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Mutongi, Kenda

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Kenda Mutongi, born in Kakamega, Kenya, in 1966. Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA. Professor of History at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, USA.

Fellow (1 September 2013 - 30 June 2014)

MAKING IT IN NAIROBI: MATATU CULTURE AND POLITICAL ECONOMY IN THE NEW AFRICA

Research Question

How and why have matatus become so deeply rooted in Kenya’s culture, economy, and politics?

Project Description

The matatu industry provides transportation to about seventy percent of Nairobi population and has grown into one of the largest employers in Kenya. Moreover, it is the only major business in Kenya that has not been infiltrated by foreign aid or foreign aid workers—and it has survived, evolved, and, indeed, thrived since the 1950s. My research focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political history of matatus and how they have become so deeply rooted in Kenyan life. I examine all the people involved with their success: the conductors, passengers, owners, politicians, criminal groups and others, from the late 1950s to the present.

Selected Publications

(1) Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya (University of Chicago Press, 2007)

(2) “Thugs Or Entrepreneurs? Perceptions of Matatu Operators in Nairobi, 1970 to the Present,” Africa: Journal of International African Institute (2006)

(3) "Dear Dolly's" Advice: Representations of Youth, Courtship, and Sexualities in Africa, 1960-1980,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies (2000)

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