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Causes of the current problems

The preceding section has described the various environmental problems found in African towns. Why is the situation this bad? How can we explain it? There are many answers to these questions and I shall explore some of them in this section.

The role of rural-urban migration

The first explanation for the terrible conditions found in some African towns is that rural-urban migration is so massive as to make it impossible for cities to cope with demands for the various services (e.g. El Sammani et al. 1989; Osman 1990). Rural-urban migration is accelerated by war and by urban-biased development. Studies do not see any changes in these trends. The suggestion is that cities could cope with much slower growth. But could they? Other fundamental issues are discussed below.

The problems of urban institutions

One of the key issues is institutional. In many countries there are many institutions that are involved in the provision of urban services and some of their activities overlap (Leduka 1991; Mwafongo 1991). Invariably, most of them are controlled by the central government and there is limited devolution of authority to local government; there is no clear division of functions between the various levels of government and there is lack of coordination of their various activities. In Lesotho, the Maseru city council was torn between the central government, the councillors, and the council administration, resulting in dissipated efforts (Leduka 1991). In Malawi, a study showed that there was a multiplicity of agencies delivering urban services and there was no coordination between them (Mwafongo 1991). On the other hand, in Abidjan, the council was weak because power was concentrated in the hands of the mayor, whose style of management was management by crisis (Attchi 1989). In discussing the situation in Kinshasa, Mbuyi (1989) showed that lack of effective management had led to conditions that were deleterious to the environment.

Even where devolution appears to have taken place and participatory institutions exist, the centre tries to exert some control. Musandu-Nyamayaro (1991: 5) has noted with respect to Harare that: "Despite the municipality possessing power and authority to act without referring to the Minister for approval, the centre maintains control and influence through a number of traditional avenues."

The effect of inadequate financial resources

Financial resources are crucial in urban management. Many cities have various sources of income but collection is neither comprehensive nor efficient and more sources could be identified. In Khartoum, for example, El Sammani et al. (1989: 268) have observed: "On the income side, the tax base is both outdated and structurally inadequate to meet current demands. This deficiency is further exacerbated by incompetence and corruption in the collection of the revenue due to the local government."

Even more serious is the lack of data on the cost of urban services, which prevents city councils from instituting cost-recovery measures (Mbuyi 1989). Zimbabwe, however, is an example of local authorities with financial independence (Mutizwa-Mangiza 1990; Musandu-Nyamayaro 1991), and it shows the variety of sources that can be tapped.

The major problem with increasing the tax base is the widespread unemployment that is characteristic of African urban areas. Unemployment is increasing in a number of countries, including South Africa (e.g. Mwafongo 1991; Bond 1992), and the only alternative is the informal sector.

Unemployment and other conditions are likely to be worsened by the various International Monetary Fund and World Bank structural reform programmes, whose aims include the elimination or reduction of food subsidies, price controls, the reduction of the urban wage structure to market levels, and the reallocation of government capital investment away from subsidies for urban industrial production and public service provision. What monetary reform and a free market can do, following IMF loans and advice, is shown by the recent South African experience: "Even in industrial South Africa it becomes almost impossible to provide low-income housing and jobs because of exorbitant interest rates, bank strangle holds on development, land speculation, and the cartel of building materials producers" (Bond 1992: 7). According to Mabogunje (1991), whether the structural adjustment programmes fail or succeed, they will result in increased rural-urban migration.

Finance is central to effective and efficient urban management. First, it determines the level or quality of services that can be provided. For example, Dar es Salaam would have required a minimum of 240 trucks in 1990 to remove refuse and yet it had only 30, some of which were out of service (Mosha 1990). Shortage of finance has also affected, infer alia, housing delivery for low-income groups in Harare and refuse removal (Musandu-Nyamayaro 1991). Secondly, finance affects the level of salaries. Many city councils are not able to pay competitive salaries, with the consequence that they lose skilled manpower not only locally to the private sector but also to foreign countries (see El Sammani et al. 1989).

According to Wekwete (1990), the problems of African cities go even deeper and derive from their economic and social setting. Following Harvey's (1985) analysis, he identifies in African cities three circuits of capital accumulation and circulation. The primary circuit comprises the primary industries - mining, agriculture, industry, etc. - and is generally characterized by the surplus production of capital. This excess capital is absorbed into the secondary circuit, which is concerned with the built environment in the city. The tertiary circuit "comprises of investment in science and technology and a wide range of social expenditures that relate to the process of production of labour power" (Wekwete 1990: 11).

In African cities, the primary circuit is dominated by foreign and international capital and therefore the surpluses generated are expropriated elsewhere. As a result, the secondary and tertiary sectors are undeveloped, a situation that is exacerbated by the absence of financial institutions "for pooling whatever little surplus might exist after multinational expropriation". Consequently,

Urban expansion was based largely on service provision and expanding government bureaucracies. It was urbanisation propelled by the service and administrative sectors, and in any cases sponsored by public sector investment.... Hence as economies have receded and or declined in their performances and the states have retreated as providers, the cities have collapsed or are in the state of collapse. (Wekwete 1990: 13)

The Wekwete model applies generally to southern Africa and to parts of eastern Africa. In many countries, large-scale mining and commercial agriculture are absent. The primary circuit, dominated by subsistence producers, does not produce much surplus. Even if surpluses were available, it would need more viable institutions and a less corrupt bureaucracy to ensure that they channelled the funds in the proper direction.

For much of black Africa, however, the role of government in the urban sector, through various subsidies, has been extensive. When this role is curtailed, as is the case under various restructuring programmes, this has far-reaching consequences for the urban economy and environment.

The role of planning

According to The Economist, most African cities "were designed with the grandeur and selfishness of empire, spread-out, tree-lined suburbs separated by open land from barracks for Africa labourers" (The Economist 1990: 21). And certainly, in many Commonwealth African countries, town planning was initiated by the colonial government, which also created embryonic planning departments (Ling 1988). In some cases, such as Kampala in Uganda, the colonial master plan provided a blueprint that was followed for many years after independence (Kajugira 1988).

Virtually every country has physical planning and development control legislation on its statute books. Yet a number of development problems have come to the fore and have intensified over the years. They include the following:

a great deal of development of a commercial and educational nature has taken place outside planned centres;

Iand use inside the towns is usually at variance with the approved plans;

within or on the fringes of several large cities, unplanned and unserved squatter settlements have grown; and

there has been a clearly visible spiralling deterioration of the environment (Kajugira 1988; Ling 1988; Mosha 1989).

There are several reasons why planning and development control have not worked effectively in Africa. First, physical planning is not given priority in Africa. It is generally treated as a sectoral activity concerned with works, housing, communications, and local government (Ling 1988). Yet it should be regarded as part and parcel of economic and social planning because it is the spatial expression of economic and social policies.

Secondly, planning and development control have been applied only to small areas. In some countries, development control was first introduced to cope with the development of large formal projects such as offices, banks, and hotels, "whilst the remaining building activity remains uncontrolled in people's hands" (Ling 1988: 17). In Port Harcourt, planning is restricted to low- and medium-density residential areas catering for only 15 per cent of the city's residents. Here live the top civil servants and business executives. The rest of the population lives in unplanned squatter settlements (Izeogu 1989).

A major factor in the lack of effective control is the shortage of professional and technical staff (e.g. Matope 1988; Ohas 1988; Kajugira 1988). Working conditions and salaries are not attractive, which makes it difficult for local authorities to retain trained and experienced manpower (El Sammani et al. 1989; The Economist 1990).

This situation is also symptomatic of the organizational weakness that has already been discussed. The overriding factors are lack of political and administrative action. This often reflects lack of political will resulting from a lack of real power or from corruption (Ohas 1988; Mosha 1989). Thus some old master plans have never been revised or the new ones have never been implemented.

Mosha (1989) has identified six factors that lead to weak enforcement of development control in Tanzania. They include:

(a) corruption on the part of enforcing officials;

(b) the long period taken to complete the construction of structures, which makes the monitoring of projects difficult;

(c) the lack of vehicles for officials, which precludes adequate development control;

(d) a scarcity of serviced land; and

(e) "a lack of follow-up and unwillingness in many cases to effect prosecution or revocation of leases for breach of covenant."

In summary, there is generally a lack of proper planning. Even where planning is done, there is no enforcement of development control. Thus much of urban development is not directed to ensure that the environment and the health of the people are protected.

The way forward

There are many views on the solutions to the problems identified above. A few of them are discussed below and it is important to realize that they are not mutually exclusive.

One recurring theme is institutional reform. The weaknesses of urban institutions have been noted. In addition these institutions are highly centralized and lack accountability (The Economist 1990). The principles of sound administration have been given as (Habitat 1987: 115):

(a) Organisational structure in tune with their defined functions.
(b) Power and authority commensurate with responsibility.
(c) Managers accountable for specific programmes.
(d) Service delivery constantly monitored, and systems of rewards and punishments institutionalized.
(e) Continuity and stability of personnel, and ongoing training.
(f) Availability of qualified staff and appropriate arrangements to encourage secondment and exchange of staff.

The system needs to be decentralized right down to the neighbourhood level (ibid.). Mabogunje (1991) has argued for investing neighbourhoods with "greater visibility and authority" in urban management. He has concluded:

In general, more attention to the neighbourhood structure can serve many other vital management purposes. It can enhance revenue collection for urban services, provide useful data, and improve delivery of urban services. It can also increase residents' participation in city administration and encourage a high standard of environmental quality. To assist neighbourhoods in this crucial role, some real decentralization of power is essential and can be expected to contribute to greater transparency and accountability in government. (Mabogunje 1991: 204-205)

It is necessary to have proper grass-roots participation if the environmental problems are to be solved. People must feel part of the process and they must accept the problems and the proposed solutions. Thus:

The best way for any administration to prove that it represents the interests of those that it administers is to establish the necessary mechanisms to allow and encourage participation, and to adopt a well-designed system of communication and information so as to make the development process easily understandable. Public participation should be instituted as a permanent feature of the management process, supported by the necessary legal framework, and integrated in the management structure. (Habitat 1987: 104)

Participation must be encouraged in all levels of decision-making -planning, programming and budgeting, implementation, and operational activities (ibid.: 104-105).

The second issue concerns financial reform. As already indicated, many cities are experiencing shrinking revenues because of, among other things, cuts in grants as a result of economic austerity (The Economist 1990). Secondly, cities have been forbidden to raise some charges for fear of riots. Thus cities are owed huge sums of money in the form of rents and water and electricity bills. The shrinking revenues are not matched by increased responsibilities.

Local government must be given more power to raise revenues (The Economist 1990; Habitat 1987). The tax base must be widened and the central government must not siphon off revenues collected by local government. Possibilities of cost recovery should be investigated but care must be taken that it does not become "hidden subsidies to high-income" residents (Habitat 1987). Further, in the present economic climate of many African countries there are limits to cost recovery. What should be done is to target subsidies in such a way as to exclude groups or sectors that do not deserve them.

The third area relates to the need to reappraise existing standards and therefore the need to introduce appropriate and affordable standards. It has been observed that African governments insist that high standards must be maintained (The Economist 1990). These standards, inherited from the colonial era, are often so high and demanding that it is impossible to upgrade most of the houses in the squatter areas. For example, they prohibit the use of local materials and may require that every dwelling be accessible by car (ibid.).

It is important to relax building standards and to allow people to put up "tolerable but cheap housing." In this way squatter settlements can be improved or avoided.

Indeed, there is now considerable experience with squatter upgrading. The most important objectives have generally been as follows (Habitat 1987:175):

(a) projects should be "affordable" for the urban poor;

(b) projects should be self-financing and have high levels of cost recovery;

(c) projects should lead to the gradual improvement of housing on the basis of realistic standards as well as overall costs;

(d) projects should provide for income generation and employment creation;

(e) projects should be "integrated," providing for the systematic and coordinated delivery of physical and social infrastructure;

(f) programme and project impacts should be extensive in terms of coverage and reach.

The three areas of concern discussed above are the key to the solution of a number of urban environmental problems.

Concluding remarks

It is clear from this survey that the majority of urban residents in Africa live under unacceptable environmental conditions. However, these conditions do not act as a deterrent to further cityward migration. Instead, large numbers of migrants continue to flock to urban areas in an effort to improve their lot and thus make it even more difficult to cope with the present problems.

The problems include deforestation of surrounding regions to supply fuelwood or charcoal; the reduction or depletion of water supplies in surrounding regions; polluted water supplied to low-income areas; water, air, and noise pollution; inadequate collection and inappropriate disposal of wastes; and poor housing conditions.

The many causes of these problems include rapid rural-urban migration, a lack of finance, and inadequate institutions. However, some authorities contend that the problem is mainly structural - that what is listed above is a manifestation of something that is more serious and deep-seated.

A number of remedies have been suggested. A thorough institutional reform is essential and lies at the heart of any changes that might be proposed. In addition there is need for reform of the financial system and a review of standards in the building industry.


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