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There is an urgent need to understand lived experiences of climate change in the context of African cities, where even small climate shocks can have significant implications for the livelihoods of the urban poor. This article examines narratives of climate and livelihood changes within Jinja Municipality, Uganda, emphasizing how Jinja's residents make sense of climate change through their own narrative frames rather than through the lens of global climate change discourses. We demonstrate how the onset of climate change in Jinja is widely attributed to perceived moral and environmental failings on the part of a present generation that is viewed as both more destructive than previous generations and unable to preserve land, trees and other resources for future generations. A focus on local ontologies of climate change highlights how the multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities of contemporary urban life in Jinja serve to obfuscate not only the conditions of possibility of an immediate future, but the longer-term horizons for future generations, as changing weather patterns exacerbate existing challenges people face in adapting to wider socio-economic changes and rising livelihood vulnerability. This form of analysis situates changing climate and environments within the context of everyday urban struggles and emphasizes the need for civic participation in developing climate change strategies that avoid the pitfalls of climate reductionism. The article draws on more than 150 qualitative interviews, generational dialogue groups, and creative methods based on research-led community theatre.
African marketplaces have long been understood as ambivalent spaces; as sites of compliance and transgression, domination and resistance. This ambivalence comes into sharp focus in the urban marketplaces that have absorbed a large proportion of the African workforce over the past four decades. One the one hand, urban markets offer opportunities for the forging of new relationships, or ‘fictive kin’, beyond the confines of consanguinity and affinity. However, on the other hand, they are fiercely competitive places in which strangers skilfully intrude into one's life. Succeeding in the market therefore requires the striking of a skilful balance between accumulation and redistribution, disclosure and concealment. This article presents an analysis of the everyday interactions and exchanges facilitated by the movements of a waste picker in Nakasero market, the oldest marketplace in Kampala, Uganda. Amid the current emphasis on improvization and provisionality as key features of urban African life, it demonstrates the importance of long-standing cultural idioms, such as omutima (‘heart’), in providing structure and meaning to the interactions of urban African inhabitants.
Urban migrants in Nampula City, northern Mozambique, perceive themselves to be living in an environment where they are particularly vulnerable to sorcery attacks. Key to this sense of vulnerability are Makhuwa notions of matrilineal descent and relatedness, which work to locate sorcery fears in the interstices of two kinds of proximity, namely social and physical. Accordingly, people fear the translocal reach of the ill will of kin residing in the countryside, with whose well-being they remain connected regardless of the physical distance. Simultaneously, there are threats posed by urban neighbours who, due to their proximity in physical terms but separation in social terms, are considered dangerous. This article analyses practices of conspicuous exchange as one of the strategies urban migrants employ in coping with these anxieties. Specifically, it draws on the life histories of two women in one neighbourhood of Nampula City to explore the challenges they experience in meeting demands for material assistance from rural kin and urban neighbours. The analysis shows that their accounts of sorcery are structured by the difficulty of balancing such demands in a setting of poverty and socio-economic inequality. This finding has implications for anthropological theories of sorcery, misfortune and urban migration.
This article examines the commodity chain and value chain of half-litre water bags (referred to as ‘pure water’ or ‘sachet water’) in Niamey, Niger. We begin with a focus on the discarded bag and work backwards through the commodity chain to consumers, vendors and finally producers of ‘pure water’ to reveal the underlying power structures, cultural perceptions and assumptions that ultimately resulted in the discarded bag and landscapes of waste. We assert that the economic value of the plastic bag, largely assigned during the stages of its production, is based on four characteristics: the label, the temperature of the water, the time of year it is sold, and the apparent ‘purity’ of the water. We further demonstrate how characteristics of economic value are steeped in cultural perceptions and social relationships in Niamey. Using interviews with agents and actors at all levels of the commodity chain, we reveal how this local, hybrid system is connected to and affected by larger, global economic and political forces.
For a group of Wayao street vendors in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kinship relations were simultaneously an advantage and a hindrance. Their migration to the city and entry into the urban economy had occurred along ethnic and kinship lines. But, as they perceived the socially heterogeneous environment of the city that potentially offered them opportunities to cooperate with people from different social or ethnic backgrounds, they experienced their continuing dependency on their relatives as a form of confinement. Against the backdrop of the city, the Wayao perceived their social relations as being burdened with an inescapable sameness that made it impossible to trust one another. Mistrust, contempt and mutual suspicion were the flip side of close social relations and culminated in accusations of uchawi (Swahili: witchcraft). However, these accusations did not have a disintegrative effect; paradoxically, their impact on social relations among the vendors was integrative. On the one hand, uchawi allegations expressed the claustrophobic feeling of stifling relations; on the other, they compelled the accused to adhere to a shared morality of egalitarian relations and exposed the feeling that the accused individual was worthy of scrutiny, indicating that relationships with him were of particular importance to others.
Rural–urban migration leads to ever increasing numbers of Africans living in informal settlements. In Accra's largest informal settlement, Old Fadama, residents by definition have no statutory rights to the land and their building activities undermine formal state law and state-recognized customary landowners. Statutory institutions are unable to enforce property rights and alternative interests emerge and organize. In multiple and fragmented ways, local stakeholders create and define their own informal relations of property and land-based authority. This article examines four cases of land transfers, building and development in the settlement that involve a variety of local, national and global actors. Their actions show the contemporaneous making and unmaking of different relations of property and land-based control and authority in the densely populated urban site. Important features of urban development in Accra are thereby shown to be variations in property relations and the multitude of actors that validate land use but that circumvent statutory institutions.
The young men of Nima, a popular neighbourhood in Accra, organize themselves in small age groups that meet almost daily in a specific spot, to chat, play and ‘wait’, while dreaming together of a better future in a distant elsewhere. The friendships that find root in these so-called bases, which often have names such as ‘Chicago’ or ‘Brooklyn’, lead to hope and specific modes of action through which these young people engage with the city, the wider world and their own aspirations. Taking these bases as an ethnographic vantage point, this article looks into relations of proximity, friendship and trust and the agency of the young men. The article's focus then turns to the virtual world of the same young men – and their girlfriends – in order to analyse the new modes of friendship that are shaped by their internet browsing. It shows how the modalities and intricacies of online, often deceitful, friendship and love rely on vital localized friendship bonds, defined by trust, of browsers in the zongo. Browsing opens up new possibilities but also challenges, and erodes existing moral socialities between friends.
Northern Uganda is in transition after the conflict that ended in 2006. While its cities are thriving and economic opportunities abound, the social institutions governing land access are contested, the land administration system is changing, and the mechanisms available to address conflicts over resources have themselves become a venue for authority claims. This article examines the intergenerational nature of land conflicts in northern Uganda, focusing on the interplay of customary law, return migration and the development of a market in land. There are three contributions to existing literature: (1) a discussion of children's property rights under customary and statute law in Uganda; (2) the identification of the dual nature of children during complex emergencies as both victims and agents; and (3) an addition to knowledge on post-conflict return and community reconstruction. Evidence comes from several sources, the most important of which are a set of interviews conducted in Gulu and Kampala in May and June 2015. Secondary sources augment the field research, particularly survey research conducted in northern Uganda after the conflict.
One product of the vicissitudes of apartheid-era labour migration, of persistent constraints on urban settlement and of continuing post-apartheid oscillating migration between South Africa's cities and countryside has been extensive domestic fluidity for many South African working people. As a consequence, they have repeatedly created new social networks across the urban–rural social field. In making sense of those networks by reconfiguring their notions of kinship and clanship, they have demonstrated the significance of kinship as an identity idiom. Based on research in Cape Town's largest African township during the early 1990s period of transition from apartheid, the article shows how, through people's use of notions of clanship, they have recursively reconstructed their idiom of kinship in a context of systemic instability. This article uses ethnographic data from that time and context to argue that we need to understand kinship as a cultural resource, pragmatically used and reinvented over and over again, each time emerging anew. In doing so, the article shows that kinship is not a fixed, recordable structure and that, like so many aspects of culture, it is repeatedly reinvented and reconstituted in order to address pragmatic circumstances.
Governments in South Sudan have long built their authority on their ability to fashion changing regimes of revenge and compensation, war and peace. Governments’ capture of these regimes has resulted in the secularization of compensation despite the ongoing spiritual consequences of lethal violence. This article explores these issues by focusing on the western Dinka of Greater Gogrial. In recent years, they have been closely linked to the highest levels of government through familial networks and comradeship. Violent revenge among the western Dinka is best understood not as revealing the absence of institutions of government, but as a consequence of the projection of government power over the details of local, normative codes and sanctions. In this age of post-state violence with automatic weapons, oil-wealthy elites and ambiguous rights, government authority and intention have often been erratic. As government authority now backs up these regimes of compensation and revenge, governments’ shifting nature has reshaped their meaning. In the last decade, the declining political space for peace and the disruption of the cattle economy has undermined the current value of compensation and its ability to appease the spiritual and moral demands for revenge. It has even distorted regimes to the extent that children become legitimate targets for revenge. The article is informed by archival sources and based on ethnographic research among the western Dinka (South Sudan) between 2010 and 2013, and further research in South Sudan until 2015.
In this article, I examine the fear of others’ envy among young students and graduates in the port city of Mahajanga, Madagascar. Although the city provides a favourable environment in relation to the economy, employment and general well-being, many young people from middle-class milieus worry that their aspirations will remain unfulfilled because of envious peers who resent them for any advantage they might have gained. While malicious envy is most expected within close social relations in which social comparison and competition are prevalent, most social actors respond to this threat with tactical practices of secrecy that arguably help to secure an individual's well-being and shield them from unsocial behaviour. I scrutinize these micro-politics of life projects, social comparison, increasing inequalities and a rising sense of mutual mistrust. Yet, I depart from approaches that frame envy as a human condition that socially produces either a prosocial levelling mechanism or a destructive force that bulldozes social bonds. Instead, I understand envy as an assemblage that points to intertwined and often ambivalent social aspects. For many young individuals, overcoming their fear of envy is part of becoming a complete person, a sign of being successful and a responsible adult.
This article is built upon both an observation and a paradox. The observation is that the dream is nowhere to be found – at least at first glance – as a theme in Tuareg oral sources and ancient poetic tradition. The paradox expresses itself in the visceral relationship poets maintain with the dream, because oneiric inspiration – from the creative and visionary dreams of poets of the past – is pervasive in their work. Using an interdisciplinary approach at the crossroads of psychological anthropology, oral history and the ‘archival turn’, the article explores the theme of the dream in Tuareg historical sources and in relation to contemporary practices.
Indigenous significances of nineteenth-century |Xam San folktales are hard to determine from narrative structure alone. When verbatim, original-language records are available, meaning can be elicited by probing beneath the narrative and exploring the connotations of highly significant words and phrases that imply meanings and associations that narrators take for granted but that nonetheless contextualize the tales. Analyses of this kind show that three selected |Xam tales deal with a form of spiritual conflict that has social implications. Like numerous |Xam myths, these tales concern conflict between people and living or dead malevolent shamans. Using their supernatural potency, benign shamans transcend the levels of the San cosmos in order to deal with social conflict and to protect material resources. As a result, benign shamans enjoy a measure of respect that sets them apart from ordinary people.
This article considers humour at the international border between Kinshasa (DR Congo) and Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) as a means through which ordinary people navigate between fulfilling the values of individual opportunism and interpersonal responsibility. Kinshasa's border zone, nicknamed Rome, often echoes with laughter as people who engage in unregulated livelihood strategies (Romains) engage in two genres of humour: verbal irony, expressed in nicknames for people, places and activities; and interpersonal joking, expressed in playful teasing. Laughter and jokes are a prevailing mode of interaction at the border, and the ways in which humour is constructed and experienced reveal much about social and moral life. The jokes define membership of a community of Romains distinct from other urban citizens, while making further distinctions between physically disabled people, who dominate trade as intermediaries, and others by playing with hierarchical social relationships in which disabled people are expected to be subordinate. Ultimately, the humour that shapes the community allows for a critical voice on values within it. This article argues that the inconsistencies pinpointed by humour reflect and shape the instability of social relationships and contradictory values that Romains aspire to fulfil. Humour is a means of navigating critical commentary on the conflicting values of individual aspiration and responsibility towards others.