day’s without meal on account of less salaray, also thereis Bus runing but we can’t spend /40 Cts in travelling by Buses we are keeping for household we are very famine in this area.

Col. Lafontain was state that Kibera must be under Municipal or departure, this is quit too difficult to us we can not serve under Municipal at all we are poor we can not living on renting as he said Municipal shall built lodging houses at Kibra for us, this is quite clear Sudanese clan is to be scattered and lost and we are guest in this colonies. We are first looking an enemy in East Africa, as our fathers combine with British and attack African in East Africa and let them down under Government vengeance still going on between African and Sudanese, how we goin to serve our life if Government is going to leave us apon hill at Kibiko 18 miles from Nairobi, how we can reach Nairobi by walking, sir, this is quite through in fact to live under Municipal Control or, departure to Kibiko both we had rather not, we shall lost our clan and be “JANGILI.” We shall be very grateful if you could putithis my petition under reaction as the Land Commissioner Report state: within easy to reach in Nairobi. Therefore, we shall be lead on an easy life. I shall be very grateful to received your further information to assist me on these difficult.

I have the honour to be sir,  Your obediently Servant,

Ahamed Mussa Sha-Aban

Unfortunately, this thoughtful and impassioned letter about the effect of the resettlement plan did not elicit an equally thoughtful response. Here it is in full:

I have to refer to a letter dated 25th September 1950 in which you complain that proposals for Kibira will seriously affect your life, and to say that these proposals give effect to this recommendation made by the Kenya Land Commission. I see no grounds for any further complaints in this matter.

I am, Sire, Your obedient servant,

C.M. Johnston

I’ve posted pictures of the two original letters below.

ahamed_response ahamed_letter

Dissertation? Check.

Dissertation? Check.

A few weeks ago, I successfully defended and deposited my dissertation. I have since moved from Madison to my new home, Iowa City, where I am now an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at The University of Iowa. I am […]