M.Sc. Els Keunen

M.Sc. Els Keunen

M.Sc. Els Keunen

Researcher and Lecturer, PhD Candidate


Since 2021
Advisor Citizen Participation for Littoral & South West Regions, Programme for Municipal Development, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), Cameroon

Since 2021
PhD Candidate, International Urbanism, University of Stuttgart
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Astrid Ley

2015 – 2021
Urban Planning Expert, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

2010 – 2014
Advisor Urban Planning for the Municipalities of Chimoio, Gondola and Gorongosa, Decentralisation Programme, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), Mozambique

2008 – 2010
Junior Assistant Urban Planning, Kampala Integrated Environmental Planning and Management Project (KIEMP), Belgian Development Agency (BTC, now Enabel), Uganda

2000 – 2007
Master, Architecture, Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg (now University Hasselt), Belgium
Master, Cultures and Development Studies, KU Leuven, Belgium

CV Summary

Els currently works as advisor citizen participation in the Programme for Municipal Development implemented by the German Development Agency (GIZ) in Cameroon. She works with three civil society organisations in Littoral and South West Regions to improve citizen participation in municipal budgeting and infrastructure management. She also intends to carry out field work for her PhD research which focuses on housing pathways of tenants in Douala.

Between 2015 and 2021, Els worked as Urban Planning Expert at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. At IHS, Els was teaching in the Master Programme Urban Management and Development, coordinating and teaching courses such as Urban Governance, Policy, Planning and PPPs; Cities and Migration; Urban Strategies and Planning; GIS Methods for Urban Research; and the Research Workshop Urban Socio-Spatial Dynamics. She also supervised Master theses. Apart from teaching, Els was involved in various research projects. Between 2017 and 2020, she was a researcher in the ‘Spatial Inequality in Times of Urban Transitions: Complex Land Markets in Uganda and Somaliland’ research project and in 2016, in the ‘The urban expansion and compactness debate in the context of Mozambique’ research project. In 2015, she was involved in a desk study on supporting cities to address institutional bottlenecks for inclusive local economic development in South-East Asia. Furthermore, she co-developed and implemented various short trainings, among others a hybrid training for the Ministry of Construction of Myanmar early in 2021 and a 4-module training on strategic spatial planning processes for urban advocacy purposes for NAHNOO, an organisation of urban activists in Lebanon, which took place in 2019. Moreover, between 2017 and 2019, she worked as a consultant with 6 municipalities in Mozambique to improve their building permit processes.

Between 2010 and 2014, Els advised 3 municipalities in the centre of Mozambique in the area of urban planning. She assisted the municipalities in developing their master plan and detailed neighbourhood plans; setting up a basic GIS land register; enhancing land register software; and improving the land registration processes. Before Mozambique, she worked for over 2 years in Uganda through the Belgian Development Agency (BTC, now Enabel). She was part of the Kampala Integrated Environmental Planning and Management Project (KIEMP), an urban upgrading project in 3 neighbourhoods in Kampala which had the objective to improve infrastructure and housing conditions, change behaviour in the use, operation and maintenance of local infrastructure and build capacity of Kampala City Council in environmental planning and management.

Els holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an Additional Master’s degree in Cultures and Development Studies.


Housing Pathways among Tenants in Douala, Cameroon

While in the Global North urbanization trends have happened based on a structural transformation, in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) they are characterized by a much more transient and mobile population who frequently move to, from, between and within urban areas. Indeed, translocal livelihoods are common in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA): households do not rely on a single location but spread their livelihoods over various locations, by moving between these on a frequent basis and/or by splitting the household over these locations (Steinbrink & Niedenführ, 2020). Thus, cities in Africa can be seen as “translocal spaces [that] are constantly co-produced by mobile and immobile populations” (Greiner & Sakdapolrak, 2013, p. 376). People’s frequent moving shapes and reshapes the city physically as well as socially. It also blurs the boundaries between the ‘urban’ and the ‘rural’, since translocality is associated with being engaged with people and activities in both spheres. However, for many people in SSA, the rural homestead remains the basis of their identity, more than the city (Adepoju, 2006). This has implications for place attachment: when people feel that they inherently do not belong in a place, that they are there only temporarily or that they are a ‘guest’, they will act differently than if they would consider a place their home. This can influence their demands towards as well as their investments in the city.
There is a common preconception among researchers and policy makers in Africa that people aspire to be homeowners, thereby ignoring rental market dynamics and related policies (Arku et al., 2011; Gilbert, 2008; Mwau & Sverdlik, 2020). Yet, considering translocal living practices, rental housing is an important mode of accessing housing in the city. According to the latest household survey, almost 60% of Douala’s population are tenants (ECAM4, 2014). However, little is known about residential mobility in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially among tenants. When and why do tenants decide to move? How often do people move? Where do they move to and from? And what informs their residential choice? The aim of this research is to contribute to the understanding of how residential mobility in SSA shapes the city by exploring mobile populations’ residential mobility behaviour. Specifically, it aims to better understand residential mobility of tenants in Douala by exploring their housing pathways and residential mobility decisions. These insights will also be useful for better understanding the housing needs and desires of tenants.

Image Credits: Els Keunen


Keunen, E. (2023): ‘Daniel E. Agbiboa, They Eat Our Sweat: Transport Labor, Corruption, and Everyday Survival in Urban Nigeria. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022, 288 pp.’, book review. In: Africa, 93(1), 182-183. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0001972023000049

Keunen, E. (together with A. Ley) (2023): ‘Understanding residential mobility: Why the African context matters’. In: Journal of Urban Affairs, 45(3), 335-352, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/07352166.2022.2063134

Jachnow, A., Keunen, E.; Nyamai, D. (Eds.) (2022): ‘Just Cities’. In: Trialog 4/2019. Available at: https://www.trialog-journal.de/en/current-issues/

Keunen, E.; Ruijsink, S. (2021): ‘Planning for all? Guiding principles for selecting multi-stakeholder tools in urban planning processes’. In: Urban Planning, Management and Governance in Emerging Economies. Edward Elgar Publishing. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4337/9781800883840.00017

Keunen, E. (2020): ‘Finding a Place to Live in the City: Analysing Residential Choice in Kampala’. In: Housing & Society 47(3). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08882746.2020.1776063

IHS, DPU and IPE Tripleline (2020): Complex Land Markets in Uganda and Somaliland. Rotterdam, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies. ISBN: 9789064330469. Available at: https://issuu.com/ihsrotterdam/docs/pdr_final_complex_land_markets_in_uganda_and_somal

Keunen, E. and Lunetta, C. (2017): ‘Analysing urban growth in Mozambican cities: the influencing factors of urban expansion and their impacts’. In: Trialog 129, pp. 10-16. Available at: https://www.trialog-journal.de/en/journals/trialog-128-urban-transitions-in-africa/

Jachnow, A, Keunen, E., Lunetta, C. and Mazzolini, A. (2016): Urbanization in Mozambique – Assessing actors, processes and impacts of urban growth. Research monograph. Brussels, Cities Alliance. Available at: https://www.citiesalliance.org/sites/default/files/Urbanization%20in%20Mozambique.pdf

Jachnow, A. & Keunen, E. (2016): Mozambique: Guiding the Development of Liveable Cities. Cities Alliance Series. Available at: https://www.citiesalliance.org/sites/default/files/PB_Mozambique_WEB.pdf



Keunen, E. (2022, 29 June-1 July). Housing pathways of internal migrants in Cameroon [Conference presentation]. 19th IMISCOE Annual Conference, Oslo, Norway (hybrid)

Keunen, E. (2019, 28-30 August). Residential mobility in 4 African cities [Conference presentation]. RGS-IBG 2019, London, UK

Rabé, P., Keunen, E., Marx, C. and Walls, M. (2019, 4-5 July). Spatial Injustice in Urban Land Markets in East Africa: What is the evidence? [Conference debate]. LANDac Annual International Conference 2019, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Keunen, E. (2019, 19-21 June). Analysing residential location choice in Kampala [Conference presentation]. DSA 2019, Milton Keynes, UK