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Urbanisation by subtraction: the afterlife of camps in northern Uganda*

  • Susan Reynolds Whyte (a1), Sulayman Babiiha (a2), Rebecca Mukyala (a2) and Lotte Meinert (a3)


As peace returns to northern Uganda, a unique arithmetic of development is evident in the former Internally Displaced Persons camps. Small trading centres whose populations multiplied as they became camps now envision futures as Town Boards. Subtraction is necessary: the displaced people and the dead buried in the camps are being returned to their rural villages. Urban planners have produced meticulous drawings that envisage the division of land into plots for development. Donors are making additions in the form of new market buildings and water supplies. Yet this arithmetic must reckon with new problems as time passes. The article is based primarily on fieldwork in Awach, a former IDP camp now slated for status as a Town Board. In analysing material from interviews with landowners, ‘remainders’ who stayed behind after the camp closed, local leaders and officials, we emphasise the paradoxes, tensions and conflicts of this special path to development.


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The study took place under the Gulu Enhancement of Research Capacity project entitled ‘Changing Human Security: Recovery from Armed Conflict in Northern Uganda’ funded by the Danish Consultative Research Committee for Development Research, which we gratefully acknowledge. Permission was obtained from the Gulu University Institutional Review Committee and the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology. We were ably assisted by Okema David, Oketayot Dennis, Otika Shanon, Opio Martin, Adongo Alice, Sunday Pii Acholi and three Gulu University Masters students: Opio Washington, J.B. Okot and Oyet Kenneth. Thank you for translations, discussions and good company.



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