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Insiders and outsiders of Accra’s gated communities

For years Edwige Yekple used to walk past the area where she is now doing research. One day, however, the gated community in the middle of the village caught her attention. Asking herself “why is there a gated community inside the village?” Edwige started developing her research project. Gradually, she became both a researcher and an interlocutor of her own project.

Accra
As part of the Urban Enclaving Futures project, Edwige Yekple’s research is exploring the concepts of enclaving in African capital cities, focusing on gated communities in Accra.
Photo:
Idunn Lullau Holthe/UiB

Edwige Yekple started her PhD at the Department of Geography at the University of Bergen in January 2020, and is an affiliated researcher of the project Enclaving: Patterns of global futures in three African cities (UrbanEnclavingFutures).

Exploring how gated communities affect the livelihoods and socio-economic development of local communities, Edwige's project focuses on the gated communities of Ayi Mensah and Oyarifa in the peri-urban areas of Greater Accra Metropolitan Area. "I want to explore whether the locals around the sites are ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’. The estate developers have taken their land from them – but can they get some benefit from it?" Edwige asks.

When the field comes to your backyard

Edwige’s initial field of Ayi Mensah was a site that she was already familiar with from everyday life. "Over the years I studied this place walking past it, before I realized there was a gated community inside the village. On one side, you see beautiful walls and concrete houses, and just beside it, you have dusty roads and mud houses. It was such a big contrast to me – and that is how it all started", she explains.

On one of her initial visits to the field her personal connections to it became even stronger. During a conversation with a Sales Executive from the estate, she learned that the next planned project would be located in Oyarifa, where Edwige is living with her family.

Parts of the land in Oyarifa was initially leased to shop owners by a private landowner from the community, which later sold the land to an estate developer. Among these shop owners, was Edwige’s husband: "The company was planning to expand and take that land to build the estate. They were coming to clear the area. I was thinking ‘wow, that is where my husband’s shop is’!"

After learning that her home area would be the site of a gated community, even developed by the same estate developer she was already studying, Edwige decided to include the site in her research. In this way, she is looking at both a completed gated community and one under construction.

The fieldworker as an insider and an outsider

"I have a very personal connection to the field. Perhaps this will be part of my methodology – to explain the choice of research site", Edwige says.

In her project, Edwige is both an outsider and an insider. As a researcher she might be regarded as an outsider, but she is also an insider, being an inhabitant of the communities affected by the construction of the gated communities. Following this, her mixed role could contribute to new perspectives, insight, and knowledge about gated communities.

Edwige’s initial plan is to return to Accra to do fieldwork from November 2020. Although the current pandemic is causing some challenges, she still hopes to be able to carry out some form of fieldwork, even if she has to turn towards more digital forms of communication and interaction in her research.

Taking on the SDGs

The Urban Enclaving Futures project engages with several of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. However, the project is also critically addressing the SDGs, particularly looking into the equality aspects of the phenomenon of enclaving, and how this can be seen in relation to SDG11 - Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

As with the Urban Enclaving Futures project, Edwige’s research closely engages with the SDGs with its focus on how socio-economic and cultural consequences of gated communities shape the resilience of households and livelihood opportunities.