Department of Comparative Politics
New Ph.D.

The urban poor in Kenya and Zambia - from dependent clients to free citizens?

Ingvild Aagedal Skage defended her Ph.D. degree at the University of Bergen on Friday May 27th with the thesis: «The urban poor as citizens and clients – enacting political agency through political parties and social movements in Kenya and Zambia».

Ingvild Agedal Skage
Foto: Jan Kåre Wilhelmsen

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The thesis examines whether increasing democratization in Kenya and Zambia has given the vulnerable poor an opportunity to influence their own situation through political parties and social movements. The study finds that opposition parties and social movements now mobilize the urban poor. Through voting and other democratic rights, the urban poor's opportunities to support politicians or organizations that promote their cause have increased. This has led to formulating new policies and laws to protect and promote the interests of the poor.  

At the same time, the autonomy of the poor is constantly challenged by their alleged representatives in political parties and organizations. As political elites have used informal markets and slums to gain economic and political resources, they have a vested interest in keeping the urban poor as dependent political clients. This is done through systematic limitation of the poor's access to information and democratic decision-making, as well as through coercion/violence. 

The findings show that the urban poor still have limited opportunities to act as autonomous citizens through new democratic channels, despite being a part of changing politics.