Pursuing the good life: displacement, inclusion, and wellbeing among Congolese in Nairobi, Kenya
This thesis explores the everyday experiences and conceptualizations of ‘the good life’ among Congolese living in Nairobi, Kenya. Drawing on nine months of ethnographic fieldwork in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018/19, I argue that migrants in the city forge inclusion and wellbeing through the leveraging of fluid identities, development of social interdependencies, and cultivation of spaces of belonging. At the time I conducted research, and still to this day, the restrictions to formal employment and mobility put in place by the Government of Kenya presented significant barriers to both registered refugees and undocumented migrants. Restrictive governmental policies, along with the humanitarian imagery surrounding ‘the refugee’ figure- a suffering, passive, and unidimensional persona- belies the complex and vibrant lives of Congolese in the city. In this thesis I explore what it means to be a ‘refugee’ and ‘Congolese’, and how fluid constructs of identity are built and deconstructed through sartorial expression and consumerism. I highlight how socio-political exclusion is navigated through informality and social networks, and how the metropolis provides key spaces that are shaping and shaped by dynamic interplays between transnational mobility and global consumerism. On an epistemological level, I argue that to better understand the migrant experience, it is vital to learn what they themselves determine to be important and relevant in their lives. Situated within the ‘anthropology of the good’, this thesis presents an ethnographic reframing of narrow institutions and discourses surrounding the ‘refugee persona’, offering broader analytical parameters that consider values, preferences, aspirations, and strategies among Congolese in Nairobi for a life better than the one presented to them by the state and humanitarian regime. In doing so, I contribute to debates in the fields of Forced Migration, Aid and Humanitarianism, and African Studies by generating a greater understanding of the dynamism of forced migration and the aspirations and values of urban migrants on the margins of society.