Association for Feminist Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
“We asked him to have pity on us.” Shiko who sells handkerchiefs on the street in central Nairobi explains how she tried, with a group of other hawkers, to convince an officer from the local Inspectorate to look the other way for a little while. “We told him that we just want to work for thirty minutes so that we can give our children something to eat tonight. But he refused [to take] our money!” Shiko’s account illustrates how hawkers in central Nairobi typically appeal to “pity” (“huruma”) when initiating agreements with Inspectorate officers. In the situation above, the acceptance of a bribe is proposed to the officer not as a utilitarian transaction but as an ethical act on his behalf. In this paper I explore relations between illegalized hawkers and Inspectorate officers in central Nairobi through the notion of pity. While appeals to pity entail recursions of historically entrenched class positions they also, I argue, open new paths of gendered and generational access to the city for hawkers. In a context where hawkers are habitually conceived of as unruly thugs who call for violent containment, the increasing presence of young women with small children provokes uneasiness among officers. Pity becomes a new mode of policing in this transforming urban environment. Lastly, I ask how policing with pity draws on and alters modes of gerontocratic authority sedimented through Kenya’s political culture.