Diary from Bagamoyo field research

First field research day

My plane landed in Dar es Salaam on the 19th of July, late evening. I was supposed to arrive in the morning, meet Cretus, the founder of our partner NGO, AFO, discuss with the AFO team our action plan, and leave for Bagamoyo the same day. Because of some flight delay, I did not do any of these things, and had to spend the first night in a hotel just next to the airport, reminding myself the main rule of doing field research: plan, but also prepare that nothing won’t devolve according to the plan!

The next day, however, proved to be busy. Dar es Salaam is a city of contrasts. It is a  crowded megapolis that patches together slums and expensive real estate areas, chill beaches and crammed and noisy markets, churches and mosques, and modern buildings and farms. These were my thoughts during my one-hour drive from my hotel to the AFO office. I was happy to see Cretus in person again, after 6 months, and meet the AFO team. When I arrived, there was no electricity, our laptops were low on battery, so, we had to write everything on paper while discussing the issues related to the field research, starting with the research permit, meeting ward and village officials, and ending with the most routine aspects of transportation and accommodation. Fruitful meeting! But once it was over, I had to rush to Tegeta, a busy marketplace and bus station, catch a bus, arrive in Bagamoyo, meet the other members of the team, fix the issue with my SIM card, grab some food, catch another bus, and late in the evening, I was finally at the Peace Lodge in Mtoni hamlet.

I do not know why I remember the first day so vividly. The field research activities had yet to start. I had yet to visit the villages, talk with the villagers and their leaders, go to different hamlets, see the water sources and decide various things with the other team members. Probably, I remember this day because it was an important turning point in the story of our project.  This day transited us from lots of desk work, such as writing the COESO proposal, having chats and video calls, and doing desk-based research, to the actual research and project implementation that required even more action, open-mindedness, flexibility, and reflexivity than before.

Purpose of the field research

This field research constituted a significant milestone in Women WATER Watch COESO pilot and followed a manifold purpose. Without this activity, we would have lacked a substantial contextual understanding that would impede this citizen science project from transforming into an opportunity for the local community to rethink gender relations. First, we had to complete the final selection of the hamlets or villages. The intervention villages were already preselected, by the time, based on their location and characteristics. We, to be more exact AFO team, had visited the area several times, and the choice fell upon five villages in Makurunge ward[1], Mtoni, Gezaulole, Mkwajuni, Kifude, and Kibaoni. Before the start of the project, it was crucial to introduce our project to the local leaders at the village and ward level and the villagers, have their opinion and input for this project, and gain their trust and support. Since it is impossible to discuss with all villagers, we targeted mostly the elected leaders, the village and hamlet chairpersons[2]. If any of these leaders had been totally against the project, we would have had no other solution than to proceed with another village. At the same time, these leaders could provide detailed information about water problems and women’s participation in water management in their villages.

Secondly, the field research aimed to clarify essential details and characteristics of these villages and their inhabitants. For instance, at the beginning of the field mission, we did not know the number of households in each village. The numbers given by the locals did not correspond with the official data. Moreover, we were also confused because of the different names given to the same village.

Thirdly, we had to select the members of the women’s teams or our citizen scientists. The literature reveals different strategies with different decision-making loci: community leaders decide based on their knowledge and interest, project managers based on potential candidates’ knowledge and skills, communities, or participants themselves through self-selection… We decided to ask the communities and their leaders by suggesting criteria related to the women’s skills, background, and popularity. The ideal situation was to have teams including popular women whom the other fellow villagers would listen to, skillful women who would assist with the technical aspects of the project, and women from more vulnerable backgrounds to avoid elite capture.

Fourthly, and last but not least, in addition to data collected during the preselection phase, this field research aimed to produce data for the project’s needs assessment. Subsequently, the village meetings and following discussions with the community leaders and women’s teams would provide additional information. Besides, the data collected during this field research would constitute the baseline data for our own research activities.

The end of the first week

I expected the first week to be very stressful. It proved, though, to be very prolific. We were well-received by the ward office representatives and the local leaders. As well, the visited communities were cooperative and enthusiastic about this project.

Our first visit was to the ward office, which we subsequently visited several times. During the first visit, we presented the idea of our project and all documents received from the national and regional level, such as the research permit and related letters. The feedback was generally positive; however, it was also visible that these officials see the water problem as mostly related to the lack of infrastructure, while gender relations are generally overlooked. One of the first questions was why we envisaged having only women in our citizen scientists teams. Our response that the women are in charge of water fetching, storing, and treatment and thus are key actors in water knowledge and management satisfied the ward official. This fact shows that the water sector is one of the most convenient entry points for women in the decision- and policy-making field in Tanzania and potentially other Global South countries. Despite the gender-imbalanced norms that limit women’s input into decision-making, communities and their leaders easily find acceptable and legitimate women’s involvement in water management.

At the ward office, we also met the Community Development Officer, Ms. Anneth Mwakipesile, and agreed together that she would be involved in various project activities.

During the first week, we discovered that, following a recent administrative reform in Bagamoyo, our villages are now classified as townships[3]. This means a village is now called a hamlet, and what was supposed to be a hamlet is now a street. We have also found the correct number of households in each hamlet and realized that it would not be feasible to implement the project at the hamlet level. Assuming that the project will produce knowledge and good practices that will spill over across hamlets, we decided to select a street in each of our five hamlets. The main selection criteria were: (i) the street should confront acute water issues; and (ii) the street should not be too large, and accordingly, to allow us to collect representative baseline data. Luckily, the two criteria go hand in hand because the smaller the streets, the fewer safe water sources they have. The hamlet visits and the discussion with the hamlet and street chairs helped us to perform this selection.

During the first week, we visited two of our villages, Gezaulole and Mtoni. The scenarios were the same in each of the villages. We had, firstly, long discussions with the chairpersons. Next, the chairpersons introduced us to either the street leaders or other persons well-known by the villagers. After, these persons helped us visit the street and the water sources, and discuss with the villagers. Despite the lack of legislative or decision-making powers (Venugopal & Yilmaz, 2010), street leaders have much more influence than one could imagine. This person is the middle man or woman between the community members and higher-level government (Venugopal & Yilmaz, 2010). Therefore (s)he knows everything about the community, and when the hamlet leader needs to decide on something related to the street will ask this person and follow his or her suggestions most of the time.  We had no issues discussing with the community members by being accompanied by the street chairperson or one of their representatives.

The community members were welcoming and curious about the project. They all confirmed that water scarcity is a bad problem, particularly during the dry season. The villagers may queue for hours to fetch water from the available sources[4]. The rainy season is not better since this is when the water is contaminated the most. The villagers employ various water treatment methods, nevertheless, water-borne disease outbreaks are still a very common phenomenon. After a few days of fieldwork, it started to rain. This created some challenges for us because we could not find the villagers at home. Subsistence farming is the main activity in these villages. As soon as the rains started, in the middle of the dry season, by the way, many of the villagers started farming. Some of them were happily joking that we brought the rain.

The community members were welcoming and curious about the project. They all confirmed that water scarcity is a bad problem, particularly during the dry season. The villagers may queue for hours to fetch water from the available sources[4]. The rainy season is not better since this is when the water is contaminated the most. The villagers employ various water treatment methods, nevertheless, water-borne disease outbreaks are still a very common phenomenon. After a few days of fieldwork, it started to rain. This created some challenges for us because we could not find the villagers at home. Subsistence farming is the main activity in these villages.

As soon as the rains started, in the middle of the dry season, by the way, many of the villagers started farming. Some of them were happily joking that we brought the rain.

At the end of the first week, it became clear that the majority of villagers recently immigrated to this ward from other parts of Tanzania. Twenty years ago, these villages either did not exist or were scarcely populated. The rapid population growth pushes many Tanzanians to leave their communities and search for opportunities somewhere else. Many of the ones who came and continue to come to our five villages are of poor backgrounds and attracted by the cheap land and proximity to Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. The large migration to Mikoroshimi street in Gezaulole led to a conflict between the local community and a foreign investor who leased land from the government[5]. From the point of view of the water, this area, however, proved to be ill-equipped for hosting a larger population. The villagers dogged temporary and shallow water wells (like the one in the picture) that basically collect rainwater and dries out during the dry season. The villagers tried to dig deeper wells, but in most cases, these wells had salty water. In addition to wells, these communities fetch water from rivers and dams.  The immigration aspect also clarified to us the scarcity of community norms and rules for dealing with water challenges. These communities have still to develop such rules. Kitomondo street in Mtoni seemed to be an exception. A river stream is Kitomondo’s main water source. To cope with the water stress, the local community decided that there would be specific days for different segments of the street to fetch water from the river for different domestic needs and irrigation.  Later we clarified that Kitomondo was created much before the other streets.

At the end of the first week, we were happy with the results. We still had to visit three more villages and take several important decisions. However, there were no major disruptions to our schedule.

Our Team

I often use “we”, and I guess it is time to clarify who is the “we”. When I talk about important decisions that would affect the entire project, such as the criteria for selecting the streets or the women teams’ members,  “we” refers to the IOB and AFO representatives who decided together. Regarding the decisions related to the successful implementation of the field research, the field research team was deciding on its own. Apart from myself, five students of Mzumbe University were part of the field research team as research assistants. Eliya Lushiku, Lisa Kabeta, and Marco Elisha were in charge of the research related to our project at the school while I, Jackline Bwana, and Christopha Mbinda were conducting the research in the villages. We coordinated together all of the field research activities and split the responsibilities. Since I do not speak the local language, Jackline and Christopha conducted the surveys and translated the messages of the community members and leaders. Thanks to them, I could collect numerous interesting stories from the villagers that revealed intricated aspects of these communities and interesting puzzles that remain to be solved. The work of research assistants is often not credited enough. Without our research assistants, it would have been impossible to conduct this research successfully, and I would like to take the chance to thank them very much for all of their hard work.

The end of the second week

The visits to the remaining three hamlets, Kifude, Kibaoni, and Mkwajuni, passed off rather smoothly. The most problematic issue happened in Mkwajuni. Despite having the full support of the hamlet leader, we had to refrain from implementing the project in its Shina numba Five (street number 5) because its leader was against it, suggesting that we should select men as citizen scientists instead of women. Instead, we were offered all support and cooperation by the chairperson of Mkwajuni’s Shina numba Four.

We observed the immigration factor in these three hamlets too. However, we also observed several differences between the profiles of the new inhabitants. For instance, it seems that wealthier citizens choose to move to Mapanda street in Kifude, and more vulnerable citizens move to Shina numba Four in Mkwajuni. In fact, Shina numba Four in Mkwajuni was created in 2019 only. This is still a small community and people moved there because they could lease land from the government at a very low price. The land accessibility came although with no safe water sources.  Villagers fetch water from two ponds that were built by two investors. Kibaoni hamlet, located next to the highways, attracts people who either intend to lunch small businesses targeting travelers mostly or people who study or work in Bagamoyo and commute every day.

At the end of the second week, we visited all hamlets and selected the intervention streets and women for the citizen science teams. We will discuss the women’s teams in one of our next blog posts. Overall, all streets lack safe water sources despite the constant increase in population in the last ten years due to migration flows. The migration, as well, brought together people of different ethnic groups (tribes) and religions. However, this diversity does not lead to conflicts but rather mutual respect which reflects the overall situation in Tanzania. Considering the type of houses, the majority of villagers have a very low income and their main economic activity is subsistence farming.

The surveys with the villagers confirmed our hypothesis that gender inequality in rural Tanzania is a wicked problem interweaved with other wicked problems. Women are generally aware of their position. Many men, as well, considers legitimate women’s involvement in public affairs, particularly in water management. Despite this awareness, the socially constructed roles over centuries are still strong. Women’s empowerment can take place in different ways. By avoiding confrontation and harnessing empowerment through cooperation and co-creation, we expect that citizen science will strengthen and broaden women’s skills, confidence, and networks. Will this hypothesis be confirmed? This question yet remains to be answered.

Return back

Once our field research ended, I met Cretus and AFO Team several more times. I handed over the collected information including the contact details of community leaders and selected women, and we discussed together the implications of the field research finding on the project. It was time to leave Bagamoyo and return back to the busy Dar es Salaam. Rural Bagamoyo is not as quiet as one may think. Walking in the villages, we could hear loud radios and motorbikes, mosque prayers, children playing… Nevertheless, these were peaceful sounds. I will never forget the beautiful sunsets when we were returning back to our lodge tired after a long and busy day…

This blog post is not exactly my research diary. I obviously included important parts of it. However, when I think about this field research, I do not visualize my diary only. In my mind, I have a curious amalgam of thoughts about the field research’s purpose and its impact on our COESO pilot project, my own experience as a researcher in a foreign country, the project and field research team, and the communities and their leaders. The relatively disconnected ideas and sections in this post are the results of my attempt to convey this mental image and perception.

By Diana Tiholaz


Chung, Y. B. (2020). Governing a Liminal Land Deal: The Biopolitics and Necropolitics of Gender. Antipode, 52(3), 722-741. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12612

Mwakasangula, E., Igulu, G.,  Kesale, A., & Kamugisha, D. (2016). Village leadership and good governance in Tanzania. In de K. Ridder, B. Means, R. Hulst & A. Tollenaar  (Eds.). Public Administration in Tanzania: Current Issues and Challenges. African Public Administration and Management, Vol. 3, ISBN 978-90-5448-142-3, University of Groningen Faculty of Law Research Paper 2016-16, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2752875

Venugopal, V. & Yilmaz, S. (2010), Decentralization in Tanzania: An assessment of local government discretion and accountability. Public Admin. Dev., 30, 215-231. https://doi.org/10.1002/pad.556

[1] To explain what a ward is, I have to clarify the structure of the administrative divisions of Tanzania. Tanzania is divided into 31 regions. Each region is subdivided into districts, while the district is subdivided into wards. Next, the wards are subdivided into streets, if this is an urban area. If it is a rural area, the wards are divided into villages, and finally, the villages may be subdivided into hamlets. So, our villages are located in Makurunge ward, which is part of the Bagamoyo district, Pwani region.

[2] The village government leadership in Tanzania is composed of Village Chairpersons, Village Executive officers, and Hamlet Chairpersons. The village and chairpersons are not part of the local administration (id est, they are not employed by the government). However, these leaders are elected by and accountable to the villagers who can overthrow them by casting a vote of no confidence. The Village Executive Officers are employed by the district council, hold an administrative position, and have no political power (Mwakasangula et al., 2016).

[3] According to Tanzanian law, a village with more than 9000 residents can be classified as a township (Venugopal & Yilmaz, 2010).

[4] In Mikoroshini street, Gezaulole, a woman told us that once she woke up at 5 am to fetch water. When she went to the water source, there were already lots of people from Miyoboni, another street in Gezaulole. These people were queuing there from 3 am. There was no water in the water source, and they were waiting for the spring to fill the well. That day, our respondent returned home with water at noon after around 7 hours of waiting.

[5] Such kind of conflicts between local communities and investors acquiring large scale land in Bagamoyo and other regions in Tanzania are not uncommon (Chung, 2020).

The pilot Women Water Watch takes part in COESO.COESO has received funding from the EU Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (2014-2020) SwafS-27-2020 – Hands-on citizen science and frugal innovation, under Grant Agreement No.101006325.”

Citer ce billet
Sara Dewachter (2022, 22 novembre). Diary from Bagamoyo field research. Women Water Watch. Consulté le 14 juin 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/vtcp

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