Rebuilding social capital for safety

Gemma Todd, Dar es Salaam Community Manager
Dar es Salaam, 8 August 2014

We often try to think of what creates a safe city — groups may emphasize the desire for gated communities as a means of safety, excluding those who are to be 'feared'; policy may articulate a discourse of rights to ensure the public is legally safe; and planners have focused on redesigning public space. But two questions that this article wishes to raise concerns what a safe city looks like, and how 'unsafe' is the city — how does the discourse, and psychology, of fear in cities affect how we interact in our urban spaces? In focusing on solutions in Dar es Salaam, this article introduces initiatives implemented, and emphasizes the need for solutions whereby spaces are created to change the perceptions, and reality, of insecurity. To do this requires focusing on growing inequalities, rebuilding social capital (i.e. trust and social relations), and connecting local initiatives to national scales.

The Safer Cities Programmes (SCP) launched by UN-HABITAT is an initiative collaborating with African mayors, across African cities, to reduce violence and change how cities are experienced, ultimately making cities safer for inhabitants. The initiative introduces activities and develops the capacity of local authorities and stakeholders to provide safety. Dar es Salaam was one of the cities identified. In 1996 a need was identified to firstly understand crime in the city — identifying women and youths as key at-risk groups, especially in particular areas. Secondly, the need to introduce 'safety conscious' urban planning, physically planning and renewing urban spaces and facilities in response to insecurity — such as transport, parks, and street-vending area. Thirdly, SCP emphasized the need to change perceptions of institutions providing safety, and prevent insecurities. The need to train police, institutions, and ward leaders, was followed. At ward levels, community police, such as Sungu-Sungu, were established to respond to community need. An evaluation of the programmes in 2004 identified the successes made in terms of strengthening local and national institutional frameworks, but also the need to utilise bottom-up community-led approaches to solve local crime issues. A positive element of SCP is the focus on the city as a whole, and recognition of the need to involve multiple stakeholders.

However, are we just improving access to 'safety' services, or are such programmes changing the underlying structures of insecurity, danger, and crime? In looking at building safer cities we need to look at the social inequalities in cities, question why discourses of fear emerge, and rebuilding trust.

Within Dar es Salaam, spaces have been made to invite a dialogue about insecurities. The construction of such spaces builds trust and creates an ethic of transparency for those whom feel unsafe. Such spaces encourage discussions on experiences of insecurities, a key step to change. Examples of such spaces include plans to develop One-Stop Centres, a UNICEF initiative in Dar es Salaam, and the opening of Gender and Children desks in police stations. Cases of gender-based-violence (GBV) have previously remained invisible, with victims less likely to speak out in fear of how they would be received. The creation of new GBV desks in Dar es Salaam has been shown to result in a rise in reported cases, breaking a culture of silence and acceptance. Such openness also indicates improved trust relations with local authorities. However, such desks remain under-resourced with victims forced to share cases of violence in single rooms.

In order to ensure that Dar es Salaam continues to progress in becoming a 'safer' city, spaces are needed where victims feel supported, listened to, and that actions are taken. There is value in seeing the city as a space whereby social capital can be built, and using such relations for safety. Close.

Photo: Michael Mac

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