Water Vendors in Niamey: Considering the Economic and Symbolic Nature of Water

byScott M. Youngstedt, Sara Beth Keough, and Cheiffou Idrissa


This article considers the impact of commodification, urbanization, and technology on water systems and cultural relations in the urban context of Niamey, Niger. We focus on the lives and work of water vendors (called ga’ruwa in Hausa) working in the informal economy. Fieldwork in 2013 and 2014 sought answers to two related questions. First, why are ga’ruwa jobs in Niamey dominated by immigrant men? And, second, why do Nigerien men in Niamey avoid this job, even in light of high unemployment? We argue that ga’ruwa offer a conduit for understanding key cultural symbols, values, and social relationships that lead to answers to these questions, but that we also must understand symbols, values, and social relationships to understand the ga’ruwa themselves.

Full Text PDF

Scott M. Youngstedt, Professor of Anthropology, Saginaw Valley State University and President of the West African Research Association, has conducted ethnographic research in Niger for 27 years. He is the author of Surviving with Dignity: Hausa Communities of Niamey, Niger (2013) and numerous journal articles.

Sara Beth Keough, Associate Professor of Geography, Saginaw Valley State University, is an urban social geographer researching urban planning in resource-dependent communities and the associations between water and culture, especially those involving material culture, within urban contexts. She is the recipient of the American Geographical Society’s McColl Fellowship and is editor of the journal Material Culture.

Cheiffou Idrissa holds a Master’s in sociology with honors in 2003 from the Université Abdou Moumouni in Niamey and has conducted socio-anthropological research on local development and vulnerable populations for a number of NGOs and research centers in Niamey. Idrissa currently works with the “Promotion, Protection et Réalisations des Droits des Personnes Handicapées” program of the Fédération Nigérienne des Personnes Handicapées.

Tagged as: ,