Political and Religious Movements in Urban Development

Researcher: Harri Englund
The project was established in 1998 and ended in 2001

The research examines the consequences of democratic transition in the early 1990s. Like in many other African countries, a long period of authoritarian rule ended in Malawi with a relatively sudden adoption of political pluralism and with more comprehensive economic liberalization. However, inflation, declining real wages and the removal of subsidies on agricultural inputs, alongside reports of high-level corruption and the undermining of opposition parties, have raised doubts about the benefits of the transition for the country's poor.

The research is based on intensive fieldwork in a peri-urban 'squatter' settlement in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital. The research focuses on migrants from impoverished rural areas who live in town as self-employed entrepreneurs, unskilled labourers and low-ranking civil servants. One objective is to assess how the urban poor utilize the prevalent discourse of rights in their own economic and political pursuits. More specifically, the research examines the impact of political pluralism on local governance and land markets.

Particular attention is also given to Pentecostalism, a form of Born-Again Christianity, as a social movement in the township. It is examined as an example of associational life which, through its own transnational networks, is one way for the urban poor to go beyond the post-transition economic and political impasse.

Harri Englund is a social anthropologist who has been trained at the Universities of Helsinki (M.A., 1990) and Manchester (Ph.D., 1995). His doctoral research examined the impact of war and refugee crisis on villages in the Malawi-Mozambique borderland. After receiving his doctorate, Englund has worked as a researcher in the Institute of Development Studies, University of Helsinki, and the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, where he held the Leach/RAI Fellowship in 1997-98.

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