The role played by the transport sector in the regional spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa is well known, yet attention has remained confined to entertainment hotspots and stopping places along long-distance highways and cross-border transport corridors. This paper draws attention to informal modes of transit prevalent in sub-Saharan African cities, by linking the rise of two-wheeled, manually operated bicycles, known as “Sacramento”, to the potential spread of HIV and AIDS in Malawi. The findings of a qualitative study from Mzuzu city show that Sacramento operators are prone to demanding or accepting sexual favours from female commuters as payment for a ride. We draw on complementary theories of the political ecology of health (PEH) and feminist political ecology to show how a popular belief that Sacramento is an inferior mode of urban transit underpins risky sexual behaviour among men hired to operate this informal mode transport. The findings further show that operators’ responses to this perceived inferiority are themselves also driven by gender discourses that seek to validate their identities as powerful go-getters. These scripts also create an environment that fosters multiple sexual partners and venerates unprotected sex. Because Sacramento is both a source of livelihood and an HIV risk milieu, it epitomises the contraction inherent in HIV and AIDS vulnerability in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Journal of AIDS Research
Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies

Mkandawire, P, Arku, G. (Godwin), Luginaah, I. (Isaac), & Etowa, J. (Josephine). (2019). Informal transit, socio-spatial exclusion, and changing geographies of HIV/AIDS in urban Malawi. African Journal of AIDS Research, 18(1), 81–88. doi:10.2989/16085906.2019.1575884