What aid actors need to know about social cohesion in displacement: a Tanzania case study

Kamanga, C. K., Ruhundwa, J., Khalid, M., Mjalilla, F., Mseke, H. R., Sturridge, C., & Komanya, L. M.
Publication language
Date published
25 Sep 2023
Research, reports and studies
Forced displacement and migration, Humanitarian Principles, Social protection

Policy interest in social cohesion amongst displaced populations is on the rise, but it remains a vague and contested concept. There is little consensus on how to define or measure social cohesion, the conditions that promote it, or the benefits it can bring.

Considering these gaps, Tanzania is a strategic location for studying social cohesion in displacement over time and across locations. It has a rich history of hosting refugees over successive waves and decades, with its approach fluctuating between inclusion and exclusion. Shifting national policy has governed how and where refugees live, and what rights and status they are afforded – with significant repercussions for the nature and quality of social relations between refugees and hosts.

This research focuses on social cohesion between refugees and host communities and within refugee communities themselves, rather than between individuals and the state, or society more broadly. But the Tanzanian context emphasises how profoundly national policy responses and the provision of institutional aid can affect social dynamics between refugees and host communities, as well as within displaced communities.

Recommendations for aid actors

  • Introduce area-based approaches with care

Misconceptions and misunderstandings about aid and to whom it is distributed are commonplace. Explanations, information or communication about differential allocations rarely satisfy communities that are uniformly struggling across the refugee–host divide in a context of limited assistance and livelihoods. An alternative is area-based approaches, whereby all groups in a targeted geographic area (many of whom experience similar needs and vulnerabilities) receive equal allocations of aid.

  • Prioritise meaningful participation of refugees and hosts

Aid actors need to listen to refugees and hosts, and adapt their programmes accordingly. Meaningful participation (rather than superficial consultation) is key to avoiding the unintended impacts of aid on social cohesion.

  • Be realistic about what social cohesion programming can achieve

Aid actors need to be more realistic and honest (with themselves, donors and, most importantly, with beneficiaries) about the extent to which individual projects can meaningfully achieve social cohesion – particularly in highly restrictive policy environments. They need to engage more with the policy environment in which they work and also focus on the practical barriers to social cohesion rather than seeking to orchestrate complex refugee–host relations.

  • Recognise the risks and limitations of social cohesion

Instead of assuming that social cohesion is an inherent social good, aid actors should adopt more critical approaches. The risks for marginalised and minority groups without legal protection need to be properly acknowledged and integrated into project design and delivery.