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GDEST 2008 Conference Sessions

Theme 1 - Observing Africa
Understanding African Peri-Urban Landscapes Using Participatory GIS
Francis Koti, University of North Alabama, USA
Using geospatial technologies for understanding the African urban environment is now becoming a reality. However, these applications have tended to focus on large cities. Consequently, peri-urban areas, one of the fastest growing, yet little understood sectors of Africa’s cities are being excluded. Overwhelmed by rapid growth without a corresponding institutional and technical capacity, peri-urban governments find themselves unable to understand their own growth. In Eastern and Southern Africa, they have become hideouts for criminals due to the spontaneous population influx. Consequently, these areas have become new centers for economic distress and social despair. This paper explores a sustainable geospatial methodology that can help peri-urban local governments understand and cope with this rapid transformation. The paper employs a participatory GIS (PGIS) conceptual framework. The study involves building a GIS for Athi River town, a peri-urban community of Nairobi, Kenya. The Athi River GIS includes data on land cover, land use, hydrology, topography, social and physical infrastructure, industry, service provision, and housing. To augment the conventional GIS, community local knowledge is integrated as an information layer in the form of group mental mapping, focus group discussions, GPS-based transect walks, social histories of exclusion, oral narratives of land use, and relevant archival material. The study reveals that the integration of local knowledge and modern geospatial technologies in the context of a PGIS presents a valuable platform for the assemblage of spatial data for understanding rapidly growing yet data-poor peri-urban landscapes in Africa. The methodology is innovative, culturally sensitive, relatively inexpensive and locally sustainable.