Mama Jua Kali: Female Resistance and Resilience to the Coloniality of Modernism and Neoliberalism in Nairobi, Kenya

  • Njeri Kinyanjui University of Nairobi
Keywords: Key words:  Mama, feminism, informal economy, Nairobi, resilience, resistance


The coloniality of modernism and neoliberalism peripheralises the informal sector. Individuals in the informal economy (also known as ‘Jua Kali’ or literally ‘hot sun,’ a term that is used to describe businesses in the informal economy that operate in open spaces subjecting its operators to hardship and harsh weather elements) are not only treated as nonhuman and primitive, but they are also disregarded in matters of economic development. Mama Jua Kali (literally ‘Mother Jua Kali,’ a term given to this woman and other women - for demonstrating prowess in the informal sector business and identifying with it) and fellow workers in the informal economy negotiate their everyday life in the context of neglect, stifling and attack from modernity and neoliberalism. This paper adopts a case study methodology to describe how Mama Jua Kali of Kamukunji Jua Kali cluster has been navigating her everyday livelihood through resistance and resilience over the last 40 years. She navigates her livelihood using the feminine utu (humaneness) and genius of caring, compassion and nurturing to build alliances with men and women in the informal economy cluster in order to survive the effects of modernity and neoliberalism. By adapting her experience to modernism and neoliberalism, the informal economy lives on to the next generation in a quiet revolution.


Author Biography

Njeri Kinyanjui, University of Nairobi

Mary Njeri Kinyanjui is a mother, writer, researcher, teacher, community organizer volunteer and a firm believer in social economic justice and self reliance. She is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi. She holds a PhD in Geography from Fitwilliam College, Cambridge University. She has researched on economic informality,   grassroots and indigenous institutions in the organization of economic behavior, small business, gender and trade justice and peasant organizations. Her current research is on the positioning of women peasants, artisans and traders in the global economy. Where she is looking at their incorporation in production and exchange in a monetized economy and role of money in their  well being and wealth.   Some of her publications include: 2013 Women Informal Garment Traders in Taveta Road’ Nairobi: From the Margins to the Centre: African Studies  Review 56 (3) 147-165, 2013; Vyama, Institutions of Hope: Ordinary People’s Market Coordination and Society Organization Alternatives. Nairobi: Nsemia Publishers (2012).  She has recently published a book entitled: Women and Economic Informality in Africa: From the Margins to the Centre. Zed Books 2014.  She has also published Coffee Time Laanga Press, 2015. She has recently produced an article ‘Ubuntu nests and the emergence of the African Metropolis’, in the September,2016 issue of the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography. Her forth coming book on Traders and Artisans in Nairobi: Utu-Ubuntu Business model, Cultural Villages and the African Metropolis will be published by African Minds in 2017.  She is also working on a manuscript entitled sweet sobs. She occasionally writes for the World Policy Institute’s Africa program Blog and African Executive. She has been a resident at the Rockefeller Bellagio centre Italy; Stellenbosch Institute of African Studies, Nordic Africa Institute, United Nations Institute for Research and Development and Open University.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1998-1279