City of Thorns Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1/5/2016
  • Publisher: Picador

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To the charity workers, Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a 'nursery for terrorists'; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area; but to its half a million residents, it is their last resort.

Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic, its entire economy is grey, and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence became a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate limbo-land, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary. Among them are Guled, a former child soldier who lives for football; Nisho, who scrapes an existence by pushing a wheelbarrow and dreaming of riches; Tawane, the indomitable youth leader; and schoolgirl Kheyro, whose future hangs upon her education.

In City of Thorns, Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine individuals to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there. Rawlence combines intimate storytelling with broad socio-political investigative journalism, doing for Dadaab what Katherinee Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers did for the Mumbai slums. Lucid, vivid and illuminating, City of Thorns is an urgent human story with deep international repercussions, brought to life through the people who call Dadaab home.

Author Biography

BEN RAWLENCE is a former researcher for Human Rights Watch in the horn of Africa. He is the author of Radio Congo and has written for a wide range of publications, including The Guardian, the London Review of Books, and Prospect. He lives in the Black Mountains in Wales with his wife and daughter.

Table of Contents


List of people


Part One: Ma’a Lul – Famine
1. The Horn of Africa
2. Guled
3. Maryam
4. Ifo
5. Nisho
6. Isha
7. Hawa Jube
8. A Friday in Nairobi
9. Maiden Voyage
10. The Silent March
11. Muna and Monday
12. Live from Dadaab
13. Billai

Part Two: Rob – Rain
14. Kidnap
15. The Jubaland Initiative
16. Tawane
17. Heroes Day
18. Kheyro
19. Police! Police!
20. Nomads in the City
21. We Are Not Here to Impose Solutions from Afar
22. Y = al-Shabaab
23. Buufis
24. Grufor
25. In Bed with the Enemy

Part Three: Guri – Home
26. Crackdown!
27. The Stain of Sugar
28. Becoming a Leader
29. Too Much Football
30. The Night Watchmen
31. Sugar Daddy
32. Italy, or Die Trying
33. Waiting for the Moon
34. Eid El-Fitr
35. Solar Mamas
36. Knowledge Never Expires
37. Welcome to Westgate
38. Westgate Two
39. A Lap Dance with the UN
40. A Better Place



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