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Though often associated with foreigners and refugees, many Somalis have lived in Kenya for generations, in many cases since long before the founding of the country. Despite their long residency, foreign and state officials and Kenyan citizens often perceive the Somali population to be a dangerous and alien presence in the country, and charges of civil and human rights abuses have mounted against them in recent years.
In We Do Not Have Borders, Keren Weitzberg examines the historical factors that led to this state of affairs. In the process, she challenges many of the most fundamental analytical categories, such as “tribe,” “race,” and “nation,” that have traditionally shaped African historiography. Her interest in the ways in which Somali representations of the past and the present inform one another places her research at the intersection of the disciplines of history, political science, and anthropology.
Given tragic events in Kenya and the controversy surrounding al-Shabaab, We Do Not Have Borders has enormous historical and contemporary significance, and provides unique inroads into debates over globalization, African sovereignty, the resurgence of religion, and the multiple meanings of being African.
“From Weitzberg’s finely detailed discussion of several stages of the Somalis’ history in northern Kenya emerges the picture of a local mode of interaction across boundaries through kinship ties that have legitimacy and functionality of their own, notwithstanding the expectations and impositions of the different national governments…[i]t is a marvelous example of how historical research that combines archival material with fieldwork can shed light on contemporary events.”—H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online
“Particularly refreshing [is] how Weitzberg challenges scholarly conventions by using oral poetry to offer insights into how ‘rank-and-file nomadic people’ see and shape their identity as Somalis.…Her examination of Kenyan Somali identity urges us to reflect on what we think we know about citizenship and belonging more broadly. Her work is a much-needed contribution in this contemporary moment, when people in corridors of power are deciding who is a foreigner and who has rights to move freely in this world.”—Kim Yi Dionne, The Washington Post online
“[Weitzberg’s] insights into competing definitions of belonging in the region are significant, and push us to critically reflect on the complex relationships between people and territorial boundaries.…A thought-provoking call for scholars to complicate their understandings of the nation state, belonging, ethnicity, and mobility, and productively reimagines epistemological approaches to oral sources.”—Canadian Journal of African Studies
“At its core, (We Do Not Have Borders) is a study of voices: of memory and storytelling, of fragments and contradictions…. These voices punctuate political histories and provide a lens into the everyday idioms, experiences, and reflections of Somalis in Kenya. Weitzberg’s use of poetry is particularly evocative and effective, highlighting the voices of women and temporal fluidity.”—American Historical Review
“[The] eye for a wider picture is a major strength of this book. However, perhaps its greatest strength is in the quality and sensitivity of its historiography…We Do Not Have Borders is a crucial book that demonstrates the central role of Somalis within Kenyan history, one that is highly relevant for contemporary debates on nations, borders, and belonging. I very much recommend it.”—African Studies Review