Accepted paper:

Born in "Russia": past futures of modernization and socialist internationalism in post-colonial Kenya


Ruth Prince (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on a large public hospital in Kenya, built by the Soviet Union in 1968 and known locally as "Russia", I use photographs, interviews, newspaper reports and observations to explore the institution as a site of struggles about development, its pasts and its futures.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on fieldwork, photographs, newspaper reports, interviews and observations relating to a central public institution in the Kenyan city of Kisumu: the hospital, known to city residents by its nickname, "Russia". Built in 1968, the hospital was a gift from the Soviet Union; designed and built by Soviet architects and planners, and staffed by Soviet doctors, it embodied visions of national development. Generations of residents have been born in the hospital and it remains a symbol of Kenya's modernisation. The Soviet gift was a manifestation of wider currents. From 1961, Kenyan doctors began medical training at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. Many participated in student activism, pan-Africanism and Socialist Internationalism. Returning to Kenya in the early '70s, speaking Russian, some with Russian wives, they were eager to serve the expanding national health system. However they faced an often hostile government, and worsening working conditions. In this paper I focus on "Russia" as a site of struggles over different pasts and their futures, held together by an expectation of expansive horizons and potentials. The promises of such futures materialized only partially, yet they left traces - material and affective, institutional and intimate, formal and in the everyday. Focusing on the hospital - its architecture, its staff and their recollections, its connections to worlds outside, as well as the experiences of different generations connected to it, I trace the remains of these futures past.

panel P44
After development: critical aesthetics of past futures