The role of social capital in development has in recent years received increasing attention. Social capital seems to have evolved into panacea for the problems affecting poor communities. The question is how social capital produced in social networks is used, generated and maintained in a context of HIV/AIDS. This study investigated HIV/AIDS impacts on social capital and their implications for rural livelihoods. The study moved beyond the household, by looking at the significance of social networks for the coping capacity of individuals and households. It emphasizes the ability of individuals and households to mobilize resources through social networks such as kinship networks, friends and neighbours, and community groups. A gender perspective was integrated into the research questions and study design. The study was conducted in Mkamba village, in Morogoro region in Tanzania. It used qualitative methods, such as key informants interviews, focus group discussions and in-depth case study interviews, as well as a household survey and group inventory.
Socio-economic information gathered from the area indicates a high level of livelihood insecurity. Although the sugarcane plantations and factories provide employment, the privatization of the sugar company has made many households vulnerable to poverty. In-migration has increased ethnic diversity, which has contributed to a decline of trust among community members. Witchcraft beliefs and anti-witchcraft initiatives are widely common and part of social life in the study area, but also have a deteriorating effect on community trust.
The study found that HIV/AIDS epidemic is an additional burden on already vulnerable households producing complex, wide-ranging and gender-specific impacts on their livelihoods. Households affected by HIV/AIDS were generally found to have less income, reduced food security and increased vulnerability. Gender and age were found to be important attributes shaping HIV/AIDS impacts. Strong links between HIV/AIDS and poverty is demonstrated, with HIV/AIDS exacerbating existing problems such as household food insecurity, while at the same time poverty increases vulnerability to HIV/AIDS impacts.
Extended families and kinship networks are generally regarded as the main source of social, economic and practical support for individuals. In the wake of HIV/AIDS and other socio-economic difficulties in the area, kinship support was found to be hardly available. Migration and the splitting-up of families have led to weakened family ties and declining transfers. Additionally, economic constraints limit the support one can get from relatives. Beyond the immediate and extended family, households in crisis are assumed to turn to friends and neighbours for assistance. However, the findings from this study show that support from friends and neighbours tends to be short-term and unreliable, usually limited to advice and emotional support. As a consequence of widespread poverty in the study area families are often too burdened with their own problems to be of much help to others. Witchcraft suspicion and accusations, while indicating deteriorating interpersonal trust, also create barriers to access support that might otherwise be provided by friends and neighbours. Provision of support is also fraught with difficulty due to the stigmatising nature of HIV/AIDS infection. Likewise, the secrecy surrounding HIV/AIDS limits the assistance from the community to those affected.
Despite the potential benefits of membership in groups, the required contributions prevent some individuals from becoming members. Poor and HIV/AIDS-affected households are generally left out when it comes to participation in groups. It was found that social capital generated in formal groups benefit members only, rather than improving the welfare of the community as a whole. Both the generation and sustenance of social capital at household level are severely challenged by declining access to other livelihood assets as a consequence of HIV/AIDS. At the community level, there has been hardly any community-level mobilization in response to the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Funerals only are the communal events that display cooperation among community members. Although the socio-economic situation in the area has already weakened support relations, HIV/AIDS seems to have made matters worse. HIV/AIDS impacts exhaust the capacities and potential of a community.
The study found that inability to maintain social relations at the interpersonal level results in unintended collective effects at community level, such as lack of cooperation and trust among community members. Distrust at the interpersonal level is extended to the community level, preventing people to work together to solve their problems. Unlike the idealized community solidarity, many households in the study area appear unable to cope with HIV/AIDS impacts and other crises. HIV/AIDS care and mitigation of its impacts proved to be difficult in a situation where there are multiple socio-economic problems as well as lack of community trust and solidarity as shown in the study area. Therefore, the study underscores the importance of contextualizing the role of interpersonal and community-level social capital when studying HIV/AIDS impacts on livelihoods. Also in recognition that the ability of households and communities to meet their members’ increasing needs is limited, there is a need for external support from government and NGOs to help communities respond to other shocks and new demands created by HIV/AIDS impacts.