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Hybrid constellations of water access in the digital age: The case of Jisomee Mita in Soweto-Kayole, Nairobi

Prince K. Guma
Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands; p.k.guma@uu.nl

Jochen Monstadt
Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands; j.monstadt@uu.nl

Sophie Schramm
Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands; s.schramm@uu.nl

ABSTRACT: The digital age has reshaped the supply of infrastructure services in African cities. Over the last decade, Nairobi’s water sector has opened up to infrastructure investments enabled by the uptake and integration of digital technologies. These investments have focused on one particular group: the urban poor. This paper examines a new hybrid piped water supply project called Jisomee Mita (Read your Meter) in Soweto-Kayole, a low and average income neighbourhood in Nairobi. Jisomee Mita employs digital technologies to enable self meter reading, and mobile-phone-based billing, payment, and querying systems. In our study, we draw upon science and technology studies to show how as a globally promoted technological device, Jisomee Mita has become locally anchored and appropriated in variegated ways beyond its original design. Our study illustrates how hybrid and dynamic infrastructure constellations emerge through practices of remaking, upgrading, and expansion of centralised systems of water supply through the use of digital technologies by various actors. We argue that the ways in which actors continually modify Jisomee Mita beyond its original design reveal a tension between imaginations of active citizens as 'co-providers' of services inscribed to the project’s technologies, and the users’ own visions of citizenship. This vision, we contend, becomes apparent in the ways in which these such actors appropriate the project in unforeseen and partly subversive ways.

KEYWORDS: Water infrastructure, digital technologies, urban planning, African cities, Nairobi, Kenya