Beggaring belonging in Africa’s no-man’s lands: diversity, usufruct and the ethics of accommodation

A journal article by Prof Loren Landau and Dr Iriann Freemantle

In the migrant rich peri-urban sites of Rongai, Kenya and Katlehong, South Africa, social engagements are being shaped by usufruct ethics. The resulting modes of mutual accommodation are shaped by spatial circumstance and instrumental, pragmatic concerns rather than claims for ownership, representation, or cultural hegemony. In Kenya, ‘being cosmo’ enables residents to brace themselves against ethnicised violence and exclusion while opening space for multi-ethnic newcomers to pursue varied economic and social ambitions often tied to exclusive, ethnicised membership elsewhere. In South Africa, outcomes include multiple ethics of difference simultaneously practiced: some violently exclusive, others remarkably inclusive, yet without enduring hegemonies. Here, residents manage their every-day interactions with Others through disconnection—by ‘minding their own business’—a principle manifested in both passive tolerance and active benefit-seeking. These findings from Africa’s rapidly transforming urban peripheries speak to a growing, global trend in which varied forms of membership are being locally negotiated in the thrown together spaces that characterise many cities of the South. Beyond understanding such local dynamics, they give cause to question the spatial scale at which we locate integration and the very ethics and desired ‘outcomes’ scholars often presume ought to underlie diverse societies.

Landau, L.B., Freemantle, I., 2016. Beggaring belonging in Africa’s no-man’s lands: diversity, usufruct and the ethics of accommodation. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42, 933–951.