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Durham University

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Children, Transport and Mobility in Sub-Saharan Africa: Developing a Child-Centred Evidence Base to Improve Policy and Change Thinking Across Africa

A research project of the Department of Anthropology.


Project outline

The project, conducted between May 2006 and April 2010, focused on the mobility constraints faced by girl and boy children in accessing health, educational and other facilities in sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of direct information on how these constraints impact on children's current and future livelihood opportunities, and the lack of guidelines on how to tackle them.  The aim was to provide an evidence base strong enough to substantially improve policy in the three focus countries - Ghana, Malawi and South Africa - and to change thinking across Africa.

The project tested an innovative two-strand child-centred methodology, involving both adult and child researchers. In addition to a more conventional interview study with children, parents, teachers and community leaders conducted by adult academic researchers, there was a complementary component of truly child-centred research conducted by child researchers (facilitated by adults). This took forward an earlier small pilot of the latter approach in Ghana and South Africa. The aim was to apply the successful child researcher pilot, while ensuring achievement of a substantial and comparable quantitative and qualitative dataset across the three countries from which policy guidelines could be established. 

An inception workshop took place in Blantyre, Malawi in September/October 2006, enabling key country researchers to meet and review their research plans with each other and with the UK team and Professor Michael Bourdillon (who advised on the research component with children). The inception workshop included children who had been involved as researchers in the previous project in South Africa and Ghana plus Malawian children who wished to participate in the new study. Teachers from Ghana, South Africa and Malawi were present to act as chaperones and to provide translation where necessary. The workshop comprised a mix of joint meetings with all researchers and individual meetings of the two strands (i.e. when children and their teachers undertook activities separately from the adult researcher group). The inception workshop was followed by the first Malawian children’s training workshop, led by Professor Bourdillon. Children’s training workshops  subsequently took place in South Africa (Port St John, also led by Professor Bourdillon, and Pretoria), Ghana (Cape Coast and Sunyani, led by Professor Abane) and Lilongwe, Malawi (led by Dr Munthali and Dr Robson).

Pilot studies for the adult researcher strand (involving country-based and UK researchers) were completed in each of the three countries by early 2007. Subsequently, work moved to our focus areas for the main phase of the adult research strand involving qualitative and quantitative data collection in 24 sites (urban, peri-urban, rural and remote rural in each of two agro-ecological zones per country. 

Monitoring reviews were conducted by the UK researchers in each country to ensure comparability across sites. Project information was disseminated and advice gained through approximately 6-monthly meetings of a Country Consultative Group in each country (relevant ministries, NGOs, academics with country researchers), through Project Steering Group meetings in UK (Professor Nina Laurie and Dr Janet Townsend, University of Newcastle, Ms Marinke van Riet, IFRTD with UK researchers), and from an early stage through project presentations to the EU/World Bank SSATP meeting in Maseru, Lesotho (October 2006), and to IFRTD’s Executive Committee (November 2006). 

Subsequently, the project has been widely publicised through many workshops and conferences (International workshop on Understanding and addressing spatial poverty traps, Stellenbosch, South Africa, March 2007; Institute for African Development workshop, Achieving the MDGs for Africa: the role of transport, at Cornell University, May 2007; CWAS Birmingham University Fourth Cadbury workshop, May 2007;  RGS/IBG annual conference, London, August 2007 and Manchester, August 2009; 1st International Conference on Children and Youth, University of Reading, September 2007 and 2nd International Conference, Barcelona, July 2009; 1st International Conference of Participatory Geographies, Durham University, January 2008; Conference on walking, Royal Holloway, University of London, 31st March 2008; Global Transport Knowledge Partnership/Transport and Society Meetings, Leeds, March 2008 and Lancaster, September 2009; Association of American Geographers’ annual conference, Boston, USA, April 2008 (session on urban youth); African Studies Association of the UK (health issues in Ghana), Preston, September 2008; Society for Applied Anthropology conference, Santa Fe (March 2009); European African Studies Association, Leipzig (April 2009), Development Studies Association Annual Conference, September 2009;   Durham, Gray College, conference for NGOs etc. (Jan 2010);  Newcastle University International Development Conference: What next for the MDGs? (February 2010); Edinburgh University, International conference on ICTs in Africa (May 2010); and more recent invited seminars/papers at meetings including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria (September 2010), Addis Abbaba (for the African Development Bank, March 2011)   University of Cape Town (April 2011)., University of Western Cape (April 2011), University of Ulster  (May 2011),  Uppsala (European conference of African Studies. June 2011), Leeds University (June 2011). AFCAP meeting, Arusha, Tanzania (November 2011), Oxford University Transport Studies Unit (February 2012).

Our final project review workshop took place in Ghana in October 2008, including child researcher participants from Ghana, Malawi and South Africa. The workshop, which was featured on Ghana national television and in national newspapers provided a valuable opportunity to discuss findings and future plans. The child researchers, facilitated by Marinke van Riet and University of Cape Coast staff, prepared the first draft of the child researcher’s own booklet of findings during this meeting. The Africa Community Access Programme [AFCAP] subsequently funded publication of the booklet and its dissemination into schools, ministries and communities in Ghana and Malawi. Please use the web link ‘book’ above to access the young researchers’ booklet.

Writing up of academic and policy/practitioner papers is still in progress.  

Researcher contact addresses

Dr Gina Porter and Dr Kate Hampshire (Department of Anthropology, Durham University), Professor Albert Abane (University of Cape Coast, Ghana); Mr Mac Mashiri (Transportek, Pretoria and National Forum Group for rural transport, South Africa); Dr Elsbeth Robson (University of Malawi and Durham University); Dr Alister Munthali (University of Malawi); Prof Michael Bourdillon.

If you would like further information on the project please contact the project P.I., Dr Gina Porter:


From the Department of Anthropology