Informal settlements: Domain report

Working Paper 9

Smith Ouma, Daniela Cocco Beltrame, Diana Mitlin and Beth Chitekwe-Biti

February 2024


This working paper is a synthesis of findings from seven city domain studies which employed the African Cities Research Consortium’s (ACRC’s) conceptual framework to provide new insights into the challenges faced by informal settlement residents in African cities, and proposed ways in which those challenges might be addressed. The paper employs political and systems analyses to understand the political economy of informal settlements and systems failings. It argues that specific challenges can best be understood through a “developmental domain” analysis; that is, by examining how the experts, residents and political actors who have coalesced around a set of challenges come to frame and address them, invoking specific policies, practices and ideas. Informal settlements are treated both as loci of power and, at the same time, as highly influenced by power dynamics at the city and international levels. The development opportunities and outcomes associated with specific informal settlements are influenced by how power is configured. They are also influenced by residents’ understanding of the specific conditions in their settlements and their ability to effectively mobilise for collective action. Essential to note is the paper’s mapping of the shifting policy context within informal settlements across the seven examined cities; this is attributed to factors like residents’ accumulation of practical experience, which they use to advocate for targeted policy interventions. Ultimately, the paper highlights the pressing need for examining contextual factors which can explain the varying success rates of policy interventions across different cities. Moreover, it is essential to understand the extent to which interventions at the settlement level translate to broader systemic changes within the city and beyond.


African cities, informality, informal settlements, service delivery, Slum Dwellers International, upgrading