Urban development in Africa is a very diverse and ambivalent phenomenon with aspects that do not fall neatly into global standards. Informal settlements therefore challenge governance by standards. We argue that quantifying and interrogating differences offers a better basis for governance. By drawing on a comparative analysis of three different informal settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa, this paper explores what differences reveal about the governance of informal settlements. The paper uses an urban societal metabolism approach, focussed on gender, energy and health, based on questionnaires and focus group discussions in Enkanini (Stellenbosch, South Africa), Mathare (Nairobi, Kenya), and Kasubi-Kawaala (Kampala, Uganda). The contribution of the paper is both empirical and theoretical. Empirically, we provide new evidence about the metabolism of urban informality at multiple levels of analysis: the individual, the household and the settlement. Findings show the gender asymmetries in urban poverty and the intricate links between energy choices, health and economic status. Theoretically, we argue that different levels of analysis produce different understandings of urban informality, and that analyzing informal settlements only by population aggregates means missing information. We conclude by arguing that understanding differences leads to the formulation of modest and localised goals, which are better able to take into account the complexity of urban informality.
This work was supported by the project Co-Dec (Co-designing energy communities with energy poor women in urban areas: case studies in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa), funded by the LIRA2030 (Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030 In Africa) programme. The first author received funding from the Stellenbosch University Research Office . The Nairobi team acknowledges the support from the African Leadership Program (AfriCLP) funded by the International Department Research Centre ( IDRC ). The authors also acknowledge the constructive comments and suggestions from two anonymous reviewers.
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