Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Urban and Public Affairs

Committee Chair

Imbroscio, David L.

Author's Keywords

Urban refugees; Right to the city; Nairobi; Ethiopian refugees; Urban citizenship; Urban governance


Refugees--Kenya--Nairobi; Nairobi (Kenya)--Social conditions; City and town life--Kenya--Nairobi; Municipal government--Kenya--Nairobi


There is a burgeoning literature on Right to the City much of which is inspired by the pioneering works of Henry Lefebvre who wrote about urban citizenship for all inhabitants of the city, access to rights and resources in the city, and political participation in the management of urban affairs. This study explores whether the Right to the City approach can help explain the dynamics of state- refugee relations in the urban centers of Africa. Hence, I took the case of Ethiopian refugees in Nairobi (the capital city of Kenya) to answer the following research questions: a) How do Ethiopian urban refugees negotiate aspects of urban citizenship in Nairobi?, b) How adequate is the “right to the city” approach to explain the everyday struggle of Ethiopian urban refugees for rights and resources?, and c) What kind of urban policy measures can African cities take to manage conflict driven urbanization? The research is a qualitative case study where a total of 30 urban refugees and a total of 20 community leaders and representatives of local and international civil society organizations working on refugee matters were interviewed. The interviews captured, described and discussed the respondents’ own ideas, opinions and experiences. I also reviewed international, national as well as urban level policy and strategic documents of Kenya when it comes to documenting and regulating international urban refugees. After the introduction, the second chapter dwells on a thorough discussion of the literature on citizenship and social justice, in general, and urban citizenship in particular. Following the third chapter on methodology, I embark on discussing the major findings. In a nutshell, I found out that urban refugees exist and interact on two different social spaces. On the one hand, they are actively involved in the production of urban space by employing their skills, money, time and social networks. On the other hand, refugees operate under very restrictive and discriminatory state policies that often deprive them basic liberties and freedoms. They, therefore, meet two of the criteria of Lefebvre’s concept of urban citizenship i.e. inhabitance and the production of urban spaces. However, they fail to meet the third criterion i.e. political rights to participate in the governance of the city. In short, they are stranded strangers who produce complex social, economic and political practices difficult to qualify in such conventional terms like “refugee”, “immigrant” or a “citizen”.