Youth, poverty and inequality in urban Tanzania

Promoting young people’s well-being through a greater understanding of their social and economic needs.

Urban contexts and youth populations are relatively unexplored territories of huge theoretical and policy relevance in Sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania’s future is increasingly urban and predominantly young, propelling urban youth to the forefront of its development challenges.

Urbanisation, however, has been accompanied by high levels of poverty, insecurity and inequality. Little is known about what this means for young people as they seek to negotiate the path to adulthood.

In exploring the impact of rapidly expanding youth populations in the context of the urbanisation of poverty and its implications on the social and economic lives of Tanzania’s youth, this research breaks new ground in exploring new perspectives and new interpretations of what it means to be young and searching for livelihoods in the city amidst endemic poverty, inequality and limited institutional support.

It will identify the strategies youth deploy in a context of urban poverty for survival and advancement, and how these are influenced by age, gender and geographic location.

This work is being led by Dr Nicola Banks, Lecturer in Global Urbanism and Urban Development.

Key academic publications


Nicola has presented findings from this research at:

  • ‘Tackling the youth employment crisis in urban Tanzania: Building Inclusivity or Enhancing Agency?’ Paper presented at the Sustainability and Development conference hosted by the University of Michigan in collaboration with World Development  journal, Nov 9-11th 2018.
  • ‘Developmental Spaces? Development psychology and urban geographies of youth in Tanzania’, paper presented at the Development Studies Association Annual conference on Global Inequalities at the University of Manchester, June 2018.
  •  ‘Poverty and Urban Worlds of Work: Insights from Bangladesh and Tanzania’, guest seminar at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Studies and Planning Seminar Series, 25th April 2018.
  •  ‘Understanding youth poverty in Arusha, Tanzania: Capturing economic, social and psychological dimensions’, guest seminar at the University of Manchester’s GDI Seminar Series, development@Manchester, 20th April 2016.
  • ‘Good Life Never Comes Like Dreams: Youth, poverty and employment in urban Tanzania’, guest seminar at the Overseas Development Institute, 16 November 2015 
  •  ‘Poverty, unemployment and youth ‘at risk’ in Tanzania…and what can we do about it?’, paper presented at the international conference The Seventh African Population Conference: Demographic Dividend in Africa: Prospects, Opportunities and Challenges. Organised by the Union for African Population Studies and the Department for Social Development, Pretoria, South Africa, 30th November to 4th December 2015. 
  •  ‘Youth, poverty and employment in urban Tanzania’, paper presented at the international conference Youth – Participation – Impact organised by Retrak, Safe Child Africa, Article 26 and The University of Manchester, at The University of Manchester, 2015.


Young people are overlooked in national policies and programmes, and those specific to young people are often based on inaccurate understandings. Knowledge and research on young people’s needs is therefore critical to more effective policy-making, programme design and targeting.

This research in Tanzania (2013-2016) builds upon a Ugandan study that was well-received by NGOs, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and used by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development during revisions to Uganda’s National youth policy. Our research will seek similar impact, working with participatory youth development NGO, Tamasha Vijana, to produce a national report on urban youth.

Early findings were used to present young people’s visions for a poverty-free city in Tanzania at The University of Manchester’s Policy Week, exposing our work to a range of geographers, planners, and other social science practitioners.

Following on from her research, Nicola started an innovative savings project with young motorcycle drivers in Arusha that aimed both to take her findings to action and demonstrate a sustainable and adaptable model for ‘what works’ in youth development. The project aimed to triple the incomes of group members and have a strong transformative impact on their lives, with benefits spreading to a new group once the first cycle is finished. More details can be found on the project - which won the 'outstanding contribution to social enterprise (emerging’) award at the 2016 Making a Difference Awards - in the GDI blog, as well as details on the outcome of the motorcycle initiative.

Additional material

Publication on The University of Manchester’s and Brooks World Poverty Institute’s news sites and The Conversation.

Publication on The World Economic Forum blog aimed at private and public sector leaders.

A BBC World Service radio interview: World Business News with Russell Padmore, also broadcast across Africa on Uganda Radio 1, Nigeria Info 98, Wazobia FM and Cool FM (both in Nigeria).

Articles on the Global Development Institute Blog.

During Manchester Policy Week 2014 Nicola, presented her research on young people’s vision for a poverty-free city in Tanzania to the Manchester Policy Week audience. 

Watch the live illustration of Nicola’s presentation with English and Kiswahili subtitles: