Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

"Nigiina "S as Coping Mechanisms of Peri-Urban Low-Income Mothers in Kampala, Uganda

Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

"Nigiina "S as Coping Mechanisms of Peri-Urban Low-Income Mothers in Kampala, Uganda

Article excerpt


Low-income mothers face a number of challenges that evolve around poverty, isolation, powerlessness, and vulnerability. The main objective of this study was to examine the contributions of nigiina associations, which are informal gift giving associations, to the welfare of women and their households in an urban neighbourhood. Data was collected through use of unstructured interviews, in-depth interviews, survey questionnaires and observation guides. Findings reveal that nigiina associations, which operate in a rotational basis and give equal opportunities to every member of receiving a gift, such as in the form of household items, cash, advice, training, wide friendship networks and loan opportunities, are used as coping mechanisms by low-income mothers living in the surrounds of Kampala city.

Keywords: Nigiina associations, women groups, social capital, social networks, survival strategies


Poverty levels in rural and peri-urban areas are, by and large, still appalling, despite the concerted efforts towards poverty reduction in most societies. Poor women are the most affected, and because of the consequence of unending poverty, turn to many things in order to survive (Chambers 1983). Chambers (ibid.) further argues that notwithstanding the hard work, the perception that the poor are lazy, improvident, fatalistic and therefore responsible for their state, continues to date. The pressure for survival is always worse amongst women who primarily nurture families in society but are disadvantaged by social norms, beliefs, values and customs. Many women, however, especially in peri-urban areas where the cost of living is very high and most extended family ties have broken down, devise a number of mechanisms to supplement their income by engaging in lowpaying informal businesses. One of the common mechanisms is the formation of gift giving associations, locally known as "Nigiina" to pull resources from groups or 'circles' together and help out each other.

The nigiina associations are a recent phenomenon in Uganda; and many are localized or specific to different ethnicities and are an imitation of the solidarity that often existed amongst extended families and kinship systems that provided social, financial, and emotional support to their members. Scholars writing on informal organizations regard them as having originated from rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCA) spread all over the world as a mechanism adopted by both the rich and the poor for various reasons. It is commonly assumed that the nigiina associations in Uganda are an initiation of the ruling government in the year 2001, during the country's presidential election. According to the National Resistance Movement (NRM) presidential candidate manifesto, the sole purpose of the initiation was to encourage the poor to eradicate poverty through small savings. This echoes similar discoveries elsewhere where participation in community associations has been seen widely as important for both economic and political development (Banfield 1958), for building civic skills needed for political engagement (Brady, Verba, and Schlozman 1995; Gugerty and Kremer 2008), and for contributing to trust and norms of reciprocity that foster collective action (see also Putnam 1993; 2000). In fact, politicians primarily use such community associations as entry points in communities where political impact and presence is not pronounced.

The foregoing descriptions of roles of community associations suggest that their nature, formation and functions vary depending on the reasons for which they were initiated and formed by individuals or social groups. The main purpose of this article, then, is to examine the role of Nigiina associations in creating better income access to women, focusing on women groups living in the peri-urban environs of Kampala city.


Most of the residents, and especially women, living in peri-urban areas [of Uganda] survive in the informal sector through a patchwork of low-paying, temporary, seasonal, and often backbreaking jobs with little security and no guarantee of payment (Narayan 2000). …

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