Power, politics and a poo pump: Contestation over legitimacy, access and benefits of sanitation technology in Kampala

Gloria Nsangi Nakyagaba*, Mary Lawhon, Shuaib Lwasa, Jonathan Silver, Fredrick Tumwine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
63 Downloads (Pure)


Most literature on sanitation largely follows a developmentalist approach, searching for the right combination of public education, appropriate technology, and partnerships across local and international institutions. Such works are useful, but also can be read as demonstrating the limitations of focusing on the modern infrastructural ideal of uniform, networked services. Studies of household experiences and practices of infrastructure in global south cities have increasingly drawn attention to the heterogeneity of sanitation infrastructure, associated everyday practices and power-laden relationships. In this study, we analyse the introduction of the gulper pump (a new sanitation technology in Kampala) and the political processes that have shaped its slow and stochastic uptake. Advocates suggest that the gulper might well redress gaps left by the more commonly used technologies, yet procedural concerns led to conflict over the introduction of the gulper. In a wider context of new governance arrangements and infrastructural experimentation, controversy over the gulper contributed to new institutions and imaginaries of what good urban sanitation entails. We emphasize that thinking through heterogeneous infrastructure configurations highlights how social norms and relations, economic gain as well as the state play an important part in both politicizing and legitimizing more heterogeneous urban sanitation services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-430
Number of pages16
JournalSingapore Journal of Tropical Geography
Issue number3
Early online date27 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank (i) the HICCUP project for funding towards this research and study; and (ii) ACT Together Uganda, Urban Action Lab and gulper operators who participated in the study.

Funding Information:
The establishment of the KWSF has enabled the oversight and deployment of heterogeneous technologies that the state alone would not be willing to deploy. We suggest that the reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, the state is unlikely to be the provider of alternative technologies when its policies continue to focus on the provision of flush toilets and sewerage. Additionally, new technologies in Kampala typically come with funding from international organizations: the gulper in particular is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Yet, as has been true for development projects more generally, the introduction of new technologies with donor funds is not unproblematic. 2

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Department of Geography, National University of Singapore and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.


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