Hustling for Security: Managing plural security in Nairobi’s poor urban settlements


Nairobi’s urban settlements offer unique settings in which to examine the interplay between citizens’ need for security, the state’s inability to fully meet that need, and the opportunities this creates for powerful private actors. In Kenya’s capital, this situation has led to a context of plural security provision, in which an array of actors assert claims on the use of force, operating simultaneously and with varying relationships to the state. Despite the proliferation of active security providers, who range from opportunistic enforcers to tireless local guardians, most people in Nairobi’s poor urban settlements are exposed to daily threats on their person and property.

This report by Plural Security Insights is part of a comparative research project on plural security in urban settings that draws upon empirical insights from case studies in Beirut, Nairobi, and Tunis. Fieldwork in Mathare, Korogocho and Kangemi provided insights into how settlement residents must rely upon their social networks and personal attributes to ensure access to a combination of protective communities. Unable to call upon the state as the guarantor of public welfare, citizens must ‘hustle for security’, using their wits and their networks to assemble a tenuous patchwork of protection. The research identified not only the risks this creates for individuals and communities, but also how the propensity to resort to individualised security strategies can undermine the notion and the actualisation of ‘the public good’.

The paper concludes with proposals for addressing the more malign aspects of plural security provision, specifically, the need to curtail the providers’ power and to work towards consolidating various providers under uniform rubrics of oversight and performance standards. 

The series also includes:

Setting the Aperture Wider: A synthesis of research and policy advice on security pluralism in Tunis, Nairobi and Beirut

Beirut, a safe refuge? Urban refugees accessing security in a context of plural provision

L’offre plurielle de sécurité dans le Grand Tunis Quelles alternatives à l’État pour combler le « vide » sécuritaire?

For full access to Hustling for Security and the other publications, kindly follow the link.


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