Tag Archives: Migration

The Hustle and the Hassle of Nairobi’s infamous traffic: Masculinity and the metaphors driving development

SIDGS Brown Bag Series – Tuesday, 14 November 2017 – 11:30 am to 1:00 pm
FSS 4006 – University of Ottawa, Social Sciences Bldg (120 Univ. Priv.)

Blame for Nairobi’s infamous traffic jams and Kenya’s high rates of vehicle-related injury and death is regularly cast upon the “matatu culture” of aggressively-run collective transport, the massive growth in private car ownership, and the proliferation of boda boda motorcycle taxis. This talk explores how each of these factors – and the pride, frustration, and stigma associated with each – can be considered an expression of different, contesting forms of masculinity in contemporary Kenya. It is part of a larger project using ethnographies of drivers, driving practices, and a review of the “anti-politics” driving road building and transport policy in Kenya.


(Mis-)communicating climate information in Kenya

“Is this a bad time to call?” Mobile phones, migrants (mis-)communication of climate information in Kenya

NEW!  Click here to download the full presentation from Wed. 5 April, 2017 – American Association of Geographers (AAG), Boston, MA

Huge thanks to all who joined me and my fellow panelists (Peter Dannenberg; Sheila Huggins Rao; Dorothea Kleine) at the American Association for Geographers (AAG) meeting in Boston, MA.  Feedback, questions and comments continue to be welcome. Please keep in touch!

Abstract: . Ethnographic fieldwork conducted with farmer groups in contrasting high and low market-access sites over the period 2012-2016 explores how household members shared (or withheld) information about climate and agricultural performance using phones or physical visits.

Phone calls were the dominant medium for information sharing, which for agricultural issues prioritised discussion of crop problems, dry spells, lack of inputs, and extreme weather events.  Mobile money transfers were the most common response to reported problems with many migrants concerned and frustrated by the poor agricultural performance in the rural areas. Reliance on mobile communication and a decreasing frequency of migrants’ physical involvement in the rural home leads to migrants’ perceptions that climate-related changes are extreme and potentially costly.

Narratives of climate change and its impacts in rural Kenya must therefore be interpreted with care, since many are embedded in household narratives constituted to maintain the economic and emotional involvement of migrants in their rural homes.

FOLLOW THE PROJECT ON ITS WEBSITE multilocationality.wordpress.com

How to (mis)understand youth, migration & agrarian change

Much of the literature on a “cellphone revolution” in Africa frames the technology as the driver of change, for such things as financial inclusion for the poor, better agricultural or climate information to farmers, the power for social movements to hold governments accountable.  In this brown bag talk I am interested in exploring how cellphones are part of a broader set of social changes – responding to and helping to shape those changes – but not necessarily driving them.

Click here to download the slides (“This cellphone is my lifeline”: How to (mis)understand youth, migration, and agrarian change in Kenya).

This talk draws on ongoing research as well as material previously published and presented, e.g.:

Kenya’s Telephone farmers (6 May, 2014) uOttawa Alumni Week

My presentation: Kenya’s “Telephone farmers”: Cellphones, migration, and ecological knowledge (pdf version available here).

The Faculty of Social Sciences organized this panel to highlight the role of social sciences in understanding food (in)security and food issues more generally.  (Thanks to the Vice-dean of Research and Alumni Affairs for making this part of the 2014 Alumni Week!)

CO-PANELISTS: Marie-Josee Massicotte (Political Studies), Jose Lopez (Sociology), and Elizabeth (Betsy) Kristjansson (Psychology).

Photos from the event available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/uottawaalumni/sets/72157644621289493/.

2014-05 Sl Sci of Fd - send pesa
Sending money might be easy by phone in Kenya, but it complicates social and economic relationships.

Local experience of climate change in Kenya

Kenya is on the frontline of changes to the global climate.  Local communities report that weather is becoming more variable and less predictable.

Fieldwork, West Pokot
Fieldwork, West Pokot

Although many people label this “climate change”, the reasons for these changes and their impacts on already difficult, rural lives are not always obvious!

The VALUES project (full title “Global Climate Change and Kenya: Vulnerability and Adaptation of Livelihoods Under Environmental Stress“) ran from 2010-2013 and involved multiple students and multiple sites.  We wanted to see what role “climatic” factors played in already complicated rural livelihoods.

Publications and findings will be uploaded soon! (watch this space)

The Social Lives of Mobile Telephones in Kenya

More Kenyans have access to a mobile phone than to electricity or even to clean water.

Mpesa shop, Kenya
Mpesa shop (2012)

Considering that most of rural Kenya was not even covered by cellphone networks a decade ago, the spread of cellphones has had a rapid impact on the countryside, and how rural households relate to their migrant family members.  Kenya pioneered phone-based money transfer technologies (mPesa) but the widespread use of cellphones is also changing gender dynamics and the power relationships between young and old.

This research project (funding proposal submitted to SSHRC Oct. 2013) asks “How do rural-urban interdependencies in Kenya affect livelihoods and food security?” Four interlinked objectives are:

  1. To illustrate the extent and dynamics of multilocational livelihoods in contrasting socio-ecological contexts of Kenya, with focus on the extent and temporal patterns of mobility, migration, long-distance communication, resource transfers, and knowledge exchange.
  2. To evaluate the socio-economic impacts of multilocational livelihoods, particularly the vulnerabilities and opportunities created by a) flows of resources (investments and support) and b) changes in the internal gendered and intergenerational dynamics of decision-making, access to land, and control of labour.
  3. To evaluate the agro-ecological impacts of multilocational livelihoods, especially on food security through changing agricultural productivity and practice, and agroecological knowledge.
  4. To evaluate the information and resource needs of differentiated, multilocational households, to identify poverty traps or other barriers to effective participation in rural or urban spheres.
Kenyan woman holds her phone up in a maize field
(photo by M-kilimo)

Publications so far:

  • 2014 Book Chapter (‘We will not farm like our fathers’) outlined some of the preliminary ideas for this research.
  • 2015 Article (‘Never at ease’) uses new, field data to explore the challenges multilocational households face in Western Kenya.

Livelihoods, Cellphones, and Migration in Kenya (2014, Chapter)

2014-NRE coverRamisch, J.J. (2014) ‘We will not farm like our fathers’: Multilocational livelihoods, cellphones, and the continuing challenge of rural development in western Kenya.  Chapter 2 in D. Sick, (ed.) Rural Livelihoods, Regional Economies, and Processes of Change. Routledge.  Pp. 10-35.

Download the unrevised pdf from ResearchGate here.


Many sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farmers have diversified beyond purely agricultural, rural livelihoods towards ones with household members exploiting opportunities in multiple locations.  This chapter explores the evolution and implications of multilocational livelihoods for western Kenyan households and out-migrants, using interviews and ethnographic data collected over a 12-year period.

Findings suggest that:
– The livelihood and food security vulnerabilities of both the rural and urban areas are strongly interlinked, supported in part by contemporary cellphone communication and money transfer technologies.
– Multilocationality results from and reinforces intergenerational and gendered tensions and is changing the ways that agroecological knowledge is created and shared.

(Contact me for more information…)