Monash University
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Citizens minus: rights, recognition and the Nubians of Kenya

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posted on 2017-02-06, 06:12 authored by Balaton-Chrimes, Samantha
This thesis examines the unequal nature of the citizenship of Kenya’s Nubians. The Nubians of Kenya trace their origins to the Egyptian slave armies of the nineteenth century. Brought by the British to Kenya as soldiers they were categorised as detribalized natives during the colonial era, neither settler nor fully native. This anomalous status has carried over into the postcolonial political community, and the Nubians can today be considered ethnic strangers. Far from being liminal in an inconsequential sense, the various ways in which the Nubians have occupied anomalous social, political and legal categories since they arrived in Kenya have been symptomatic of the hierarchical and exclusionary tendencies of the colonial and post-colonial citizenship regimes. This thesis argues that the Nubians are not full citizens, but citizens minus. They experience an unequal and insufficient quality of citizenship. The deficit in the Nubians’ citizenship can be measured by the extent to which they lack participatory parity. Although (most) Nubians now have formal membership in the form of citizenship status (a national identity card), they are lacking in social and political standing, that is, lacking in effective membership. Treated as inferior and limited to the margins of the political community, it is more difficult for Nubians to exercise their rights, and both their formal membership and those rights are insecure. In understanding these deficits, this thesis explores three mechanisms which sustain the Nubians’ marginalisation as ethnic strangers and citizens minus: discrimination in relation to access to national identity cards, the withholding of collective recognition as a tribe of Kenya, and the withholding of recognition of Nubian land in the form of communal land title. In evaluating these mechanisms the thesis draws on political theories of recognition and connects the Nubians’ exclusion from full citizenship to the widespread privileging of indigeneity and autochthony as conditions of full citizenship in Kenya. In making this argument, the thesis addresses a number of critical questions about the nature of citizenship in Kenya, arguing that national citizenship in Kenya is largely subordinate to and defined by ethnicity. Throughout the thesis, and particularly in the final chapters, the thesis seeks to understand the Nubians’ response to their marginalisation, and the reasons why, and ways in which, they affirm a role for ethnicity in public affairs. In the final chapter the thesis engages in a critique of this role, and an exploration of a moderately transformative approach to ethnicity in the form of moral-inter ethnicity. Such an approach may allow Kenyans to affirm the importance of ethnicity in daily life and in the polity, without affirming ethnic parochialism and inter-ethnic competition, and thereby undermining equal citizenship.


Principal supervisor

Michael Janover

Additional supervisor 1

Paul Muldoon

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Social Sciences (Monash Australia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


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Faculty of Arts

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