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 journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

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 date23 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • gulper
  • infrastructure
  • sanitation
  • southern urbanism
  • urban political ecology


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