By Sanna Tawah

One evening in April 2013 in Bamenda, Northwest Region Cameroon, I and my research assistant entered a compound and walked to the back of a house. It was already dark, but we saw a dim light gleaming from an open door of a detached room accessible only from behind the house. The sole purpose of the room seemed to be for different kinds of meetings and gatherings. There were chairs distributed around the room, an old sofa and one small table. An elderly man, the chairman of the meeting, was sitting behind the table with a large accounting book in front of him. I and my research assistant were asked to be seated.

There were some 20 people present in the meeting, both men and women who were seated on separate sides of the room. They explained to me that their group was called “Strangers”. The meeting started and the first topic to be discussed was my presence at the meeting, since after all I was a stranger among the Strangers. One woman suggested I should contribute and give money to the njangi members, because as a researcher I would “benefit” from the information they were going to give me.

The chairman of the meeting asked me to introduce myself and my purpose of attending the meeting. I introduced myself and explained that I had come to learn about njangis, that is, rotating credit circles, and that I was thankful that they had let me participate in their meeting. The discussion continued for some time about my participation. Finally it was agreed that I could stay, and that I was welcome among the Strangers. Women began pouring white mimbo (white palm wine tapped from raffia palm trees) into cups and shared kola nuts among the njangi members.

Members were called by name and they took their monetary contributions to the meeting chairman, who wrote individual contributions into the njangi accounts book. An active discussion and sharing of news was ongoing throughout the meeting. The members came from different backgrounds and occupations, but many of them were market traders in the markets in and around Bamenda city. After everyone had contributed, the chairman calculated the money. The lump sum was then given to one of the members, whose turn it was to receive the whole money pot this week.

Njangi is the Cameroonian version of a Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA). They are njangi in the Anglophone region; in the Francophone areas of Cameroon they are called tontine. There are similar rotating credit circles or “money-go-rounds” all over the world: the tanda in Mexico, susu in Ghana, upatu in Tanzania and arisan in Indonesia to name a few.

In Cameroon, the njangi is very important for small-scale market traders since it is mainly through the njangi that market traders, the buyam-sellam in Cameroon pidgin, fund their small trading businesses. The buyam-sellams are small-scale producers and literally ‘buyers-sellers’ travelling between small village bushmarkets and the larger town markets to buy and sell agricultural produce, consumer goods and other seasonal products. The nature of their trade is such that they are continuously on the move between rural farms, village bushmarkets and urban marketplaces. 

Bamenda Food Market. © Sanna Tawah.

Due to their mobile trading style, the buyam-sellam trade is vulnerable to external market shocks and price fluctuations. Njangis meet traders’ financial needs when they need to make bigger investments in the trading business. It is an informal credit arrangement in which individuals, generally from the same neighborhood or trading area, agree to regularly contribute money to a common pot. The meetings can be weekly or monthly, and the group can be of different sizes and compositions. Njangi is played in market places, in meeting rooms, in private homes, in restaurants, in schools, basically anywhere that people decide to start one.

There are also other type of informal saving groups in Cameroon, since the buyam-sellam traders and small-scale farmers rarely have bank accounts. Some of them have accounts in local credit unions or with specific farmer’s credit unions, which have smaller service fees and are more adapted to the financial needs of the local farmers and small-scale traders. But having an account in a credit union does not solve the need for extra capital for making trade-related investments and supporting trading activities. Credit unions give out loans, but they come at an interest rate. In some cases, informal savings groups also give out loans, with a smaller interest rate than credit unions.

The rotating njangi cycle starts by drawing lots to determine who will receive the pot in which order for the duration of the njangi. For example, if there are 20 members, the njangi cycle is generally 20 weeks. The cycle of the njangi is such that in a weekly meeting, all the members contribute a certain amount, whether it is CFA 1000 (1,5 €), CFA 2000 (3 €), CFA 4000 (6 €) or more, and a treasurer collects the combined contributions. It is the surplus money from trade that is being put in the common pot, and the weekly pot represents a large amount of money equal to 20 individual week’s savings. Each week, one member receives the pot and can use it to invest in market trade, school fees, medical costs or any other needs the household may have.

Etang, Fielding and Knowles (2011: 464) made a study in 2007 on ROSCAs in the southwest province of Cameroon in a village with approx. 1000 inhabitants. They noted that there were 17 active ROSCAs in the village, with a total of 426 members. The size of the ROSCAs varied between 11 to 45 members, and the average age of the ROSCA was 8 years. Bouman (1995) estimated earlier in the 1990s that more than 50% of the adult population in some African countries, including Cameroon, belongs to a ROSCA.

The njangis and savings groups I visited in Bamenda had been functional for much longer, for example in 2013, one had already operated for 15 years and another one for 26 years. I also conducted a survey with 78 market traders (43 female, 35 male) in Cameroon in 2013 and 81% of them belonged to a njangi. Many of them also belonged to more than one njangi: 46% belonged to one njangi, 40% to two njangis and 14% to three njangis, and 1% to more than three njangis.

The figures show that njangis are a significant part supporting people’s livelihoods. My survey data from 2013 indicates that 71% of those traders who were njangi members attende­d njangi meetings weekly. However, it would need a larger survey to conclude whether njangi membership is nowadays more popular than in earlier decades, and what might be the reasons for their growing popularity. The njangis have an important social aspect also; the latest news are shared and plans are made.

Although njangis are informal gatherings, they have commonly agreed-upon rules that are socially controlled, and social sanctions are used against those who do not follow the njangi rules. Even if members are not able to participate in the meeting in person, they can send their contribution with another member or ask a relative or friend to take their contribution to the meeting.

I was told in the njangi meeting that the group ‘Strangers’ has been active since 1987. Some of its original members have passed away, some have moved away, and some have left the njangi due to other reasons, but in 2013 the njangi had been functional for 26 years and in 2013 it had a total of 30 members, of which 20 were present in the meeting. The Strangers was a combined njangi and savings group. Membership is decided based on whether the applicant is considered trustworthy and capable of keeping up with the weekly payments.

Towards the end of the meeting I asked: why is the njangi group called ‘Strangers’? I was wondering if the name had a specific meaning. One elderly man stood up and explained that “We are called Strangers, because we are all strangers in this world”.




By Maarit Sinikangas

My ethnographic research was conducted in one of the poorest slum area in Dar es Salaam, the most populous city in Tanzania, where I collected data in 2012 and 2014. There, rapid growth of the population and urbanization has led to increasing poverty and changes in the culture, religious rules and moral codes, and has supported the growing tendency of girls and women to engage in transactional sex. The term transactional sex refers to an economic exchange in which sex is exchanged for money or commodities. According to Nobelius (2010), transactional sex has been often referred to as prostitution in research literature but a distinction should be made between these two forms of exchange. Yet, there is still no shared view among researchers regarding the difference between sex work and transactional sex (Barnett et al. 2011). Why is transactional sex not the same as prostitution in the context of urban residents in the area I studied?

Women living in the poor neighbourhood, let’s call it Kaya, have few choices to earn a living due to their low level of education. Many women earn their living within the informal economy, selling food, charcoal, or working as house maids for Indian merchant families. Starting a business requires capital which is often provided by the husband or relatives. Without capital or recommendations for a job, there are not many options for a woman. Men have better access to short term jobs (construction and work in the harbour, for example) and they are usually the providers for their families. During my fieldwork, it occurred to me that among the slum dwellers, there are large numbers of single mothers with no livelihoods. Their husbands or boyfriends have left them after discovering they were pregnant, or he had died or simply abandoned his family for other reasons. If this happens, a woman’s options are few; she needs to find a relative, husband or a boyfriend to support her financially. Another option is to become a prostitute, malaya, since it requires only sexual capital. The first choices are socially accepted, whereas prostitution is not only seen as immoral but is also illegal in Tanzania.

Kariakoo market where women of Kaya go to buy supplies for sale. © Maarit Sinikangas.

In Kaya, many of my informants knew somebody who was a malaya, but no one admitted to being one. Both male and female informants told me that for the women in Kaya, prostitution is not a choice but something that has to be done to earn living. Informants seemed to feel sympathy for the malaya but in the same sentence, they criticized the choice as immoral. One local homosexual told me that life is easier for him in Kaya than in many other areas since people are more accepting there. I started to wonder whether a heterogeneous mixture of residents who share in common poverty, leads to tolerance of behaviours that fall outside moral and social norms better than other more homogeneous groups? 

In Kaya, the malaya seem to occupy a certain status for many reasons: they do not have social networks to support them and their way to earn money is illegal. Further, the shadow of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases is always present and their behaviour is not considered to be in line with religious virtues. When I asked men if they have had sex with a local malaya, they denied it. However, they knew where prostitutes live and work, and how much they charge. I was told that there are several ‘classes’ of prostitutes. It was striking to hear that the poorest women are on the street earning approximately 300 TZS (0.15 €) per client. They have sex in parks, cemeteries or in the clients’ cars. An expensive malaya, on the other hand, works in the night clubs, earning 40 000 TZS (18 €) for a “quickie” and 50-55 000 TZS (22-24 €) for a whole-night client.

In the context of transactional sex, girls and women are not seen as deviants but as agents operating within social norms. To get a boyfriend to support her financially is accepted, since the man’s role as provider is seen as normal and the money given is seen as a token of caring. Women are expected to have sex with the men in return. Even though the money could be seen as income for the woman, the given meaning for the money is not income, but a gift. Money shows appreciation and interest, maybe there is also a continuation in the relationship. This kind of exchange meets the social expectations of a relationships between men and women and is expected also in marriage. Sometimes a woman crosses the moral boundaries with her behaviour: if a woman dates several men at the same time or has sex once just to get money or goods, the community begins to question her morality. Such women are called CD, which is an abbreviation from the word changudoa, originally meaning a fish, but in slang it refers to a young prostitute.

Street view in Kijitonyama area, Dar es Salaam.  © Maarit Sinikangas.

Thus, the difference between prostitution and transactional sex lies in shared social norms and attitudes as well as in the social networks. The malaya’s livelihood is not seen as moral and acceptable, even though the informants understood that the motive for such behaviour was poverty. Prostitutes are considered immoral in society due to their lack of choice concerning livelihood and the illegality of their actions. Transactional sex, however, is seen as normal reciprocity in which the compensation is seen as a token of appreciation, not as a reward or salary. Nobelius (2010) shows in her study on transactional sex in Uganda that the modern exchange in sexual relations has been modelled on traditional institutions such as courting and bride wealth payments, which make the exchange and premarital sex socially acceptable.

Currently, Dar es Salaam is the destination for most immigrants from rural areas in Tanzania: 31 % of rural migrants are moving to Dar. Most of them want to share in Dar’s economic growth. This makes Dar es Salaam a city which is largely composed of migrants. Historically, the number of male migrants has exceeded the number of female migrants, but since 2012 women between 15 and 29 years have become the biggest internal migration group (National Bureau of Statistics 2015). People are driven to cities in the hope of a better income and future, however, they often end up living in large urban slum areas lacking livelihood, running water, electricity, education and/or health care. Considering the great number of young, poor women moving to the city, it can be only guessed how many of them end up in sexual relationships.


  • Barnett, Jessica Penwell; Maticka-Tyndale, Eleanor; The Hp4ry Team (2011). The Gift of Agency: Sexual Exchange Scripts among Nigerian Youth. Journal of Sex Research 48 (4): 349-359.
  • National Bureau of Statistics (2015). Migration and Urbanization Report 2015. Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
  • Nobelius, Ann-Maree; Kalina, Bessie; Pool, Robert; Whitworth, Jimmy; Chesters, Janice & Power, Robert (2010). “You Still Need to Give Her a Token of Appreciation”: The Meaning of the Exchange of Money in the Sexual Relationships of Out-of-School Adolescents in Rural Southwest Uganda. Journal of Sex Research 47 (5): 490-503.



by Jyri Mäkelä

The world faces enormous challenges in the coming decades. World population is currently at 7.2 billion and has been projected to reach its peak of 9 billion by the end of this century. However, given the newest available data, it is more likely that world population will rise to 12 billion, and it is unlikely to stabilize during this century. Population rise affects the whole world, but most of the growth will come from Africa. For example Tanzania, located in East Africa, now has a population of around 50 million and according to the United Nations it could be as high as 395 million by the year 2100.

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s most populous city, population has grown from 1.9 to 4.4 million in just ten years and has recently claimed the title of largest city in East Africa, replacing Nairobi. Such a dramatic increase in population growth puts even more pressure on provision of basic needs such as education, livelihood, and housing. Under the circumstances, Dar es Salaam and Tanzania are now facing a youth unemployment crisis because annually 900,000 new job seekers enter the job market and only 50,000 to 60,000 formal jobs are created. With the projected population increase, the situation will worsen as every year more job seekers enter the market.

Practical ways to improve youth employment are limited, but data from the Integrated Labour Force Report show that the unemployment rate decreases with education. In Dar es Salaam in 2006, the unemployment rate for persons over 15 years of age who never attended to school was 38.1%, while for those who attended secondary school or above, it was 26.6%. Education is thus one way for young persons to improve their chances in the job market.

A preschool in Tandale. © Jyri Mäkelä.

Unemployment has a big influence on young people’s lives, and one of the most affected areas is the ward of Tandale. There, roughly 70% of the population lives on less than one dollar per day and the area´s schooling system is not adequate to meet the needs of young people. Fortunately there are also positive stories and in 2013 I had the opportunity to film a documentary about one of them. The aim of the documentary was to provide new perspectives on Tanzania’s schooling system at the grassroots level and tell the story of a preschool which differs from most other preschools in the same area. This school was opened just a few months before the documentary was made and it was founded by a local woman I will call Rehema. At the time of the documentary, the school had 26 students and new students started on regularbasis. The school now has over 40 regular students and those who graduated last year from the preschool can already read in Kiswahili, Tanzania’s national language.

Rehema's class. © Jyri Mäkelä.

The children’s preschool day starts with a small crowd at the door. Dozens of kids take off their shoes at the same time. They are all heading for the first lesson. Soon everyone has found their seats and Rehema starts to teach. The weekly calendar includes English, mathematics, physical exercise, hygiene, drawing, song, Swahili and sport and games. Besides traditional subjects, Rehema also wants to teach life skills to the children, for example how to behave and how to take care of themselves in daily tasks. Those are the skills that children do not necessarily learn in impoverished homes from stressed and overworked parents. After morning classes, lunch time begins. First a lunch lady arrives with the food, but before anyone can start to eat, everyone washes their hands. For lunch the children eat porridge, sambusas and snacks. Everyone is enjoying the food, for some of them this might be the only hot cooked meal of the day.

Lunch time. © Jyri Mäkelä.

Rehema´s school gives quality education to children, but good education is not a certainty in all Tanzanian schools and in many cases, schools fail to deliver necessary skills. With the current unemployment crisis in Tanzania, quality of education is now discussed more openly, but as Ruth Wedgwood tells us in her article in the International Journal of Educational Development in 2007, in recent years the quality of education has decreased in Tanzania. Compared to most preschools in the area, Rehema’s school is different. As a service to her community, Rehema takes in for free five children whose parents cannot pay the modest preschool fees. From the beginning, her goal was to give good education and better opportunities to children who are living in this chronically poor area, and so far she appears to have succeeded. The preschool has been open less than two years and it has expanded to include another site nearby and the second group of children has graduated to the first grade of primary school.  

Learning the alphabet. © Jyri Mäkelä.

Upon entering primary school, these children already knew how to read and write, giving them a huge advantage over other children in their area and even in Dar es Salaam at large. With luck, this early advantage may translate into later opportunities in the job market. At least I am certain that because of Rehema’s preschool, these children and their parents are welcoming the future with greater hope than before.



By Susanna Myllylä

Urban youth are much affected by redevelopment processes in cities, however, their experiences and vulnerabilities are relatively little acknowledged and diversified in urban planning and policies. The Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is currently undergoing a massive renewal project as it intends to become the “metropolis of Africa”. Many old urban structures, such as government-owned, slum-like kebele settlements must give a way to modern housing and commercial areas, and to large-scale infrastructures such as roads and a light rail transit system. What is then the youth agency in this context?

Addis Ababa under transformation. © Susanna Myllylä.

By examining the personal histories and future dreams of the youth, it is possible to study the modernization project of Addis at the grassroots level, rather than taking the more typical top-down approach. In my research (20142015), I have searched for those young city-dwellers who live in the backyards of kebele settlements and face the worst living conditions. Although I would prefer to consider the youth as active agents and catalysts of urban development when there are enabling factors available, my research findings also indicate that many young adults find themselves in a frustrating, stagnant position. What follows is an example of one such narrative.

This inner city kebele neighborhood is located near a busy road and a crossroads that will be expanded and thus the settlement will be partly demolished in the near future according to city plans. The site is busy with heavy traffic, street vendors, and small workshops. The air is filled with sand and dust from nearby light rail and road construction sites, adding to the severe air pollution from the smog and fumes of traffic and small industries.

Divided worlds. © Susanna Myllylä.

Jirata (name changed), a 25-year-old man, was born in the city. He is an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Oromo ethnic group. His parents divorced when he was a child, after which his mother moved to the north and his father established a new family. Jirata was sent to his grandmother’s house. He has not had any contact with his parents since. Jirata’s eyes are filled with sadness, reflecting the abandonment and solitude experienced by many other young people in Addis, where children and adolescents are often left to their grandmothers’ custody after their parents’ divorce. Also Jirata’s three nephews were sent to live in their grandma’s two-room small kebele house. Since his grandmother is supported by other relatives rather well, nobody expects Jirata to contribute financially to the household: “I gave up on everybody and have sustained myself already since I was 8 years old. I have struggled for myself only – I do not want to count on, or depend on nobody.”

Dropping out of school is common especially among the youth who live without their parents. In his early years, Jirata both studied and worked: ”I thought, I am strong enough”. According to Joanne Westwood (2013), issues related to working children often challenge our cultural perspectives about childhood and what is considered acceptable and appropriate. While it is important to prevent exploitative child labor, in cases of poverty not only children but also their families and communities can benefit from, and children can feel pride in, being able to make a contribution to their family, or paying for their education through work (Ibid).

Another grandmother’s house to be soon demolished. © Susanna Myllylä.

Jirata’s personal history includes early school dropout and a series of menial jobs – also a typical narrative of kebele youth in Addis. He has worked as a carrier of loads for neighbors, a construction site worker, a minibus driver’s assistant, and a taxi driver. It is not formal work since he does not work for a taxi owner, but casually receives day-work from taxi drivers who are tired or otherwise want take a break: “I stand by the street and look for job opportunities. So me and my friends just hang around here, and I don’t know about other areas in the city and what they could offer.” To Western eyes, young men hanging around street corners may indicate laziness. However, in Addis it is part of the dynamics of the informal economy. It is also clear from interviews that a considerable part of the poor kebele youth have participated in the modernization project of the city by working at the numerous construction sites. Young women not only sell coffee and food (and compete for spaces on the construction sites in which to market these goods), but also they join the heavy work by carrying materials.

As Jirata points out, ”not many young people have a good education here. Women and girls become pregnant before they have established themselves – which, is also the fault of men too. We have a lot of youth who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. I think we hardly have criminals here because people are involved only in their own things, and people are aware of the consequences if caught by the police. Occasionally here can be criminals arriving from other areas hiding from police.”

For the kebele youth, uncertainties regarding livelihood; petty jobs and great daily variances in income make their lives vulnerable and insecure. Jirata thinks that a person with a good education can seek a job elsewhere, and get employment more easily: “For us, this is difficult, since our work is based on connections, in an informal way. My daily income varies a lot, sometimes I get 100 birr [roughly 4.30 euros], sometimes less or more. I want to become a fully employed taxi driver, but it is difficult since there are already too many of them.” Jirata’s assumptions regarding the better position of the educated youth, especially of the university graduates, may be partly true. 

I observed that the university graduates living in kebeles often face long term unemployment, since there are too many educated applicants for each open job – a situation similar to taxi drivers. Hence it can be argued that the urban renewal project has been unable to improve the lives of the poorest youth. There can be found youth microenterprises and kebele loans for small businesses, but if one is an informal subrenter, it is not possibly to apply for such a loan. In addition, what I found striking among the youth was the lack of collective action and tight social security networks.

Youth often feel restrictions in the congested kebele settlements: “In our compound there are many gossiping women, since they do not have much to do. They talk about other people’s affairs. That’s why I usually leave home early and go to the street to work, or look for work”. Jirata would like to continue studying, and earn enough to buy property for himself. He cannot afford to think of marriage because he has no savings, but he is optimistic about the future. An 18-year old can register for the government’s housing lottery system in order to receive an apartment in a block of flats known as a ‘condominium’. 

Jirata has registered for a two-bedroom apartment, since he thinks he can afford to take care of the down payment and the required monthly payments: “I can’t wait to get a condominium. Here in the kebele we have to fight over shared resources, such as space, water, electricity – everything must be consulted and disputed with others. In a condominium, one minds his own business.” But he is aware of the uncertainties attached to these apartments: “I know people who have won in the lottery, but mostly they rented the house out in order to be able to manage the payments. I would rent it out too, if I were in a bad situation, but if I had a steady or better job, I would stay in the house.”

A new condominium area seen from a half-demolished kebele house. © Susanna Myllylä.

The youth have many views and ideas regarding the urban renewal project. Jirata points out the lack of alternatives for people: “Development is not well co-ordinated in the city. For instance, when the city starts demolishing a kebele housing area, the inhabitants are moved out before they have a new home, either in another kebele or in a condominium. People are forced to stay at their relatives’ houses for an unknown time. And in regard to road or light rail construction, the city should provide alternative roads, or when these are provided, they are in bad condition, having big holes and in the rainy season they are unpassable. We have too much congestion, which has made people angry and stressed, and we are used to saying: ”Oh this country!”

Jirata does not hesitate when offering an explanation for the poverty in kebeles: ”Because they have just turned in upon themselves and keep complaining: ‘I am stuck in a poverty trap’. At the same time, they envy someone who has succeeded in improving his life. Or, for instance, an elderly woman from my compound selling charcoal on the street: she has taken her grandchildren to live with her, which makes an extra burden for her, especially if she does not get any support – she is being pushed downwards. Actually everybody is in the same situation here.”

According to Jirata, he has been living an accidental life: “I have struggled a lot in the past; I have not had anyone or anything to rely on, and lacked support – even just to feel pity for me. I worried a lot, was frustrated, as I did not have any idea how to survive. Now I have a driver’s license so there is some hope for the future. But what I want is different from what I currently do. My life is just going on from one happening to another; things just happen to me.” Jirata is just one of many stuck in a position of inadequate life chances and poor living environments, in uncertain youthscapes (see Maira and Soep, 2004; cf. Christiansen, Utas and Vigh, 2006 ).

What is then required to cause a positive shift in the personal development of the youth, and to help them become urban citizens who are better attached to Ethiopian society? This is a crucial question to be reconsidered in light of the contemporary urban renewal that emphasizes structures over people.




By Jelena Salmi

Ahmedabad, the most populous city in the state of Gujarat, is often presented as a pioneer in urban development in India. Since the early 2000s, several beautification and infrastructure projects have been carried out in the city to the advantage of the middle and upper classes. In this process, the slums in the city center are depicted as nuisances that need to be removed in the name of sanitation and development. This is in line with the general trend in India – slum demolitions are increasingly pushing the poor to the fringes, because they do not conform to the aesthetic ideals of rapidly urbanizing world-class cities. In Ahmedabad, thousands of slum-dwellers have been displaced from city center slums and resettled in areas located mostly in the eastern periphery.

One of the resettlement colonies – a site that I will call Vikaspur – is situated next to a polluted industrial area, twelve kilometers from the city center. I have been living next to this area for the past three months and have interacted with its residents on a daily basis. The neighborhood consists of 77 identical four-story concrete blocks arranged in orderly, straight lines extending into the horizon. Informal mosques and temples have been built by the residents in open spaces between the blocks. If you enter the area just before lunch or dinner time, you will see vegetable and pani puri (a popular street snack) vendors pushing their carts in the streets and hear them yelling the day's offers in a high-pitched voice. In the evenings, children use the open spaces to play sports: boys play cricket and girls badminton. In the meantime, their parents sit on charpoys (a rope-strung bed), relaxing from the day's work and exchanging rumors with neighbors.

An open space in the resettlement colony. © Jelena Salmi.

Just a few years ago, most of Vikaspur's residents lived on the banks of the River Sabarmati that runs through the center of Ahmedabad. Due to a decision made by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to develop the banks of the river into a "vibrant and vital focus of the city", approximately 14,000 riverbank slum-dwellers lost their homes during the years 2005–2012. The riverfront residents were resettled into 18 different relocation sites, and apartments in these sites were allocated by a computer-generated random drawing of lots, breaking apart existing social networks of slums. Hindus and Muslims were, however, mostly resettled into separate colonies due to Ahmedabad's tumultuous history of communal violence. Vikaspur is an exception to the rule since it accommodates members from both religious communities.

Although residents of Vikaspur that I have talked to seem happy with the government's initiative to build low-cost housing for the urban poor, they are invariably of the opinion that life was, nevertheless, better in slums, where they enjoyed the security of their established social networks and livelihood opportunities. "All the jobs were within five minutes' reach", recounted Farha, a Muslim woman in her 30s, who was previously working as a housemaid close to the riverfront. She has now been forced to quit working completely because her meager earnings would not suffice to cover for the travel expenses from the resettlement area to her former job. As employment opportunities are scarce in the urban periphery, people are compelled to travel to the city center for work. "Nowadays I have to spend 100 rupees [ca. 1.5 euros] a day for travel", stated Amir, a bangle salesman.

Man at work © Jelena Salmi.

Spending time with Vikaspur residents, I have learned that they do not share feelings of sociality and mutual responsibility. When I have enquired about the most serious problems in the area, most interviewees have answered that it is the way in which people from disparate locations have been lumped together. Indeed, for the urban poor, living among one's relatives is often the only way to build and maintain social and political capital. A new pakka ('permanent') house in the urban periphery hardly compensates for the loss of valuable relations. "We have been mixed like a packet of snacks", said a 45-year-old rickshaw driver named Rajendra. "I do not want to live with these people, but what other options have I got?" Mukesh, a 26-year-old Hindu man who works as a clothes salesman added: "The houses are good and it is a good move by the government to assign houses instead of slums. It's just that the population is mixed up badly here, so living is tough. Even if you walk on the road here, someone might pick a fight with you without any reason." Lack of mutual trust further limits the residents' ability to act collectively in order to access basic services. I have often been told that in Vikaspur "everyone just looks out for themselves".

In an attempt to secure living space in a vulnerable situation, the people of Vikaspur tend to turn against each other and use caste and religion as a basis for social discrimination. For example, 27-year-old housewife Shraddha felt that allotting separate blocks for Muslims, caste Hindus and dalits ('untouchables') would solve the security problem in the area. Shraddha, herself an upper-caste Hindu, considered Muslims and dalits to be the ones who "use bad language", pick fights, loot, drink and use drugs. About a year ago, Vikaspur got its very own police station in order to restrain the clashes taking place between residents. The people that I talked to are, however, of the opinion that the continuous presence of police has led to even more trouble, since the culture of bribery thrives in marginal spaces.

Empty houses waiting for residents © Jelena Salmi.

Ahmedabad is celebrated as the epitome of the new model in urban development in India, but the everyday reality of the urban poor tells a darker story. In Vikaspur, lumping disparate populations together has created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, making people unable to act collectively to lobby for their rights. Policy makers' insensitivity to the importance of maintaining the social cohesion of demolished settlements has thus led to further socio-economic marginalization of the urban poor. Given that the residents share little more than their displacement, poverty, and the stigma attached to being jhuggi ('slum') dwellers, Vikaspur's future prospects as a flourishing locality seem bleak. On a brighter note, however, a 20-year-old Muslim youth named Abdul was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel: "It is possible to establish a sense of community, but it is bound to take a long time."




By Laura Stark

The United Nations defines a slum as an informal settlement in which residents lack access to tenure, safe water, sanitation, durability of housing, and sufficient living area. By 2030, the number of people living in slums will be nearly ¼ of the global population. Despite the billions of dollars spent to eliminate slums, such schemes have largely failed because they have not solved the underlying problem of chronic poverty. The poor cannot afford to rent or buy housing at market prices, and therefore demolishing slums does not actually solve anything, since the poor must simply start all over and find somewhere else to rebuild or somewhere cheap to rent, often in hazardous areas such as garbage dumps, flood-prone areas, or near industrial sites where nobody else wants to live.

I have made seven field visits to Dar es Salaam,Tanzania. It is the seventh poorest city in the world and the third fastest-growing city in sub-Sa­haran Africa, whose population is expected to exceed 5 million by 2020. Some five kilometres from the centre of Dar es Salaam, a neighborhood that I will call Kijito is home to some of the worst conditions in the city. Here people survive by working as, for example, construction workers, truck drivers and auto mechanics, or selling food in their neighborhood or on a busy street. Roughly half of the residents of Kijito informally own their homes, while the other half are renters, renting out a room or two for the whole family to live in.

Entering Kijito from the main road, one encounters houses built of cement, arranged haphazardly and connected by open spaces where brightly-colored kangas (2-piece women’s garments displaying a message in Swahili) are hung to dry, children play barefoot, and women cook food over charcoal fires. Urban agriculture is also in evidence: corn and local vegetables were growing in the open spaces between houses, goats tethered to trees, and chickens roam the grass pecking at edible pieces of garbage. Although garbage and waste litter the uneven ground, the predominant smell in the dry season is that of smoke from charcoal fires. In the rainy season, as I later experienced for myself, the ground becomes a morass of foul-smelling water and slippery mud.

As I and my interpreter passed through the settlement every morning, some residents greeted us in Swahili by saying good morning (habari za asubuhi) or peace to you (salaama). Children often waved and shouted mzungu! (white person) when they saw me from afar, and greeted me and my interpreter with the respectful greeting for elders (shikamoo, literally ‘I hold your feet’) when they walked past us. Despite the fact of being located near the centre of a city of nearly five million people, the main impression one gets of Kijito is that of a rural village: palm trees sway in the quiet breeze, interrupted only by the occasional blare of music from a radio, and usually only a few residents can be seen walking or carrying out daily tasks in the open spaces between the houses.

A house with objects placed on the patio roof to hold down the sheets of corrugated iron. © Laura Stark.

The first time I visited Kijito, what residents wanted most to show me was the small polluted river bordering their neighborhood, and I soon understood why. When I asked them what their worst problem was, nearly everyone answered: the annual flooding (mafuriko) caused by the river overflowing during the rainy season. Kijito is just one of several areas in Dar es Salaam in which climate change is starting to worsen annual flooding through sea level rise, variable rainfall, and more intense coastal storms.

In a rainstorm, floods can appear suddenly, and are fast and frightening. I have seen them myself. They carry away people’s belongings, threaten lives, and spread human waste from pit latrines across the neighborhood. Flood waters erode and crack the walls of buildings which are usually made of substandard concrete, since people cannot afford to use high quality concrete. Roughly twenty homes along the river collapsed in 2014 during the rainy season (luckily the residents had already fled). During the floods, residents must seek shelter in another neighborhood on higher ground, and often have to pay for the privilege of sleeping in other people’s hallways.

Flooding is caused in part by the unplanned nature of Kijito, which was originally built on farmland. As more people built houses there, problems began to arise because there was nobody to oversee where and how the houses were built. The plastic pipes which brought drinking water into households were cut by new residents who were digging foundations for their own houses, leaving existing residents without water. Residents built their houses haphazardly, leaving no room for garbage trucks or space for garbage collection. There was thus nowhere to discard their trash except in the river. Eventually, people who needed more space to build homes started piling large bags of trash along the river bank to serve as landfill, greatly reducing the capacity of the river to act as a drainage channel to the Indian Ocean during the rainy season.

Garbage along the riverbank. © Laura Stark.

One may ask why, if the floods are so bad, people living in Kijito don’t just move away. And some do, especially renters who can afford to pay higher rents somewhere else. But there are always more of the urban poor coming to take their place. Some renters stay for decades. And most residents are actually trapped in this flood-prone zone. The land owned by Kijito home owners is rising in value, but the land values of other central areas in Dar are rising even faster. If owners in Kijito sold their homes, they would not receive enough money to buy another home in a central area of the city. They would have to either rent a room, or buy a home outside the city where job opportunities, schools, and health clinics are almost non-existent. The poorest renters, too, are unable to move away from Kijito because they cannot afford higher rents in central areas of the city. Kijito is, residents have told me, one of the last places close to the city center where a person can rent a room for as little as 8 euros per month. Why? Because nobody else wants to live there.

The residents of Kijito hope that the Tanzanian government – or anyone – would be able to help them. Indeed, the city government plans to dredge and widen the river by demolishing homes built along the riverbank as a means to prevent flooding. In Kijito, the demolition zone extends 30 metres from the river bank and includes 87 houses. For those persons unlucky enough to have a house near the river, no assistance has been offered to help them relocate after their homes have been demolished.

Even if the the government or an NGO could take steps to prevent the annual flooding, many residents in Kijito would not be able to stay in the neighborhood long enough to enjoy this new situation. Rents would rise, and most renters would have to look elsewhere for somewhere to live. Right now, rents are low because in Kijito because wealthy people will not invest in land which is prone to severe flooding. The very thing which makes life most difficult for the poor in Kijito is the same thing which allows them to stay there in the first place: the low-cost of renting in a flood-prone zone. This is indeed a paradox for the poor. 

A partially collapsed house along the riverbank in Kijito. © Laura Stark.

The prosperity of cities is fueled by one dynamic: population growth. According to the UN and World Bank, concentrating people in cities reduces the cost of supplying basic services such as education, healthcare, water, housing and infrastructure. Population growth brings businesses and skilled workers to a single geographical location, and together with technological innovation, produces more efficient labour and capital markets, lowers transaction costs, and facilitates knowledge transfer through the density of networks. This means that more jobs are created nearest the densest parts of the city, and that more people want to live there, too, in order to minimize their transportation costs. This dynamic causes land values nearest the city center to rise in proportion to the centrality of their location. These same forces impact the urban poor: they need to live near the center to find the unskilled and informal jobs available there, but they usually cannot afford to buy homes or rent there. Residents of Kijito suffer greatly from flooding, but they need to live near shops, services, marketplaces and opportunities for day jobs. The floods are precisely what allow them to do this, because Kijito’s floods artificially lower the real estate value of land in Kijito. Floods prevent investors from wanting to invest, and have so far prevented the government or NGOs from upgrading Kijito’s infrastructure (putting in paved pathways, pipes for fresh water and sanitation). This has allowed poor renters to stay in Kijito, since upgrading usually leads to a rapid rise in rents.

In their quest to be seen as modern world-class cities, many urban areas are currently trying to get rid of the ‘slums’ they see as embarrassing to their global image. But since their efforts do nothing to alleviate the underlying poverty of slum residents, the poorest renters remain on the move, searching for another place to live, settling for places with dangerous living conditions because the rents are lower there, and building new slums. Such mobile renters have, until now, tended to be invisible in urban planning, although they comprise a significant part of the urban population in every developing country. As researchers, we need to ask ourselves what can be done to solve the paradoxes they face.

A resident of Kijito in her neighborhood the day before a flash flood. © Laura Stark.



By Tiina-Riitta Lappi

Large urban development projects for housing, infrastructure and construction of commercial buildings are taking place all over Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. The whole urban landscape is changing drastically and these changes affect many people’s lives as well. In 2006, a massive development program was launched to provide affordable housing for lower income groups who do not have decent and healthy living conditions.

So far around 170 000 condominium units of the planned 400 000 have been handed over to their new owners but for the poorest getting a condominium remains a distant and almost unimaginable dream. Those who receive a condominium are selected through a lottery which requires registration beforehand. In order to get a condominium, a person has to win a lottery first and then he or she needs to have the down payment, which is often too much money for the poorest to pay. That’s if they ever even win the lottery. I’m told that later, all who have registered will eventually get a condominium, but that may take years.

In March 2015 I visited an unplanned, government-owned kebele neighbourhood situated close to the centre of Addis Ababa where I met Adina, an older woman living in a one-room house with nine other family members. Adina’s house is quite small and there’s barely enough room for everyone to sleep at night even when they have all the open space on the floor covered with mattresses. This family of 10 shares a kitchen and a toilet with four other households living in the same compound.

Kebele houses like Adina’s are usually single-storey mud and wood constructions called chika, constituting approximately 70 per cent of the housing stock in central parts of Addis Ababa. With their very low rents and favourable locations, kebele neighbourhoods are the best (and often also the only) available option for low-income households which comprise the majority of city dwellers. Since rental rights are for life, people rarely move away voluntarily. This has created tight and long-lasting social bonds in these neighbourhoods.

Adina moved to her house 42 years ago and three other families with kebele houses in the same compound have lived there almost as long as Adina. They function like one big family in which each mother has her own role in taking care of the children in the compound collectively. One mother feeds the children, one takes care of washing the laundry, another makes sure the children are doing their schoolwork, and so forth. Tight social relations with neighbours are indispensable safety nets for the poor. Maintaining that social cohesion would not be possible in the condominiums, at least not to the same extent people are used to in their current living environment.

As I was having coffee one afternoon at Adina’s house with her and six other women from the neighbourhood, they discussed the upcoming lottery, which would take place in a few days. All seven women, or at least some of their close relatives, had registered for a condominium so it was an exciting time for them, even if they still did not personally know anyone in the neighbourhood who had been lucky in the lottery. Adina said that she is desperate to get a good place for her husband to rest because he works two jobs and needs some peace and quiet in order to be able to sleep a couple of hours between 1am and 6am. He has to work at two jobs because he has many expenses, including his grandchildren’s school fees.

Many daily activities are carried out in outdoor spaces. © Tiina-Riitta Lappi, 2012.

While drinking coffee, one woman commented on the condominium lottery by saying that people in her neighbourhood don’t know what actually happens in a lottery. “It’s only in the newspaper, the list, so we don’t know if it’s fair or not. Even those condominiums that are given are not finished and you have to finish them yourself”, she continued and gave an example. She told of her relative who received a condominium and worked really hard to make it habitable. By the time he was done and had moved into the condominium, he was so drained both mentally and physically that he got sick and died three months later.

It’s not a unique story, since I have heard others like it, telling about what may happen to people moving into condominiums. Even if everyone dreams of having a better place to live, people believe that getting one may bring bad things, too. During an earlier visit to the same neighbourhood, an older man told me that he would shortly be receiving a condominium but could not afford to live in it. He would rent a room for his family of eight people and rent out the condominium in order to pay back the loan he had received from his relative to make the down payment for the condominium.

The man described the situation in this way: “My luck with the condominium lottery gives me both happiness and sadness, happiness because we have our own house now and sadness because of the financial problems we have. It’s frustrating to borrow money and not be able to start paying it back.”

Later, I asked if any of the women I had been talking to had visited someone living in a condominium, if they had an idea of what it would be like to live in one, or how it would be different from their current life in a kebele house. Just two of them had visited condominiums but very briefly and they could not recall those visits very clearly. To me it sounded as if they were talking about a life that is so different from their own that it was almost impossible to comprehend. Certainly 170 000 condominium units have alleviated the general housing shortage but for the poorest of the poor, they have quite often turned out to be too expensive and in practical terms, out of their reach.

People are desperate to have better homes and decent living conditions but getting there seems almost to be a dream without any connection to their actual lives. As one woman said, getting a condominium would be like “rising from the dead”, something totally beyond one’s imagination.

Kebele housing in Addis Ababa. © Tiina-Riitta Lappi, 2013.


  • Ejigu, Alazar G. 2012. Socio-spatial tensions and interactions: An ethnography of the condominium housing of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In Mélanie Robertson (ed.) Sustainable Cities: Local Solutions in the Global South. Warwickshire: International Development Research Center, 97–112.
  • Ejigu, Alazar G. 2014. History, Modernity and the Making of an African Spatiality. – Urban Forum (2014) 25: 267–293.
  • Gezahegn Abebe 2010. Re-settlement of Slum Dwellers in Contemporary Addis Ababa: The Perspectives of Relocated Households. Master’s Thesis. Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo. [Abstract]



By Jukka Jouhki

In February 2014 I visited the Centre for Women’s Development and Research, an organization working to improve livelihoods in the slums of Chennai, India. For a few weeks, I accompanied the staff members on their daily rounds in the slums and, thanks to the welcoming residents, got plenty of chances to talk with the people about their everyday lives.

As I hadn’t done research among the people of the Chennai slums before, I was eager to know, well, everything. So we talked about religion, marriage, gender, work, free time, money, and all other issues that are, I guess, text book ethnology. However, as the national elections were around the corner, people were very eager to talk politics. I found that every single adult I talked to had always voted whenever there was an election, and they were definitely going to vote in the next elections too. They said it was their duty.

The enthusiasm, however, didn’t match their knowledge of democracy. Few people knew much about how the democratic system worked, and many had huge misconceptions about their rights and duties as citizens of the country. But what struck me as a unique aspect of democracy in India was that the poor were still the most active voters in the society. In other countries of the world, it’s the other way around. The rich and the educated are the most active voters.

In India, however, the more disadvantaged and deprived one is by virtue of gender, wealth or education, the more likely s/he is to try to solve problems through negotiations with powerful figures in party politics. The middle and upper classes do not care as much about voting because feel themselves less involved in the practices of the democratic system. Their children do not go to government schools or colleges, they do not use the public transportation, nor are they dependent on public health care services. So what difference does it make to them who runs the show, since they are not watching?

A labor faction of a Tamil Nadu party marching for their rights. © Jukka Jouhki.

I returned to India in December of 2014 for a month to dig a bit deeper. I found out that in the 1970s, the upper castes and classes and educated citizens still voted more than the uneducated lower castes and classes in India. But by the 1990s, the underprivileged classes had surpassed the elite in voting activity. The poor have begun to organize, use middle-men to concentrate their power on particular politicians, and utilize the political spaces provided to them by the constitutional democracy. By increasing their participation in the political sphere and demanding their due rights, they have challenged the hegemony of the rich and powerful.

But there is a less political reason for the voting enthusiasm in the slums. The period of elections is full of celebration, posters, music, processions and parties, and it represents a rare time during which the poor feel they are equal to others in an otherwise stratified society. It is the time when the rich and the powerful come to them to beg—for votes. Also, while more wealthy Indians might vote out of a sense of civic duty, the poor vote because they wish to exercise one of the few rights they possess.

It is often implied that Indian democracy is a very short-sighted one, that the poor are ignorant and abused voters who do not understand which political choices really benefit them. Mukulika Banerjee however, rejects this idea, and suggests that Indian democracy is a unique and perhaps even a relatively efficient political system which increasingly attends to the poor. According to the people I talked to in Chennai, the politicians do provide for the poor but they do it before the elections. They pave roads in the slums, construct public community buildings, repair houses, arrange for water connections or electricity outlets, give feasts and bring gifts to every household. After the elections, they disappear back into the fog of eliteness only to reappear before the next elections.

What puzzled me the most was that the poor in Chennai had very little trust in politicians and thought that every politician is corrupt, but still they viewed voting as an important act. I found that it was partly because of the corruption that they felt they had to go and vote. Otherwise someone else might vote in their name for a different party. That is to say, a political candidate might bribe an election official to get access to the list of registered voters in order to see who has not voted yet, and have a supporter use a forged identity to vote in the name of one of these inactive voters. In the end, the slum residents might see politics as a necessary evil but voting is nevertheless a sacred egalitarian duty. It doesn’t matter if you are powerful or not, you still have to stand in the same line to vote, and everyone has only one vote. Hence, at least on a voting day, even the poor are true citizens.




Welcome to our research group's website! Here you can find basic information about us and our activies. 

In this section the members of our group will write about topics they are focusing on in their research. 

If you are interested to know more about us please feel free to contact us via the contact form or send email to individual scholars listed in Who we are. The leader of the research center is prof. Laura Stark.

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- PovDev Group

Pic from Deviant Art.