The Institutionalisation of 'Noise' and 'Silence' in Urban Politics: Case Studies from East Africa

Date: Oct, 2011
ODID Working Paper No. 188
Author(s): Tom Goodfellow (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Africa's rapidly-expanding cities are often sites of intense political mobilisation, as well as being incubators of social and institutional development. This paper draws on a comparative study of politics in the capital cities of Rwanda and Uganda, exploring the contrasting ways in which forms of popular participation in urban affairs are institutionalised through informal political processes. It analyses how in Kampala the regular mobilisation of urban social and economic groups into protests and violent riots has institutionalised a politics of 'noise', while in Kigali city-dwellers partake in structured activities and form 'self-policing' communities through processes that are equally political but comparatively 'silent'.

The paper explains the persistence of differential patterns of state-society interaction in these cases by considering the incentives for both governmental and urban social actors to continue adhering to existing norms. It thus explores mechanisms of localised 'path dependence', through which informal institutions become self-reinforcing in particular contexts.

ODID Author(s)