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Since 2005, DUARA Foundation is involved in academic research on security, gangs, (political) violence, crime, community-led development and group-making in Nairobi ghettos. Research is an important part of DUARA’s work for it provides local organizations with up-to-date data and analysis and informs policy advocacy, social justice activism, peace building (between gangs) and community-led development programs.

Current research focuses on the role of gangs in urban development projects in economically marginalised urban settings (locally labelled ‘ghettos’) in Nairobi, Kenya.

Contrary to academic and popular perceptions, gangs in Kenya have been driving forces of sustainable urban development in all economically marginalised neighbourhoods in Nairobi since the 1960s. DUARA’s research goes against current views on gangs that emphasize violence and criminality. Starting from the perspective of the participants, it aims to get another view.

Striking is especially how important work and community service are for the gangs. It is this emphasis on work and community service that makes gangs most important for development in the ghettos. Urban development projects in Nairobi ghettos have not yet been researched from the perspectives of gangs because it is always assumed that gangs are either irrelevant or detrimental to these projects. Yet, these groups have initiated multiple and large-scale projects to improve food security, sanitation, roads and sewage systems, housing, environments, and access to land.

Accordingly, certain gangs enjoy great legitimacy in ghetto communities. By focusing on the role of gangs, this research project aims to contribute to theoretical debates on inclusive and sustainable urban development and on governance in informal settlements in African cities. The role of gangs in urban development is a critical theme of research in a rapidly urbanising, increasingly younger and economically more and more unequal world.


Previous research

Previous research focused on the social formation of gangs in ghettos in Kenya. This project started  during the post-election violence that followed the disputed 2007 General Elections in Kenya. The project looked at the growing significance of ethnicity and gender as markers of group identification, and how this was related to local and national power dynamics and to political violence (such as the political violence that followed the 2007 General Elections). This study covered two election cycles (2007 and 2013), and was based on long-term ethnographic research (since 1998) and work of the researcher in economically marginalized areas of Nairobi.